Sara Evans is a pediatric nurse at Lurie Children’s Hospital, Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Randy Evans)
One of my memories, one that had been tucked away back where the cobwebs congregate, is from that day in 2004 when the oldest Evans daughter graduated from Saint Louis University.
The graduates crowded onto the arena floor for the commencement ceremony. They were grouped by their areas of study — business, education, arts and sciences, law, nursing, medicine, etc.
As each group of graduates was announced, those students rose and moved forward to receive their diplomas. When it came time for the School of Nursing, parental pride enveloped me over Sara’s achievement.
But I wasn’t expecting what happened next: As the nurses stood, another group of students stood at the same time, too, and began cheering. The cheerleaders were the soon-to-be-graduates of the School of Medicine — a new generation of physicians.
And when the med school graduates were announced a short time later to receive their diplomas, the nursing graduates all stood and cheered the doctors.
At the time, I thought the cheer squads were simply a charming display of mutual respect among students who would be heading out into the world to devote their lives to caring for their fellow humans.
But viewing that graduation scene today, with the perspective we have gained in the past couple of months, I realize now that those young medical professionals recognized back then that they would always be a team that relied on each other to deal with whatever health challenges might come their way during their careers.
We have all watched the television accounts of America’s medical warriors working each day to battle the biggest health challenge of our time, the elusive coronavirus.
We have seen the faces of doctors and nurses shrouded by masks and protective shields. We have seen the signs of thanks grateful communities have erected to recognize their bravery and dedication.
We have seen the images of the corridors in New York City hospitals congested with overflow beds and monitors and sick patients and the hovering medical teams.
We have teared up at TV footage of a forklift being used to raise a body bag into a temporary morgue located in a refrigerated truck trailer. Tears have welled up at video of New York City firefighters standing atop their trucks outside a hospital, applauding the doctors and nurses, the lab techs and respiratory therapists, the clerks and custodians who are risking their lives inside.
We also have seen the horrible statistics climb relentlessly day after day after day. By the time you read this, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States will have surpassed 345,000, and the U.S. death toll from the disease will have topped 10,000.
We have watched all of this with our fingers crossed and prayers on our lips — in the hope that this disease will spare our friends, relatives and co-workers.
At the Evans home, our hearts have ached as we learn of the deaths of some of these doctors and nurses whose devotion to their patients cost them their lives. These hospital heroes had parents who sat through commencement ceremonies years ago, just like Sue and I did, when their own sons and daughters graduated from medical school and nursing school.
Lest we forget, the toll among medical workers in Italy is even more staggering than in the U.S. — 73 physicians and 43 nurses losing their lives to coronavirus as of last week.
Because of the highly contagious nature of the virus, families are being kept away from their loved ones as they battle the disease. But who is not touched by the news accounts of doctors and nurses stepping in for relatives in the final minutes of their loved ones’ lives?
Michelle Bennett of Renton, Wash., was one of those who turned to a nurse as her mother’s life faded, shallow breath by shallow breath.
“Just not being able to hold my Mom’s hand, rub her head, to tell her the things I wanted to say to her, it was such a helpless feeling,” Bennett told CNN.
But the nursing supervisor said she would take her own cell phone, dress in protective gear, go into Carolann Gann’s room and call Bennett so the daughter could say her goodbyes and tell her mother how much she loved her.
Bennett asked the nurse to hold her mother’s hand. “She said, ‘She will not be alone. We will stay with her to the end,’ ” Bennett recalled.
“To have the compassion and empathy to be right in that moment as if it was their own mother — that was one of the most amazing things I’ve experienced. I could see the nurse crying.”
Pope Francis has not missed any of this. In his Palm Sunday message, he said, “Dear friends, look at the real heroes who come to light in these days: They are not famous, rich and successful people. Rather, they are those who are giving themselves in order to serve others.”
When TIME magazine gets around to naming its “Person of the Year,” the choice for 2020 is a no-brainer: the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who staff America’s hospitals.
And I’m not just saying that because Sara Evans is one of them.
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