We honor them with blaring horns, waving signs, and loud applause—but we can't keep them from dying.
In a rare journey outside my house the other day, I saw a big red heart posted on a tree trunk. It was thoughtful, but is it enough?
The youngest was 20, the oldest 99.
Some of them died in the completion of their first assignment; others returned from retirement to lend a hand.
They were nurses and dentists, surgeons and osteopaths.
They worked long and grueling days and nights with often insufficient equipment that provided meager protection from a virus that continues to ravage the world.
And one by one they died.
Worldwide the number of deaths of healthcare workers exceeds 1000. In America, the exact figures are unknown, but as of mid-April, close to 10,000 of them had been infected, and somewhere near fifty had died. Patient deaths in the month since would indicate those totals have increased markedly, maybe doubled. It's a reasonable assumption in an irrational time.
And they had names:
Deborah Gatewood, Phlebotomist, Beaumont Health, Farmington Hills, Michigan;
Joshua Suzuki, OB-GYN, Seattle, Washington;
Charlie Safley, Dermatologist, Memphis, Tennessee;
Priya Khanna, Nephrologist, Glen Ridge, New Jersey.
Somewhere along the way, during the past three months, they engaged in the battle against Covid-19 and its many permutations. They signed on to help people in full knowledge that there would be sacrifices; their mistake was trusting their government to protect them.
It's the same government that, at the height of the pandemic, is working behind the scenes to strip Americans of their health care; the same government whose president accused hospital workers of stealing protective equipment; the same government whose president continually undermines experts' efforts to contain the virus, who hawks spurious and dangerous treatments, who refuses to model appropriate behavior, and whose sole interest is the election in November. His half-baked plan to reopen America is a blueprint for more illness, more suffering, and more death.
Every time Trump stands before an audience and declares victory, he endangers more doctors and nurses, but he also endangers you and me because the suckers who believe him—who refuse to follow any guidelines at all—will comprise the next wave of victims. They won't all die, but they'll kill others. There'll be more lockdowns. More isolation. More hospital admissions.
And more healthcare workers will die. We may be better prepared for the next wave, and hospitals may have more equipment, but it's the people who work in those hospitals who will again be on the front lines protecting us from a president who knows the fatality count but never the fatalities.
(If you choose to go a different way from his, start here.)
I get it: I understand the horns and the waving and the applause to honor our healthcare workers—I don't doubt the sincerity. But they would need none of that—and the ones who have not survived this first wave would be alive today if the current administration had accepted its responsibility for our wellbeing and theirs, and treated all of us like people, not numbers whose sole purpose is to "flatten the curve" so that some pampered brats can go to the beach.