No question our best “selves” are given a chance to emerge during a crisis. The COVID-19 crisis offers the world a rare opportunity to behave collectively on behalf of humanity without having to “hate” the enemy. The virus is not to be hated as it has no race, ethnicity, no religion, no ability to steal proprietary secrets. The patriotism we extolled in the last century and in most previous centuries always was directed against another segment of humanity. Hitler, Togo, Mussolini, allowed us to be more noble than we had ever been (but it led to hatred for whole peoples for a generation). That is not the best we can be. Only in a natural disaster are we given an opportunity to act courageously (out of love) and to avoid enmity towards our neighbors who are also facing the same calamity.
Can we? Can we act collectively to spare our most vulnerable who, as in every calamity, bare a greater share of the burden? It is well within our ability to triple our energies, to shift our productivity, to lay aside our distractions in order to: 1) mass-produce badly needed test kits; 2) develop and mass-produce the serology tests; 3) provide close and timely tracking of each positive case until all the virus is sequestered; 4) leave the rest of our stores, schools, offices, hospitals and factories safe to work in; and, 5) we finally develop the vaccines which can save us all.
This will not be the last global challenge to face humankind. This is but a dress rehearsal. Asteroids, solar storms, comets, volcanos, earthquakes, and sea-level rise are all looming. My colleagues, nurses, respiratory therapists, and doctors leave their children and loved ones at home while they come to work. They don PPEs, step into rooms where no parent or infant has been yet tested to provide care, emotional support, and often life-saving treatments. The bell rings, they rush down to labor and delivery where an infection-unknown mother and infant in distress need immediate delivery and care. Are there viral particles in the air? Is this the day they too might contract COVID-19 despite the face shields, masks, gloves, cover gowns, booties? Are they high risk? Does it matter? What would happen if they died doing their jobs?
Yet they do their jobs. They come to work. They come home, shower after changing clothes before they hug their children and their spouses. They get some sleep. They come back and do it again and again; hoping that for 18 months at least (not this Christmas but the next) they’ll finally be safe. When you’re in your 20s or 30s, as many caregivers are, 18 months isn’t such a long time. When you’re in your 70s, and the risk of dying from COVID-19 is 200% higher than when you were 20, 18 months stretches long and ominously far into the future.
Acts of love can come surprisingly easy during a crisis. Clusters of acts of love can spread like light at sunrise. Let’s light up this crisis together.
Paul Winchester is a neonatologist.
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