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It Looks Heroic, But You Broke Us

 

SAY WHAT? - Grisly milestones, one after the other. On Tuesday, the U.S. hit 40 million COVID cases since the start of the pandemic, with four million in the last four Delta-inundated weeks, over a quarter of them kids. This Labor Day weekend, the number of hospitalized COVID patients was nearly 300% higher than the same time last year, and the number of deaths was over 86% higher.

Today, some 100,000 Americans are hospitalized, almost as many as during January’s COVID peak; we are at over 1,500 deaths per day - almost a 9/11 a day - and climbing. Surges are still spreading across GOP states, many of them southern, where vaccination rates are about 40% lower than in the Northeast and malignant "stooge hack dickdrip" idiots like Gym Jordan are still saying things like, "Vaccine mandates are un-American," never mind George Washington ordering smallpox vaccines for the Continental Army. With Delta now spreading into western and Midwestern states, COVID-swamped Idaho officials on Tuesday announced they'll start rationing health care - aka GOP death camps - by activating protocols for "crisis standards of care." Meanwhile, the usual GOP suspects continue to infect and kill their constituents at unfathomable rates. 

Texas, despite being so busy suppressing voting, banning abortion and magically "eliminating" rape, has seen over 3.7 million COVID cases and this weekend hit an all-time high in pediatric hospitalizations. Florida, thanks to its death-dealing, anti-mask-and-vaccine governor, now represents almost 25% of U.S. deaths; in Miami-Dade County alone, 15 teachers died in the last 10 days, including a longtime, much-loved mentor who "leaves behind a wife, son and countless men he inspired," after which The Miami Herald eviscerated DeSantis as an inept "portrait in selfishness."

In Mississippi, there were 900 deaths in August that included multiple pregnant women; doctors in the ICU were performing emergency C-sections on women hooked up to ventilators to "get the baby out before the mom dies." "This never happens," said one doctor. "Never." Given all these horrors are both unprecedented and largely preventable - virtually all COVID hospitalizations and deaths are people who inconceivably declined to take a free, safe, readily available vaccine because goddamn the stupid is killing us - PTSD is soaring among doctors and nurses, and many are leaving the field. Mississippi now has at least 2,000 fewer nurses than at the beginning of the pandemic, a growing trend that only adds more strain to already maxed-out health care systems. "It looks heroic, (but) it's sweaty and hard and chaotic and bloody," said one Mississippi ICU nurse who recently resigned. "And it's hard to live in this every day and then go home and live a normal life." Asked if the system is reaching a breaking point, one nursing manager said, "I think we already broke." 

It's a common, woeful, searing refrain among those doing the unimaginable "heavy lifting." From one anonymous doctor:

“We wanted to help people
We were smart and driven
We loved science and physiology, humans and disease
So we made a commitment
We signed up
It was an honor

We read thousands of pages
Attended hundreds of lectures
Pulled all-nighters
Took more exams than we thought possible
Finals week felt insurmountable
But it didn’t break us
It made us stronger

We learned statistics and biochemistry
Immunology and pathophysiology
We mastered genetics, virology and pharmacology
We read scientific papers and learned how to dissect them
Papers, not videos
It was an honor

We came running when you needed us
Literally, running down the hallway
To the ICU, the trauma bay, labor and delivery
I need help, you said
We can help, we said
It was an honor

There were moments that we thought would break us
Moments that drove us to journaling, to therapy, to nightmares
Broken babies.
Paralyzed children.
Dead pregnant mothers with three kids at home.
The wail of a mother whose son just died.
We bent but we did not break
We returned because you needed us
And we could help
It was an honor

Then there was fear
Fear of walking into our place of work
Fear that we’d be killed by going to work
Fear that we’d kill a loved one because of our work
There were tears and sleepless nights and anti-anxiety medications
But you banged your pots and pans
You sent us pizzas and called us heroes
You needed us
We could help
So we wore our masks, and our gowns, and our gloves, and our goggles
We decontaminated ourselves before going home and isolated ourselves from our families
We almost broke
It was an honor

How quickly the joy turned to defeat
Elation to rage
You’ve learned to do your own research now
You know better than we do
Gaslighting is your language
Your selfishness is astounding
You don’t want our help when we ask you to stay healthy
Yet you arrive at our doors begging for help at the end

You stole our resources
You hobbled our ability to help those who did what they were supposed to do
You killed our patients by filling our beds and using up our ventilators
We can’t help any more
You broke us
There is no more honor”

(Abby Zimet has written CommonDreams.org  Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues.)