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An ICU nurse, a doctor and a respiratory therapist work on a COVID patient being intubated and placed on a ventilator in the ICU at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles. Photo by Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

It Looks Heroic, But You Broke Us

Abby Zimet

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-mandate 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

      Abby Zimet

      Abby has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. 

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