Dear healthcare worker,
If you haven’t already, hopefully you will soon notice an increase in the number of people who thank you for doing what you do every day. Some of you won’t know what to do with this newfound wave of gratitude from your neighbors, friends, and random strangers. As a veteran, I have an analogous perspective and I offer you my advice: Say “You’re welcome” and think of the following and try not to feel weird about it.
Veterans get this all the time. These days, when someone finds out they are talking to a veteran of military forces, it is almost universal that they’ll say “Thank you for your service.” It feels weird until the veteran finds the proper perspective. Here is some stranger that I never met, thanking me for something they don’t know what I did, in some cases before they were born. They don’t know if I put my “110%” into it, or if I was a dirtbag slacker. They don’t have a specific incident in mind for which they are grateful. They don’t even know when or where I served my country. But still they all express gratitude.
From the fresh veteran’s perspective: I did my duty, I did my time, maybe some bad things happened, maybe they didn’t, but I got out and I moved on with my life. Mostly moved on, anyway. It was ‘just this thing I did’ and now here is some stranger thanking me?
From the civilian’s perspective, I was sticking my neck out for them. The most horrible of things could have happened to me and mine, and this grateful stranger doesn’t know if they did – but they could have. They don’t know what hazards I endured, but they do know there was a term of years when I put myself at risk to defend them and everything they hold dear. It goes without saying that there were sacrifices involved, and these were on their behalf, so they are grateful.
I don’t know you. I never did something specifically for you. But I did something for a class of people that includes you. I did some things and you are grateful so “You’re welcome” is the polite response. Not many ask for details. It’s apparently enough that they know I did something for them.
Healthcare worker, in normal times your daily routine is fairly routine. You go to work, you do some stuff that is common for you. Patient (x) needs (x) amount of (x) therapy, sign the chart, swipe your badge and come back tomorrow. I’ve talked to some of you, and you are not inclined to think what you do is extraordinary. The people you treat every day, some of them are grateful on an individual basis for individual things you did for them. You can understand that. You saved Joe’s life, he’s grateful. You helped Mary’s arm feel better, she’s grateful. You gave somebody a scrip for medicine they think is going to help, hey they’re glad and grateful. You intubated someone and watched their sats like a hawk while it was touch-and-go, they’re grateful. That’s easy to understand.
But here is a stranger coming up to you and clapping, seriously? Yeah, seriously.
COVID-19 is a game changer for all of us. Usually you only help “other people”, a few patients; not all of us. This year, you are doing something for a class people that includes all of us. Maybe (hopefully) you never have to help me in particular, but you are helping some of us to deal with this new illness. Here I sit in the comfort of my “Stay at home/stay safe” couch, and you are not only going out to work your usual (sometimes long) shift. You are putting your health at risk. Not just like regular, where you always get a cold during the annual cold season. Not just like regular, where you might pull a muscle moving a patient. For the novel coronavirus, while you are doing your normal job someone can seriously injure or even kill you invisibly, in a moment, by accident.
We get that. You are putting yourself on the line in a way that could be harmful to you, to protect some of us, some of our parents, some of our grandparents. And you don’t quit. You keep going back day after day after day. Some of you are going to be losing record numbers of patients through no fault of your own, every day – and the next day you will go back. Because the patients need you, and it’s your thing you do. It’s who you are. You have a little packet of employee access cards on your lanyard and they all have your picture on them so you will go back again because that’s you.
You don’t have to. You could hang it up. You could zip up one more bag and say that’s enough forever and leave the rest of us wanting when our turn in hospital comes. But you’re going to be there tomorrow.
For us. We recognize your risk. We recognize your willingness to sacrifice for our sake.
For you, maybe it’s just ‘the thing you do’ but we see you fighting our invisible enemy for all of us. So thank you.
John Q. Public