Fuck You for Your Service
We call them ¨heroic.¨ ¨Brave.¨ ¨Essential.¨
...and of course, they are all of these things and more.
Without the tireless efforts of these dedicated souls, our thin shell of civilization would be shattered beyond any performative normalcy our nation of spectacle could possibly summon.
What we never call the doctors, nurses, and medical staff on the front lines of the fight against this deadly virus is ¨human beings.¨ Real people. Parents, children, aunts and uncles.
Cousins, like every other member of this strange species.
You see, just under the obsequious lip-service we pay these indispensable professionals lies a fundamental truth about the society we share: service providers aren't really considered people.
Military metaphors have become commonplace as we attempt to capture the spirit of these dangerous hours, and often the allusion is apt.
Many of the characteristic elements are there: the constant fog of uncertainty, the ever-impending sense of danger, the raw reality that our relatively comfortable modern existence is not guaranteed or bulletproof.
The engraved invitation to existentialism.
However, one key difference between the great intraspecies wars of our time and our ongoing struggle against the first major threat from outside in a century is that these are not soldiers.
They have taken no dramatic, solemn vows to defend our nation against enemies foreign and domestic.
There will be no grand tribunal to punish their decision to pursue a different path in life should their current conditions fail to fulfill them.
There´s no rich reward waiting for them at the end of the rainbow...if you have the time, ask your local homeless war veteran how America treated him after his time swimmin´ in the shit was at an end.
On the contrary, a doctor or nurse is someone you might see across the aisle on the train or behind you in line at the supermarket...that is, when they ever get to leave their place of work.
These are regular, everyday people who can stop saving lives anytime they want.
It´s not like the economic motivation is very strong. When medical debt and IOUs are holding together an entire way of life, you might have deeper issues than the number of beds in a building...a society where a nurse is forced into sex work on the side during a pandemic is broken at the base.
Indeed, many nurses pay for their own training by whatever means, and some are locked into contracts that limit their mobility and salary while travel nurses are deemed selfish for collecting fair market value for their talents in a moment where they are needed like never before.
The business of hospitals depends on these professionals never thinking of themselves as businesses, obfuscating the most offensive effects of practices that punish a sense of duty with cloying appeals to ¨think of their patients and co-workers¨ when making these decisions that could define the rest of their lives.
Self-sacrifice is framed as an expression of loyalty...THE expression of loyalty.
Our entire system is contingent on this manufactured goodwill, the same manipulative ideas that compel corporations call employees ¨family¨ while planning to downsize for a small stock bump. Only real people get to make business decisions.
Faced with 80-hour+ work weeks, and what must be a disastrous influence on their mental health and quality of life, at what point does an oath to ¨do no harm¨ extend into the mirror? Only each individual can offer a definitive answer to this question...the problem is that we somehow think of the medical field as a monolith. A resource we can simply tap into at will. How do we reward these exceptional human beings for the countless sacrifices they make, the holidays they´ve lost, the mental anguish of bearing witness to grim death every day?
Best case scenario, they get a round of applause they can´t spend anywhere.
Worst case scenario, some jackass accuses them of being in on a conspiracy even as they spend their last breaths coughing COVID into the air around them.
It can be easy to forget that willingness is a commodity in and of itself.
This sense of entitlement is perceptible in something as simple as a hospital´s treatment capacity being defined by number of beds available instead of the number of medical staffers available to attend them--you can stack beds floor to ceiling but you still need doctors and nurses to provide care--but it becomes impossible to ignore when you hear people mock estimates of the COVID death rate, which typically range between 1 and 3 percent.
¨Between 1 and 3 percent¨ may not sound like much on paper, but we don't run our complex modern world on paper. Imagine if, over the next few months, imagine if, over the next 6 months, even one out of every one hundred medical professionals in the US...DIED??
How many hospitals just got short staffed to the point of collapse, how many other nurses noped right tf up out of there afterward? Hell, how many years of study and knowledge just got lost?
It is disturbing to know that many believe the wheels can keep turning under these circumstances, relying on 5th string cardiologists, traumatized hospital staff, and rush-program replacement nurses to answer the bell on the most devastating global health crisis in living memory.
Here staring out of the abyss and into our souls in these unpredictable hours is a distasteful truth: we see some of our most valuable citizens--the human beings keeping this train on the tracks--as completely expendable.
This is not a new phenomenon...the attitude has long been obvious to those forced to see it.
Our current circumstances reflect the way some segments of the population have always treated service workers...anyone who has ever faced the public knows it runs rampant in our world.
We´ve all seen the videos of alleged people just walking into a Wendy's or Wal-Mart and exposing their most problematic traits...it doesn't matter, the workers are not real people.
People with lives, feelings, and aspirations off the clock.
By the same token, it´s not surprising to see the way nurses are being thrown in the fire right now by hospitals more concerned with profitz than ensuring the safety of their staff and by a public seemingly intent on making their jobs as hard as possible.
They're not people, not really...just service. The help. An app with skin.
The American public seems to genuinely believe that it can just lean on these frontline folks indefinitely, treat them like cattle while our good times roll right over their overworked backs.
Finding out different is gonna prove a very hard lesson for a nation loath to learn them.