Dear frontline health workers, you are our heroes

Medical workers check a file at a testing centre at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town Monday (April 6 2020). Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/AP
Medical workers check a file at a testing centre at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town Monday (April 6 2020). Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/AP

Fellow health workers, when the politicians, analysts, journalists and economists have all had their say, we, the nurses, doctors, scientists, pharmacists, technologists and caregivers remain in the vanguard of the defence of humanity against this contagion.

Military might and economic power are like chaff in the wind of the global scourge of contagion.

You can’t shoot a virus or pay it to leave.

All our training, knowledge, ethos, empathy and compassion converge at times like this.

All over the world, we respond unflinchingly despite our all too human anxieties, which we resolutely mask and, in its stead, transmit to our fearful charges kindness, care and hope.

When those in power recognise this and create the space for us to work our magic, society benefits.

The Ebola epidemic tore a horrible swathe through communities.

Health workers were not spared and scores succumbed.

The remarkable courage they displayed in caring for the afflicted, knowing that the contagion could cut them down at any moment, is the stuff of legend.

All in a day’s work, we blithely say, all the while harbouring our own dread like a heavy knot in our bosoms.

But we persist and even though many of us will be laid low, we prevail.

We prevail because we aren’t elected or appointed by fiat, nor do we bend the knee to anti-scientific polemic.

To our colleagues and friends in the frontline of the fight against the Covid-19 coronavirus and existing scourges, all strength to your arms.

Don’t let the calm demeanour slip. Our patients are all subconsciously searching for signs of our fears. We’re in the business of life, despite walking alongside death every day and, though we lose to this imposter those we cannot save, we do not give it full sway.

Don’t be discouraged by the weaknesses of those in authority who should know better but persist with their ignorance.

We have been taken for granted, relegated to bit players by the hubris and egos of the political classes, abused and treated unfairly by uncaring bureaucracies, tolerated the insecurities of the untrained managers and clerks who wield their little powers like brutal clubs.

We suffer the insufferable self-righteousness of those with peripheral knowledge who point fingers at our perceived shortcomings, while being themselves uneducated or untrained in navigating the rarefied space that exists between health worker and patient and through which a complex set of relations and procedures are mediated.

Ignore these people and persist with your duty of care no matter what they say.

They too will learn humility when their time comes to seek the succour of your healing hands.

And, when all is said and done, here we are, on the real frontline, not the phoney one on the other side of a polished desk or the back of a limousine, but at bedsides, in theatres, labs and clinics, sharing the same air and spaces as our terrified patients.

You are all my heroes. You are what makes us all more human.

You give civilisation meaning.

Good luck to you all. Take care of yourselves as you take care of the people.

When you emerge on the other side, know that no one could have done more or better.

Yours in the trenches

Dr Aslam Dasoo

Progressive Health Forum


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