We got to hear it again. The president compared health care workers to soldiers rushing towards bullets. He may admire this, and we know he would have never served himself. When it was his turn, he did all he could to avoid the draft. He was of a class of people that may have agreed with the war, as long as others went and died. It was not for them.
This problem was not just limited to what would turn out to be the far-right in modern-day America. The attitude extended to members of the new left who did not want to serve on ideological reasons. Some went to Canada and made lives there. It is the right though that has a heroic concept about the military and military service that may explain why they did not want to serve. They have bought every bad scene of troops charging enemy positions. In other words, rushing towards the gunfire.
We have the same image from 911 when both police and firefighters did that, rushing into the towers. It was a heroic image that was seared into the mind eye of the nation. For some time people were willing to wear NYPD patches and hats, not so much with the fire department, even though they did most of the rushing up the stairs. .
Now we have the same exact imagery portrayed from the Rose Garden by a president who never took any of those very real risks. And his base is saying that it is an honor to compare health care workers, who are working without enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to soldiers. These are the same people who do not understand how this is not just wrong, but truthfully a wrong-headed understanding of how people in the service, or emergency services, keep each other alive.
So let me give you some insight since I did serve for ten years as a medic (in another country.) I also was a training officer and at times a triage officer or an MCI commander. So I do have an idea of these things, and as a member of EMS, we did take substantial risks. Mind you, we also served in the midst of a war on drugs, so at times we were targeted by real bullets, not the fantasy ones that many in the far-right think are so glorious.
There was one principle that was drilled into my head early in my own training, and later we drilled it into our cadets. This principle is a priority on what matters during a response. And yes, it goes like this.
Your bottom priority is your patient, for without a patient there is no reason for us to be out here.
The third priority is your equipment. You need to maintain it in good working order because no equipment will make your job much harder.
Your second priority is your partner. Why? You both watch each other backs and keep each other safe.
Your first priority in this safety drill is you. If you become injured or sick you become a patient and add to the burden of other responders. In the worst of cases, you may die, and we all hate funerals. In the present crisis losing medics at all levels means no medics to take care of you if you get sick. It can lead to the collapse of the medical system.
This does not mean that we did not rush into situations most civilians would consider nuts, crazy, or dangerous. We did. It’s the nature of the job. A car that’s mangled and needs to be cut apart to remove a patient is not precisely the safest of places. The same goes for a fire, or for that matter a shootout. However, we had procedures on how to do this, which added a layer of safety, as well as PPE. All those procedures were written in the very real blood of people before us. Some were the ones who died in the line of duty.
We all intended to go home at the end of the shift, even if we knew there was always a small chance we would not. Those safety protocols and training evolutions to prepare us for a response were meant to help us go home.
We trained and drilled for this, constantly. It was not just yelling charge and going towards the line of fire. And when it came to shootouts, we also had rules, to keep ourselves and potential patients safe.
From talking to combat veterans, the same applies. People do not intend to charge a machine gun nest because they want a medal. It happens, and those are extraordinary acts.
Which brings me back to our health workers. People are facing a virus, a novel coronavirus. Like healthcare workers around the world, there are a series of procedures to keep people from infecting themselves. Refer to the priority list above if you need to. The last thing they want is to add to the patient load or bring it home to their families. Why people donning PPE usually do so with a partner. Why? It’s a safe thing to do. Reusing masks is violating all kinds of safety protocols and putting those people, their families, and the community, at greater risks.
None is rushing towards the virus. People are doing this in a way that is the safest for everybody. It’s not just about the patients. This image of soldiers charging machine gun nests comes from Hollywood. It has happened, but it is not common. So you want to think of your health care workers as heroes, sure. Make sure they are equipped, with what they need to keep themselves safe, and not add to the burden of the health care system.
While you are at it, make sure other front line workers also have the proper PPE and the training to use it properly. If we do not, we could literally start losing medics by the first dozens and then the hundreds. This will mean a system that will fail. This is the logic behind flattening the curve. But it is also the logic behind tracing and testing. If we are going to open the nation safely, we need to have all this in place.
It also will translate to more trust, and people will feel safer about going to your business. If people do not, you might as well keep your doors closed.
As to that romantic idea from the president, and his friends in the far right, it’s a nice one. But like everything else that is coming out of the White House, it’s a fantasy easy to have when you are not rushing towards those bullets, I suppose.