My family is filled with healthcare workers and other frontliners. Being in the healthcare field, 90% of my friends happen to be my co-workers or people I’ve worked with in the past. I find all of them heroic and resilient, especially during this time of COVID-19 where caregiver burnout and lack of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) are constantly testing that resilience. However, the person I find most heroic and resilient out of all of them is my older sister, Melissa.
Melissa has been a registered nurse in the emergency room (ER) for over two decades, and is currently in a nurse practitioner fellowship in one of the largest county hospitals in the United States. Needless to say, working in a county hospital “can sometimes feel like working in a war zone” (exact words from a doctor who worked there). Those who make it out alive of their medical residency or two year nursing stint at this hospital are often held in a high esteem by many of their peers when they move onto a different hospital as “living to tell the tale.”
Despite the fact she was often sought after by head hunters or other hospital administrators, she felt it was her calling to stay with the county hospital. When asked why, she would reply that she felt called to help the under served and marginalized populations. Because she works at a county hospital, prisoners are often brought there for emergency treatment. When asked how she is able to provide quality, unbiased care, she replied, “Easy. I just don’t ask why they’re there, so it won’t cloud my judgement.”
Her hard work and dedication has won her multiple awards and recognition from her peers and patients every year. It’s funny because her friendly disposition was initially criticized by some of her co-workers as “fake” and “contrived.” Some would say, “There’s no way anyone can be that happy.” Newsflash: She really is that happy in general. It’s not to say that those words didn’t sting. She would sometimes come home despondent those first few months, lamenting that her work environment was toxic.
She could have easily found another job, but she refused to let others change her disposition or run her off. She continued to smile easily and be polite to whomever she came in contact with at work. Before long, her sunny disposition caught on, and her work environment became more collaborative and positive.
Another reason Melissa loves working in the ER is that she is able to help people at a time when they are vulnerable and need help the most. This determination to help others in need is also seen when she’s off duty. During a surfing trip, one of her companions decided to surf out into the choppy waters, and ended up caught in a strong undertow. He was unable to swim out of it, and eventually became unconscious. People were screaming for someone to help. Without hesitation, Melissa jumped into the ocean and pulled the man that was twice her size onto a ledge.
Her ER instincts kicked in as she became lead, directing others to get help, others to help pull the lifeless body to higher ground so they could perform CPR safely before the tide rose even higher. Luckily, the man was resuscitated. She then was able to give sign off to the EMTs as they transported the man via stretcher up a steep, and rocky bank since the ambulance was unable to get any closer. The man would not have lived had she not rescued him and started CPR since it took the EMTs a while to safely get down to them due to the rough terrain. Although I was very proud of my sister, who often downplays her heroics, I couldn’t help but feel upset that she put herself in a direct line of danger. Mostly it was because I found out that man was told multiple times not to surf due to the choppy waters because it was too dangerous even for the more seasoned surfers.
I never really understood what people meant when they told their loved ones, “Don’t be a hero.” I mean, wouldn’t you want your loved one to “do the right thing” and help someone if they needed it? Forget the whole obligatory and legal need to help others due to the nature of her job as a healthcare worker, it’s fundamentally an ethical duty. However, I can now see how it’s human nature to allow others to risk their lives for someone when it’s not their family member.
In this time of COVID-19, I am constantly worried about her going to work and being exposed to the virus. I worry that she will bring the virus home to her loved ones unknowingly, and they get sick. Above all, I worry that she will contract the virus due to her subpar PPE, and become gravely ill. In light of all the health care workers becoming sick and/or dying due from exposure, tells me this scenario isn’t an if but when. She is my sister, my best friend and my hero. The mere thought of losing her too soon (and perhaps needlessly) is unbearable.
As a healthcare provider, I know it’s considered taboo to air out my grievances about providing medical care to people who say COVID-19 is a hoax, or a governmental power play, and refuse to wear a mask or practice social distancing. The audacity to refuse wearing a mask because “it infringes on their basic rights” makes absolutely no sense to me. These people are playing Russian roulette with other people’s health and well-being, especially when it comes to frontliners. The same people who are there to help them.
It infuriates me that many of those same people will be demanding quick and unbiased treatment if they or their loved ones become sick from exposure. I wonder if faced with one in the hospital, would I be able to treat them with kindness and understanding? I can honestly say I’m not sure. (Don’t get me wrong, I would provide quick and thorough care–all while possibly internally screaming). But I know, without a doubt, that my sister would treat each and every one of them with love and kindness, because that’s the kind of person and frontliner she is.