Hero to Zero

Oct 14, 2022

…until you lose your Super Powers.

 “Everybody come look at this!” a nurse called from the hallway, waving us all towards the break room. My assumption was there was more food – pizza, sandwiches, cakes that had been flooding in from the community. Or maybe more cards from elementary school students. Thank you for being a hero! in crayon or markers. We all piled into the small corner room – nurses, CNAs, housekeepers, doctors. From the fifth floor, we were able to get a good view of the road that wrapped around the hospital. A parade was moving slowly by, horns honking, flashers on, flags waving. Thank you, heroes! Thanks! Thank you! various homemade signs proclaimed. I watched this unusual spectacle for a minute, because we were, after all, at work, and thought this:

  • If I’m a Hero now, then I’ve been an undercover hero for over 30 years. AND…

I do miss the free lunches!

  • This won’t last long.

It was 2020, probably late spring, the kickoff to the pandemic that was supposed to be a predictable bump in the straight line of healthcare and we were ready. But Covid19,  the Coronavirus that tiptoed into the world during 2019, was not to be reckoned with. It was skittish, volatile and completely unpredictable. As the world divided into vaccination camps, and Dr. Fauci became another pop culture icon, we donned our gowns, gloves, eye shields and N95 respirators and went to work. My job is an RN, which means I care for sick people.

I became a nurse during the AIDS epidemic of the 80’s. “Universal precautions” was the new buzzword, which simply meant wear gloves, stupid. We didn’t know how it was transmitted at first, so we were fitted with these hideous Hazmat-type respirators. I’ll never forget the expression on a young  AIDS patient’s face when I walked into his negative-pressure room wearing one. I took it off. It was enough that he had a death sentence. The isolation and shame of being an “untouchable” is a scarlet letter medicine can’t redeem. But we can reach through the barrier and love. Was I a Hero? No. I was just trying to follow Jesus through a dark and murky unknown, just like Covid19,  35 years later. Sometimes the heart has to go before the science – that’s just my creed. I’ve been called Reckless. I like it better than “hero.”

Jesus understood mankind and our faithless affinities. One day, the crowds are shouting, “Hosanna in the highest!” as He is led through a pressing crowd of adoring followers. A few days later, many of these same fans are yelling, “Crucify Him!” And they did. I know Jesus felt a lot of things on the cross, but Surprise was not one of them. He knows what we are made of. And He loves us beyond what we can imagine anyway. As Oswald Chambers puts it:

Our Lord trusted no man; yet He was never suspicious, never bitter, never in despair about any man, because He put God first in trust; He trusted absolutely in what God’s grace could do for any man.”

June 2021, I left work for several months to have a hip replaced. I came back just in time for the real wave to hit, the “curve” that looked more like a tsunami. As I got on the elevator, I noticed a carefully framed sign hung at eye level.

ZERO Tolerance

Our staff is here for you and has the right to carry out their work in a safe environment.

Violence, foul language, and/or abusive behaviors are unacceptable.

Verbal threats or acts of violence will not be tolerated and may result in the immediate removal from this hospital and/or prosecution.

If you are seeking care, you may be screened for prohibitive items to ensure the safety of everyone in the hospital.

 Hmmmmm. We’ve come a long way from parades and free lunch. They must’ve found out we were just human after all. By the time I hit the 5th floor, I realized something profound. Hero to Zero. It’s best to trust in neither – accolades or threats. Just do the next thing, and trust God alone.

I am not a Hero, and I never have been. I’ve taken care of dying Covid patients, AIDS patients and a multitude of no-less-important cancer, cardiac or “Comfort Care” end-of-life patients. Just this week I held an exhausted wife and let her sob into my shoulder. Healthcare can be triumphant, as we lined the halls back in 2020 and cheered Covid survivors on their way out the door. But it can also betray. We are frail. For all we try our best to do, we fail. To me, the heroes are those that reach beyond the limits, in obscurity, and touch the untouchables, letting sorrow have its place. “Mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15 NIV)

Just like the airlines, the supermarket, and used car dealers, healthcare has changed. Raging against those of us who have stuck it through will not bring it back to the pre-Covid good ol’ days when complaints and anger were linear, and the answers attainable. Many patients and families have expressed grace and gratitude and we appreciate that more than you know. But as Chambers said, to be Christ-like is to trust in God and what His boundless grace and mercy can do in any situation. That’s where I stand, without the cape, and preferably without the N95. May He continue to use these old hands to heal, reckless in His love.

Left on the whiteboard by an elderly patient I cared for.