Did you miss someone on Memorial Day? You can be excused if you did, as these particular heroes and heroines may be invisible. Perhaps it’s because they are part of our lives — the health care workers and first responders that are there for us each and every day. But the COVID crisis is a game changer. The doctors, nurses, aides, EMS workers and the cops on the beat face a clear and present danger, yet they do not hesitate to come to our aid despite the deadly threat of infection.
Ordinarily, the purpose of the Memorial Day holiday is to pay tribute to those who have served us in the military—especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice. But the honor roll has been expanded this year. It’s not official but the pandemic has created a new class of warriors to whom we should pay tribute: those who die on the front lines in the war against this new, inhuman and devilishly lethal threat.
These “civilians” are not conscripts; they are volunteers who didn’t hesitate to come to our rescue despite the clear and present danger posed by the disease. This is not your run-of-the-mill flu. It’s a plague that is highly contagious, less than six-feet-apart contagious. Yet they don’t hesitate to get up close and personal to come to the rescue.
So many health care workers, police officers and fire fighters who have tested positive for coronavirus as a result of their readiness to come to the aid of those who suffer from the disease that there is no official count. But, you can be sure that many thousands of them have, in fact, fallen ill and too many of them have died. States have been reporting infection rates as high as 20% among physicians, nurses, assistants, technicians, orderlies, administrators, volunteers, drivers, porters, EMTs, police and firefighters.
Bear in mind that while these men and women — first responders, all — may appear to be stout and strong as they stoically go about their work but they are just as vulnerable as you and me.
Dr. Jessica Gold put it this way in an article in STATE magazine recently: “They inspire us as they go to work every day, at great personal risk, to keep others safe. But, as a psychiatrist, I spend much of my life observing and listening — I know that their calm surface appearance is the only armor they have left. Underneath it, many health care workers are barely keeping it together. They are anxious and they are afraid. They aren’t sleeping and they find themselves crying more than usual. The overall feeling in my friends, family, and co-workers is one of an impending doom and an existing gloom that is both physically and psychologically palpable.”
Many of us were out playing with our kids and grandkids as the nation observed Memorial Day last Monday. We’ll probably ate a little too much. We celebrated the non-official beginning of summer. We are a resourceful people and surely we were able to find a way to party despite self-isolation, face masks and gloves But we are also a grateful nation that remembers the sacrifices of our armed forces and our unarmed protectors on the front lines of the war against a new insidious enemy — COVID-19.
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