The rain was pouring hard that morning and thunder roared incessantly. The Emergency Alert System had signaled a tornado warning for the area only a few minutes earlier. The storm had disrupted phone communication with our staff on duty so Miss M’s call was automatically escalated to my cell phone. It was 4:47 am. Following established protocol, Miss M, was calling for instructions. She had an early morning shift with a particularly difficult and complex client some 35 rural miles away. I told her to stay put until the storm passed and that I would let the client know that there may be a delay. Just over one hour later, as the skies calmed and the warning was lifted I phoned Miss M back to let her know that it was ok to go ahead. She was already about to open the door at the client’s house, only a few minutes after her shift was scheduled to begin.
Miss M’s dedication and heart, while extraordinary, is not uncommon among those who have chosen to be part of the health care chain. Home care providers, nurse assistants, nurses, physician assistants, doctors, researchers, and their administrative and support staff are all in the business of taking care of the rest of us regardless of pain and risk. And, as the Covid-19 situation confirms, there can be loads of both for those in the frontline.
Statistics about the pandemic were alarming from the beginning. Yet, it took some time before it was recognized that not just the elderly and those with specific preexisting conditions make up the most vulnerable population but that healthcare workers too are clearly part of that group. Regardless, they get up and leave to their duties every morning, afternoon, or evening knowing that they will be facing closely the very threat that they aim to protect us from. All this without counting the physical and emotional toll that comes from working long and hard hours tackling the impossible task of keeping all alive.
As the sacrifice of the healthcare workers amidst the crisis became more publicly acknowledged, spontaneous expressions of collective gratitude began being displayed around the globe. Windows of skyscrapers lit to show a heart from New York to Jakarta; iconic monuments “dressed” in blue from Washington DC to Paris to Dubai to Rio de Janeiro; billboards and hand-made signs hanging from residential buildings in Beirut, Barcelona, London; our own Frontline Hero parades throughout Texas, and many other heartfelt manifestations all carrying a single worldly message: Thank you, thank you, thank you.
But in reality, the recent pandemic only makes more evident something that has always been the norm. Our healthcare workers’ fearless commitment and conviction is not new and will not end when Covid-19 is gone. They have chosen to dedicate their lives to the wellbeing of others, come rain or shine. Not everyone can say that, and we should all be prompt to recognize and acknowledge their sacrifice. For that reason, and at the risk of sounding irresponsible, at the first sign of our current social distancing restrictions being lifted, find a nurse and give her/him a hug. They have earned it and will continue to earn it every day, corona or no corona.
The Discretely column by Eduardo Berdegué is published monthly in newspapers throughout the Heart of Texas region.