Gary Tetz

This isn’t how things normally work on the bustling floor of the Things I Think blog factory. 

When the McKnight’s deadline rolls around, I usually start by plunking myself down in my red leather recliner and scanning the news for topic-prompting headlines. It could be a weird facility occurrence involving squirrels in a distant state, or an ear-related research study that offers the opportunity for a somewhat farcical perspective.

The mother-lode of material, though, comes from the absurdities of my own life. For going on eight years now, just about every dumb, inconsequential thing I’ve done or experienced has been pressed into service and documented in McKnight’s. The time I got covered in tamari. The possum trapped in my window well. My legendary insomnia. If it happened, I tell you about it, whether you’re interested or not. 

But now everything’s changed, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that many of the things that formerly occupied my time and attention now seem so trivial. This morning, with people dying at still-accelerating rates, the world economy imploding and the worst of COVID-19 still to come, I’m left with only one topic that seems worthy of my suddenly sobered attention — the heroism of long-term care staff. 

Others have written about this, and better than I will, but there should be no quota on recognizing their sacrifice and honoring their dedication. They have fears just like the rest of us do, and families to protect. They’re not deaf and blind. They’ve seen the news. They know the dangers. But day after day, in senior care facilities across America, they still show up. 

“Being brave means knowing the risks and doing it anyway,” is how one long-term care leader described their courage. The truth is, with symptoms varying so widely and victims falling at all ages, our facility staff have no idea if catching COVID-19 will be merely an annoyance or a life-threatening battle, a parking ticket or a death sentence. 

But still, they go. The lean in. They love. They serve. 

If you haven’t seen the Anderson Cooper report from the first epicenter in that Seattle-area nursing home, I strongly encourage it. “You’re going off to war on a battlefield where supplies are limited, the help is slow to get to you, there’s lots of casualties, and you can’t see the enemy,” says a tearful nurse. 

The report offers an indelible picture of a group of staff devastated by the trauma and losses, but undaunted in their commitment to protecting and serving their residents. “Courage is as contagious as fear,” said the writer Susan Sontag, and I felt a swell of optimism as I watched them. 

Now, after searching my thesaurus for a word that’s less hyped and over-used to describe their commitment and selflessness, as also shown by thousands of others nationwide, I’ve come back to the only one that really fits — heroes.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.