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.