“Frontline Workers”

(Full article in NY Times: The 20 Phrases That Defined 2020)

Frontline Workers: New York City’s Covid-19 surge in the spring made our hospital feel like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces were frantically re-scrambled each day to accommodate yet another set of unprecedented circumstances. On the other hand, it also felt oddly ordinary: In health care, you go to work every day, and your mandate is whatever your patients bring that day. Which is why the “hero” appellation felt so awkward to most of us. Nurses, doctors, technicians, aides and housekeepers surely have put in heroic hours during the pandemic, placing themselves and their families at risk. But we do it every day as patients grapple with the vulnerability that illness engenders. We do it every day when they need to unload their worries and their grief.

Health care is always frontline work. While Covid-19 was indeed unprecedented, the dominant sense was more of a utilitarian, “Well, this is what the cards have dealt today; let’s get to it.” Don’t get me wrong — the 7 p.m. cheer was the highlight of our days, both listening and participating. It was inspiring to witness our colleagues in action, to be part of this monumental effort. It was equally inspiring to feel the public’s appreciation. But even after Covid-19 is tamed by the forthcoming vaccines, health care workers will still be frontline workers. Because you never know what will show up tomorrow.

Danielle Ofri