I've been an emergency department nurse in Charlottesville, Virginia, for almost 10 years now. I've dealt with heart attacks and strokes. I've dealt with gunshot wounds and opiate overdoses, domestic violence and human trafficking. I've delivered babies in the parking lot and held the hand of centenarians as they took their last breath. Hell, I've even had to deal with honest-to-God Nazis, which is not something I ever thought I would have to say at any point in my career.
But the coronavirus pandemic is, by far and away, the biggest crisis I've ever faced. Being the "tip of the spear" of essential workers risking our lives to protect our neighbors from the effects of COVID-19, and fighting to keep our country going—alongside retail workers, EMTs, housekeepers, farm workers, firefighters, postal workers, journalists, respiratory therapists, truck drivers, and all of the other "essential workers"—isn't something any of us thought we were signing up for. We didn't take our jobs to be "heroes," but we've stepped up as well as we can.
And, thankfully, most of you have stepped up, too—way more people than we anticipated! In the absence of a vaccine or effective treatment, the best thing we can do to keep each other safe is to make sure the virus doesn't have a host. I understand the sacrifices that has entailed for so many people. While staying at home may not feel like being part of the fight back against COVID-19, it's what has saved us all. Without you—the couple who canceled their wedding and held their ceremony virtually, the parents who are desperately relearning how to FOIL again, the retired folks who can only see their grandkids from a distance, the folks at food banks and community organizations helping support those struggling to get by—our hospitals would be overwhelmed, and hundreds of thousands of more people would be dead in the United States of America right now.
But there are other folks out there who're convinced that it's not actually your hard work and sacrifice saving the day—to them, it's all just a hoax, a liberal conspiracy to tank the economy and keep Donald Trump from being reelected. They believe that people need to step up and “liberate” their states. Or, if they accept that COVID-19 really is a problem, it's those dirty New Yorkers who have a problem; it’s only a problem for someone else. They want America "re-opened" immediately, damn the costs.
I have just one request for these people.
Please stop asking us to die for your convenience.
Because that's what you're doing. Let's be clear: The majority of you chucklef**ks advocating for this "re-open immediately" shit, weighing the pros and cons of quarantine, are locked down safe in a McMansion somewhere. You've got no skin in the game, except possibly via your broker. Your anger is about as transparent and genuine as the Brooks Brothers Riot.
The "essential" workers out there holding everything together? Anything that goes bad falls directly in our laps. You might be lucky enough to skip out on getting sick, but we're going to risk our lives to deal with all the repercussions of the inevitable surge in COVID-19 cases that will follow. And it's not a theoretical risk we're facing: a half-dozen of my colleagues here in Virginia, all firmly in the “young” category, have tested positive and learned firsthand what this virus can do to the human body.
And one of the biggest failures in all of this is "assuring" younger folks that they're "safe" from this. Bullshit. Not only are these young people brought to their knees for weeks, there is real concern about what the long-term consequences of contracting COVID-19 are, with the potential for permanent lung, liver, and heart damage from even non-hospitalizing cases. What's the socioeconomic and emotional cost of 30-year-olds with chronic, life-long problems we usually only see in 80-year-olds?
And when things go bad, they go bad faster than I've seen since I worked in Pediatric Acute Care. Adults aren't supposed to "go off a cliff" when their medical condition gets worse. It's supposed to be gradual. You're supposed to have time to get ready, not go from "Alright, we're getting ready to discharge you" to "Oh my God, we need to intubate this patient NOW"—in a matter of an hour.
Do you know how things work in my house right now? My wife and I are both ER nurses. We haven't slept in the same bed, haven't kissed, haven't even hugged face-to-face in over a month. I haven't been able to roughhouse or wrestle with my kids since early March; can't kiss them, can't snuggle on the couch in a big pile and watch a movie. We know that if one of us gets sick, the other one has to be able to keep working and to take care of our kids. It's one reason I eschew the "soldiers on the frontlines" rhetoric, because we don't ask our military to put their families at risk when they go into battle.
Our spring break plans to go to Texas to see Grandpa are gone, while American Airlines can "only" give me a travel voucher for our flights (even though they were happy to take my tax dollars). Our summer trip to visit Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park, and to go whale watching on Puget Sound—a trip I planned and saved up for for 18 months—is almost certainly blown. Going to Virginia Beach? Can't see how that'll happen. Camping in the mountains? Fat chance.
At least I have a job, unlike tens of millions of other Americans. My dad lost his. So did a handful of other close family and friends. Nobody I know has escaped this ordeal unscathed in some form or another.
When I go to work, I'm in PPE for the whole shift. I try to eat and drink before I go in, to pound fluids, so I can go the whole 8-12 hour shift without removing my mask, goggles, and face shield, if possible. My managers have moved heaven and earth to keep us safe and ensure we have enough PPE, and the local community has responded similarly, way above and beyond any reasonable expectation of community activists in doing so. But if the surge hits full-bore, no hospital or community can survive it on their own.
I want this quarantine over. I want it gone. God, I just want to be able to sleep in my own bed. To hug my kids!
But I can't.
And if there was nothing we could do about it, I could maybe at least deal with that. But that's the thing. We didn't have to shut down the economy. We could've been South Korea. Taiwan. Germany. We had at least six weeks of lead time to get ready for all of this. And it wasn't like it was a hard thing to do, either. It was simple.
We just had to test.
Testing! That's it! Test anyone and everyone, test ALL the people, and then make sure anyone who came up positive knew to stay the hell away from other people. That's all we had to do. And the United States of America, the "arsenal of Democracy," surely had the industrial and scientific capacity to do it better than any other country on planet Earth. We could be the envy of every other country, economy humming along, with people taking just common sense precautions while we bought time for a vaccine and treatment to come online.
But we didn't. We dropped the ball. Hell, we didn’t just drop the ball—we kicked it over the horizon. And not only that, but we still haven’t started the process of mass production of testing supplies.
We're not getting ahead of this curve, absent an effective vaccine or treatment, without mass testing. And if we haven't even started ramping up to test at an order of magnitude more than we are now? Well! Buckle in, y’all, because we're in for a hell of a long ride before things go back to normal.
And really, that's how to tell the people screaming "REOPEN AMERICA!" while waving Confederate flags and MAGA signs are full of it. Because when you ask them who is responsible for the current state of affairs, they suddenly have nothing to say. Suddenly, it's just a huge mystery why that hasn't occurred. I mean, it's really nobody's fault, amirite? Golly gee, shucks, just an honest mistake that nobody could have seen coming.
But they know. They know who screwed this one up. They know that failure cost tens of thousands of lives. Disrupted the lives of every single American. They know—and I guess they'd rather we die to cover it up. To protect the person whose fault it is. To try and keep people from remembering they helped enable this state of affairs. That it didn't have to be this way.
Until they reconcile with those facts, all they're doing is asking us to die for their convenience.
Don't let them get away with it.