You are 19 years old, standing in the mud and mire that are the trenches of World War I. You are cold, hungry, filthy, emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. You stare straight ahead, eyes vacant, not revealing deep inside you a visceral fear that defies description; a fear that only those who have faced the horror of combat know. This is your reality. You know what awaits when the order is given to “go over the top” – the withering rifle, machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire; a rain of deadly hot steel indiscriminately finding flesh and bone, mutilating and killing those around you, and quite possibly you. Any sense of youthful immortality is long erased by the nightmares you have already experienced.
The first 100 yards — survive the first 100 yards, you keep telling yourself. If you can make those 100 yards, you know your chances of surviving the day increase significantly; importantly, as well, gaining victory. A mere 100 yards … but it might as well be a thousand. Knowing many of your “band of brothers” will die, that you may die within the next few moments, you still do it. The order is given, and you immediately go over the top, the fear replaced by a single thought, survive those 100 yards. How do you do it? Why do you do it? You cannot do otherwise; you will not let your buddies down; those with whom you have shared hardships and terrifying moments; those with whom you have a special bond that no one else can understand. You have to be there for them; you will be there for them no matter the cost.
The first 100 yards speak directly to facing one’s fears, struggles, and challenges. Of persevering, of doing what has to be done despite the fear, however that may look. The war with COVID-19 is, for those in the front line trenches, so to speak, their own first 100 yards. Yet, despite the heartbreak – death, suffering, isolation, loneliness– and their own personal fears, they daily go “over the top” to cross those 100 yards and lovingly, compassionately care for those at their most terrifying and vulnerable time.
History is replete with those willing to “go over the top” and dare to cross the “first 100 yards” to confront whatever the “enemy” was: the bubonic plague, TB, smallpox, Spanish flu, Ebola, and now COVID-19. The risks were real; death was possible just as it was with the soldier in the trenches. Yet, time and again, they stepped up and said, “I will go. I will do it. Send me.” As a nation, we owe thanks to those who do just that. I, for one, am most thankful.
Andy Lamb is an internal medicine physician. He can be reached at Bugle Notes.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com