By 3 am I was so scared I had to make a move.
Earlier that evening, I started quivering and couldn’t make it stop. My blood pressure was up, according to the readings on my home cuff. Scariest of all, I felt an odd tingling on the left side of my body.
My fear took me to the emergency room. A nurse with kind eyes asked how I was doing. The weariness in her voice made me forget myself and ask her the same question: How was she doing?
“It’s just hard,” she said simply. “We signed up to help people and we can’t do it. We are trying to do our best but it’s not enough.” I saw the profound exhaustion all around me in the people who checked me in, took my vitals, and got me settled behind the curtain.
Hospitals and ICUs are running low on capacity, and so are our healers, who have carried a disproportionate burden of the pandemic for almost two years. No one applauds them at shift change as cases spike again. Their patients are getting younger, the work hours are getting longer, and the wards—and the morgues—stay full.
Dr. Sarah Cross, a Minnesota physician, recently confessed in an editorial that she and her colleagues feel spent, emotionally and physically. They soldiered through the dangerous early days without adequate PPE, holding the hands of the dying when little was known about the virus. They celebrated the arrival of the vaccine only to be discouraged months later when infections soared higher than ever.
Frontline health care workers make enormous personal sacrifices to care for patients whose hospitalizations and even deaths could have been prevented.
Martin Luther King once said, ”Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” My recent episode reminded me that our healers show up to answer that question every day. Doctors and nurses, and also the custodians and clerks, technicians and aides, do for others under unimaginably stressful conditions.
I saw in the people taking care of me how it’s burning them out and breaking them down. The rest of us do what we can to avoid the virus; they walk in the door to where they know the infection is waiting. They take that risk for the rest of us.
Dr. Cross’s editorial moved me to ask myself what small act I could do for them. I thought of the words of Madame CJ Walker, a superstar of Black history and the nation’s first female self-made millionaire. As she achieved her success, she said, “Your first duty is to humanity. We must care not just about ourselves but about others.”
Madame CJ Walker was one of my inspirations. Two years ago, I started my podcast platform, SHElettaMakesMeLaugh.com, on February 1, the first day of Black History Month, calling on the resilience modeled by those who came before me as I launched my small business. I had no idea that six weeks after launching, I would face the challenges of the lockdown.
To mark the anniversary of my small business, we want to do something to spread love and hope. Last year we showed up at a nursing home with gifts of appreciation for front-line workers there.
This year we’re celebrating by dropping off gift baskets at two local hospitals. We’re asking that they go to doctors and nurses and also to other essential workers, the custodians, cooks and aides who come to work every day under circumstances that are not only trying but also dangerous.
It’s a small gesture, but one we hope says, “We see you. We care. We very humbly thank you for all that you have taken on, and all of the challenges that may still lie ahead.”
As for me, after a round of tests at the ER, I learned that it was stress, not a stroke, that created the symptoms that pushed me to seek help. A recent divorce, raising four children while running a business, and two years of the crazy ups and downs of the pandemic had taken their toll on my health.
I was able to go home with orders for follow-up appointments. But there’s no quick or easy resolution of the stress facing essential health care workers.
They have broken their backs for us. We need to find a way to show our gratitude with a thank you, with a gift, or, best of all, with a vaccination and a booster so that we won’t add to the load we expect them to bear.