Opinion: I'll never look at doctors and nurses the same way again

by Peter Heck · Mar 28th, 2020 9:28 am

Earlier this semester before coronavirus shut down our school corporation, I took a couple days out of our class time to show my students the World War I movie The Lost Battalion. The film tells the harrowing true story of the roughly 554 American doughboys isolated in the Argonne Forest and surrounded by German forces.

I remember watching these 17-year-olds stare at the screen as it depicted boys their own age climbing from the safety of their trench, ducking, dodging, and charging their way into what seemed to be certain death. We paused the movie to talk about the courage and valor it required. It's a theme we had discussed before, from Chamberlain's defense of Little Round Top to Pickett's Charge. And it's one we would revisit at Normandy and Iwo Jima.

Even though I know the standard rap against social studies teachers showing movies instead of teaching, I always find it useful to help a visual generation actually picture with their own eyes what took place on their behalf. How else do we hope to impress upon them the cost of the liberties and freedoms we so easily can take for granted?

It's why even after two decades, our country still places a premium on remembering the tragic events of September 11th, 2001. It wasn't 17-year-old soldiers defying death that day. It was 35-year-old dads from the Bronx lugging 80 pounds of firefighting equipment up smoky staircases, and middle-aged marketing executives charging a cockpit door with a food cart, risking their lives to save others.

Since that day I have a profoundly different view of our police officers, firefighters, and first responders. They are heroes. And in the same way, after these last few harrowing days in America, I know I will never look at this country's doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals the same way again.

After all, what is the difference in courage between those who rush into burning buildings and those who rush into contagious buildings overrun with a deadly virus? What is the difference in heroism between those rationing bullets when under siege of a foreign army and those rationing respiratory masks when under siege of a global pandemic? The sacrifice is the same:

An assistant nursing manager at a New York City hospital, who told his family he believed he had contracted the coronavirus after being exposed at work, died Tuesday evening, his sister told NBC News.

The death of Kious Jordan Kelly, 48, was confirmed by Mount Sinai Hospital. It comes amid an escalating crisis in New York in which hospitals are faced with surging numbers of coronavirus patients and shortages of crucial medical equipment and protective gear for staffers.

We often marvel at the gallantry of those who complete multiple tours of duty in the military, returning time and again to the front lines of conflict knowing the danger it poses. I think it is important that we recognize that is precisely what our health care professionals are doing every single day that passes. Nurses like this know the risk, they know the odds, yet they also know the duty they feel to their fellow man, so they keep returning to the front lines to face an enemy we are still scrambling to understand, predict, and strategize against:

We erect monuments, establish holidays, name buildings after, and memorialize in textbooks and classic films the mettle and grit of the American soldier. When COVID-19 has finally been vanquished from our shores, I fully support doing the same for the soldiers shouldering the heaviest burden and making the greatest sacrifice of this war.

May God bless and protect these healthcare workers, the embodiment of self-sacrificial American heroes.

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