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On a Tuesday in April, Michelle Walton woke up in Plantation, Florida, at eight. Her back hurt. It’s a pain that’s been omnipresent since the 48-year-old injured it caring for her mother, a woman she says she loves deeply but who is challenging even on the best day.

For most purposes, her home is a clinical environment: Since 2014, Walton has acted as the primary caretaker of her sole surviving parent, her mother, whose health has rapidly declined since a catastrophic stroke. With her mother unable to make decisions for herself, Walton has become her health care navigator and her budget balancer. She navigates the infinite bureaucracies of the state programs her mother relies on, schedules physical and speech therapy sessions, and, with the help of a nursing assistant, tends to her needs for most of the day.

This work isn’t paid, and it makes Walton’s mother the absolute center of her world. But she prefers it to shuffling her mom into a state-run facility: “I consider it an honor and a privilege to fulfill my obligation as my mother’s daughter,” she says. “She did the best she could by me.” This labor is not always easy: Walton’s’ mother is paralyzed and unable to speak. These were difficult circumstances in the first place, and they’re getting harder, as the clinical support Walton relies on dwindles or is put on hold, a side effect of the crush to the medical system caused by covid-19.

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