The Essential Worker

I was talking to a patient the other day while we passed in the hallway. I had a mask on, she didn’t. She was in the office that morning to get her routine fasting labs. I asked her if she was going stir crazy at home in quarantine yet. Her chest puffed out a little, her face lifted, a smile curled at the edge of her mouth, “I’m essential.” There was a pride in her response that I had never considered. It stayed with me. Her job was in manufacturing and she was proud to be needed.

I have had a job where I am needed for so long, that I don’t even think of it as a positive. In fact, being needed can be a burden and I have to be diligent in ensuring that people do not take advantage of me, use and abuse me, take more from me than I have to give. I have to draw lines in the sand that can not be crossed so that I can continue to do my job without facing burnout. I have learned to preserve my down time so that I can be refreshed to continue taking care of patients when I’m needed.

I watch my healthcare brothers and sisters on the front lines and I know how it feels. There’s too much need. Too much death. Too much expectation. In order to preserve the limited PPE, the limited healthcare workers, the limited ICU beds, leaders in healthcare and government have asked people to limit the spread of  COVID 19 by isolating, sheltering in place, and following guidelines to stay healthy like social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks when in public, and avoiding excessive exposures (like going to get a haircut or shopping).

I have seen the protestors. At first I wanted to shout at them, call them stupid, stand in their faces and wish the wrath of the disease on their lives. Yeah, I got pretty pissed off. I know what the consequences of their actions are and I just wish they understood.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).

After the anger, I thought about the essential worker. Her faced brightened, her demeanor changed, when I asked her how quarantine was going. She wasn’t in quarantine, she was working. She was needed.

The people with their rebel flags, Trump hats, wrapped in the American flag, taking to the streets after sitting at home watching the bills pile up with no end in sight, nobody ever called them essential. They are the sea of nonessential, unneeded that are watching the rest of us get all the accolades. Their white skin, with all the privilege that it brings, wasn’t working for them right now. They are the unseen. The ones with too big a mortgage bill, too big a car payment, secretly living from paycheck to paycheck, trying to look like they’ve achieved the American dream, but falling short by just one paycheck.

Once I tried to understand the motivation behind the protests for reopening a country that has virtually no COVID 19 testing, no cure, no vaccine, no reliable count of the dead or infected; that’s when my anger subsided. These protestors just want to be needed. They just want to be counted. They just want to be heard. They just want to work (and get a haircut or a greasy burger in a booth with a rip in the seat at the local diner). They are not evil, they are desperate. They are so desperate that their motivations and desires will put them and others in harms way and it’s a chance they are willing to take. Many were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. The virus will spread. There will be death. There will be sadness and worsening desperation.  The essential worker will be harmed like a sick kind of payback for being needed in the first place. They will burden a system that is already showing cracks from the strain.

They know not what they do, but I pray that a sliver of reality will get through. We are all essential. It is essential that we all do what we can to protect the other. It is essential that we understand that our behaviors do not just effect us, but create a ripple. The ripple can be like a breeze of cool air,  refreshing and healing or it can carry the invisible virus of death and despair.  People will be harmed. People will die and we know it to be true.  Some might say it’s the price we pay for freedom. I say no haircut or burger is worth that kind of payment. That’s too big of a price to pay to be needed.

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20 Responses to The Essential Worker

  1. Ellen Hawley says:

    Some, I think, are desperate. Others, I suspect, are stuck in a crazed sort of way on the idea that their liberty depends on freely sharing their germs. And those are the dangerous ones.

    I’m an American living in the UK (I found your post by way of Deb’s blog), and I think the UK has done a better job of supporting people financially through this disaster. It hasn’t done a great job of it–it’s chaotic and full of gaps and the defining features of the current government are incompetence, chaos, and bluster–but they’re catching more people than the US is, and the result is less anger, less desperation, and much more support for continuing lockdown.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think people are becoming desperate because their is very little financial help. The corporation ate taking advantage and the small businesses are suffering. People are getting back to work and stores are opening because of the financial pressures even though the US infection rate has not stabilized. I might be in for some busy days in the near future….

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dewy says:

    Great post!!! I’m very glad I live where I do. Our numbers are going down and being an island once our borders are shut we are doing okie.
    Electives are being started again on Monday. All the nurses will have their shifts again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Val says:

    It’s a very good way to look at things – it helps to bring a sense of humanity to a terrible, worldwide,situation. People like these are not just in America, they are world-wide. They will all have different reasons but I’m sure that many will feel – as you say – inessential. And with that feeling comes inability to accept that they could be causing harm to others.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. dfolstad58 says:

    A thorough and insightful post and I felt like your voice was calm albeit sad/frustrated/irritated. It’s weird that I saw the news about protestors saying virus fake news – and the protestor when questioned about all the people who were actually social distancing said “you can’t fix stupid”.
    How ironic. I am grateful you set boundaries, and are cautious. Thank you for your work. – David

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m afraid I must disagree a bit. The protestors have no motivation other than stupidity and a need to cause trouble in any way they can. Here in New York, any non-essential employees (like me) who have been furloughed can receive unemployment pay as well as the federal weekly grant of $600 and the federal one-time stimulus payment of $1200 per person. Even people who are self-employed and normally not eligible for unemployment benefits are currently able to get those benefits under the pandemic relief program. There is no real reason for anyone to be running out of money or food. While I applaud those in health care and other truly essential businesses, I’m glad I’m not one of them. I have the option of staying safe at home and getting paid for it; 90% or more of New York’s currently furloughed citizens are complying with the lockdown because we know it’s the only way to really keep everyone safe. The protestors are misguided and foolish. Re-opening too soon will only cause a recurrence in the virus spike.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Mike Kizer says:

    I understand your frustration and anger. Perhaps you should understand that there are many parts of our beautiful country where the numbers and reasonable fears you are expressing don’t apply. (you are very smart so you probably do understand.) Thank you very much for this blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane says:

      Hi Mike,
      Which parts of the United States are you referring to specifically? To mention, the consequences of protests include opening up states like Georgia, where there’s been 837 covid deaths yet the state still without proper and widespread testing.

      Yes, the fears of covid may not apply to anyone. In fact, people like myself (in their 20s, no comorbidities, able to afford PPE, etc) are most likely unaffected whether at NY or Ohio. Yet the vulnerable/elderly/sick will be highly affected by states hastily opening up, and I’d like to challange you to perhaps re-think your position vs those who are actually vulnerable.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for this. I’m sharing now. A little compassion and humility would go a long way today.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Deb says:

    Such wise words. I shared it on my blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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