If COVID teaches us anything, it’s that health care workers are the real heroes.

It was true before even a single person became infected with COVID_19, otherwise known as the coronavirus: Health care workers are the true heroes.

They work tirelessly, day in and day out, saving lives. They are known to preserve life or at the very least, what’s left of it. They are the people you don’t wish to see but are thankful that they exist. The moment you enter a cold, overly sterile-smelling hospital, you are under their watch. If something happens there, they got you.

But it’s more than that. If something happens to you down the street or 20 minutes away, maybe even an hour, they are also there to try and save a life. It’s not like what you see on television, where more time is spent in the break room or the outside park bench sorting through the latest ER romance or surgical power struggle.

In real hospitals, it’s 100% business. People get hurt every single minute and multiple people die every single hour of life. More often than not, these EMTs, nurses, clinic workers,and doctors are mere preventers. Their job is to preserve life to the best of their ability. But don’t sleep on the receptionists and the hard-workers in the office and H&R departments. They are watching your back too, making sure the best care is waiting for you on a rainy day.

Throughout all of this change-or re-routing of the world as we know it-they have been working long and seemingly never-ending 12-18 hour shifts. Their breaks are less glamorous than the ones seen on “Grey’s Anatomy,” taking place instead in the backseat of their car inside a maybe cool but probably cold parking garage. A smothered turkey and cheese sandwich with crushed chips and a Netflix series that everyone has already binged, discussed, and become divided over awaits these tired minds. They do their best to restart their internal computers, calling their kids or trusted friend. Maybe she just needs to hear her brother’s voice or the calming assurance of her dad. Maybe he simply needs to be told by mom that he’s doing his best.

The truth is the stink of COVID will probably never leave their body or better yet, their mind and soul. It’s imprinted there like a code that retrieves painful memories every time it’s scanned in the next 5-10 or 25 years. There will be triumph, but there will really be a lot of dread. A lot of smiles flipped upside down, lives being shrunk right before their eyes. Being in a hospital during COVID’s reign must be similar to being on the front lines of a war overseas.

Health care workers clock in and prepare for war, drifting slowly into the dizzying and blinding distance, looking for signs of life. Maybe a life they can save or one they can usher onto the next stop in the best way possible. These health care professionals never thought they’d be sitting with someone during their final moments instead of their loved ones. It wasn’t included in nursing school. When they were an attending physician, it wasn’t on the college program. Their professor never taught them how to sit with someone with protective lining standing between you and them, closer than their spouse and family can get.

They do this like a machine, day in and day out. When they get home and see brighter rooms and more signs of life, I am guessing they crumble. That is, after seeing the son’s art work and the daughter’s math. They do this after a quick hug and kiss. Maybe they come home, grab a trusted blanket, and just squeeze their dog until sleep finds them. As they drift away, even the weirdest dream doesn’t scare them; tomorrow’s shift scares them the most.

Believe me, these heroic health care workers are scared shitless. They need a break, a hug, something to distract their mind-but they keep on anyway. They aren’t gaining gray hairs during this time; years are being stripped off their life. But it’s more than their job at this point, it’s their calling. They are not in fact robots. There is human flesh, blood, and bone structure in there. It’s breakable. But they are the toughest people on Earth.

Trust me, I’ve seen it up close. My son had a heart condition before he was a month old. EMTs, doctors, nurses, and receptionists saved him. They may have issues the night before my son was brought to their doorstep, but that didn’t stop them from swinging into action. They may have looked like ordinary people but deep down, they were heroes who didn’t need capes or cool names. They don’t get blockbuster films written about them, or five film contracts. They get a salary that is a far cry from enough and the blame if something goes wrong. If it ends up right, oh well, business as usual to the general public.

If COVID teaches us anything, it’s that health care workers are the real heroes. They have no choice but to face the worst and try to defeat it. They are living, breathing immune systems, armed with the best medicines and reflexes that have ever been created. They are the world’s true avengers, no hyperbole required. If they lose one, another three will be saved. At the end of the day, they really don’t get to go home. For many, the hospital can become their home, especially during a time like this.

My mom and dad, as well as many others in my family, worked in hospitals. My dad was an X-ray technician for nearly 40 years, part of that coming overnight and/or in the emergency room. My mom was a nurse for over 35 years. He helped thousands over the years. She took care of sick children, including babies. I was taught at a very young age the importance of hospitals and its versatile array of workers. The concrete was laid out a long time ago.

It’s times like these that many, many more remember how vital those people are.

Hey Government folks or whoever has the money: pay off the student loans of these people, especially the younger ones who already have to overcome the shock of their bills as well as face a very deadly disease. Don’t ask for the money back either. If you can hand out all those stimulus packages, take care of the people who are making sure the world remains full of lovely people who make it what it is.

Hey random person who goes to the hospital for some random procedure or for another person in the near future: be nice to the people there. Find patience with the lady at the desk, the nurse in the room, and the doctor seeing a hundred patients a day. Don’t berate them. Remember they are helping you and your life stay together. They’re doing their best.

Hey you, heroic health care worker: We love and respect you. Thank you for your everyday service. Thank you for being selfless in your duty towards strangers. Thank you for holding the line.

They are truly the best. Why use they? Well, it’s a four letter word. A good one. Almost as good as love.

Much love to you, health care heroes.

*Picture Credit: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images*

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