If you saw a true hero, would you know it?
You might know it if you were on the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. You might also know it if you were in the fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 1, 1863. And you would indeed know it if you were aboard United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.
Yet today, during the most pernicious viral pandemic in more than a century, there is one relatively easy way to know if you’ve seen a true hero — because he/she is likely to be wearing a N95 respirator mask.
In addition to that N95 mask, you’ll also find that hero wearing latex gloves, a full-body disposable gown, a face shield and other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE).
You see, today, in this fight against COVID-19 (“CO” stands for corona, “VI” for virus, and “D” for disease, identified in “19” or 2019), the real hero on the front lines of this battle is the doctor, nurse, hospital worker, first responder, medical researcher or other healthcare professional risking his/her own safety to take care of the victims of this microscopic menace.
Now, I know I am not the first observer to feel a combination of awe, sympathy, gratitude and inspiration at the work these heroes are doing. Recent op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and CNN.com all have done a beautiful job of chronicling the heroism of the N95 hero.
In the Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Nurses Are the Coronavirus Heroes,” Paul Dohrenwend writes about nurses in the following way:
“The nurses marinate in risk as they spend the greatest amount of time with the patient. They draw blood, obtain samples, provide oxygen, and steadfastly tend to their patients’ needs. They are by the doctors’ side as we intubate patients struggling to breathe. Once that patient is transferred to the intensive-care unit, it’s the nurses who do the mundane and the heroic to make sure the patient survives the illness or dies more comfortably.”
I don’t know about you, but to “marinate in risk” is not how I want to spend my day.
In the Washington Post, “These are the heroes of the coronavirus pandemic,” Deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus muses:
“There is some danger inherent in the ordinary practice of medicine, but not this much. I confess: I do not know that I would do the same in their circumstances; I am not sure I am so generous or so brave. If my child were graduating from medical school, how would I deal with her being sent, inadequately protected, into an emergency room? If my husband were a physician, would I send him off to the hospital — or let him back into the house in the interim?”
Photo courtesy Shutterstock
And at CNN.com, “The real heroes in the fight against coronavirus,” Thomas Lake writes:
“Someday, when all this is over, we’ll likely put up statues of people in hospital scrubs. We’ll have parades in their honor. Their names will go on bridges, highways and memorial walls. Maybe they’ll get their own national holiday. Right now, though, our nurses and doctors are busy fighting for our lives. Some of them are dying.”
Of course, not all heroes in this battle wear N95 masks. There also are heroes of the sort that Elan Journo writes about in the New Ideal in his piece, “Unsung Heroes of the Pandemic: Creators of Our Digital Age.”
Journo has much praise for the N95 hero, whom he has previously called “under-appreciated heroes.” But he also identifies another hero helping society survive through this pandemic:
“Reflecting on this crisis, I’ve come to have a deeper appreciation for another group of heroic individuals. We rely on their tireless work and achievements every day, but all the more so as millions of us are subjected to stay-at-home orders. But they are unsung. Call them the builders of our digital age. Thanks to them, the lockdowns are more tolerable than they otherwise would have been.”
Journo then goes on to praise the creators of products such as Gmail, Dropbox, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Netflix and YouTube and Disney Plus, Hulu, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and Instacart for making it possible for us all to stay safe and sane while under virtual home quarantine.
Yet as much respect, admiration and praise as these creators deserve, there is something extra valorous about someone who dons the N95 mask and engages in hand-to-hand combat with this viral predator.
At this time, for this effort, and for this heroism, I am reminded of what Shakespeare wrote in “Henry V” in the epic speech known as “This day is called the feast of Crispian.”
Here are the final lines of this rousing and inspirational speech, which is perhaps the best motivational passage ever written:
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
So today, I want to praise the few, the happy few, the band of brothers, these N95 heroes, who shed their blood with each other in the fight against COVID-19.
May the rest of us who are not on the frontlines strive to replicate their valor.
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