The sounds of my ventilator are terrifying. Maybe not the sound, per say, but the auditory reminder that I am, indeed, on life support.
Intravenous and feeding tubes snake across my right arm. The bleeping of a heart monitor and the vent make a hellish call and response. And the pain. And the darkness. And the loss. And the injustice. And the anger. And the sadness. And the pain. Always, the pain.
Soft sobs and voices cracking. My mom and sister read through the cards and messages from family and college friends. Everyone wishing me well and a speedy recovery. But, there’s no recovery from blindness. All the wishes in the world can’t bring sight back.
They finish reading the cards. “You have a lot of people who love you, Marc,” my mom says. I pick up the pencil attached to the clipboard and begin to write. This is my only method of communication. Words on paper. At least, until I can breathe on my own again:
“What happens when the ‘get well’ parade is over?” I scrawl.
My family isn’t sure they understand. To me, it couldn’t be clearer. Yes, I have loads of support and love and care now, just weeks after the crash. But what about a month from now? Or a year? I’ll still be blind. A time will come when there are no more get-well cards. Sometime soon, I’ll still be blind, still in pain, still dealing with loss… but people won’t be there to support me. At least, not like they are now. This parade of well wishers will, of course, come to an end. And what then?
Faithful Reader, thank you for indulging me with a little storytelling from that incredibly difficult time of my life. I don’t mind telling the story, but I really want you to consider this story for our time, right now: what happens when the get-well parade is over?
Every day, I’m hearing stories of individuals and organizations and businesses all getting in line to thank and honor our nurses, docs, respiratory therapists-all healthcare professionals working to take care of Covid patients. Restaurants sending food to nurses working the floor. First responders and others making parades around hospitals with horns and sirens and flashing lights, all thanking those inside the building who are suited up and ready for battle.
For the last 15 years, I’ve dedicated my life to honoring and thanking nurses, docs - anyone in the helping professions. I love, love, love the support that they are all getting right now.
But, just like when I was laying in that hospital bed, I’m haunted by the question: what happens when these parades are over? What happens when, a few months from now, nurses and docs are so sick of seeing tragedies that they think of taking their own lives? Where’s the parade then? When the burnout is so bad that a professional caregiver simply walks off the job. What happens when our healthcare professionals are so exhausted that they’re falling asleep at the wheel on the drive home? Free doughnuts and pizza aren’t going to cure that.
We, as a global society, are in for a fight. A long, hard fight. Our healthcare professionals are our last line of defense, not our first. First is physical distancing and hand washing.
When this battle is still going on in a few weeks, will all that support for healthcare professionals dry up and blow away? Will we, as a society, become more concerned with our own desires and disappointments than the commitment of these caregivers?
Please, join me in committing to the long haul. That, no matter how long this takes, we are dedicated to helping those who are taking care of the sickest of the sick. That we extend grace, acceptance and honor to those who are standing in as family for dying patients. That we remember that human beings aren’t typically equipped to witness so many deaths, that we pledge to be a non-judgmental, listening ear for those who are suffering so badly through this pandemic – and beyond.
Pain is always around us. Honoring those who dedicate each and every day to show up – no matter the personal cost – is always due our highest respect.
Please, join me.