Frontline nurses and docs: Deserving warriors of the widening battle against Ebola

& To say the least, the stories of the bravery and risks in the midst of this medical fight against Ebola are riveting.

I’m reminded, in a way, of stories about war. Well-trained and briefed, armored and armed to withstand and fight the fiercest of assaults, warriors move forward to confront a determined, sneaky enemy, trusting that their precautions, their protection and their cunning will see them through to victory. But in wars the enemy also is cunning; there is always a risk.

And so it is today in this war against a determined, sneaky virus. It’s ravaging West Africa. It has sneaked into America. Despite guarded assurances that it will go no further, we still wonder, and hope it won’t. Everybody knows that in wars, things go wrong. We’ve got ample proof of that.

In this war, the generals are away from the front – back in the Center for Disease Control or research hospitals – seeking to understand the enemy and plotting its defeat. The colonels and majors are those behind the lines – providing new chemistry and hazmat suits and the means to distribute the weapons and sustenance to those on the front lines, the doctors and the nurses.

The captains and lieutenants are the doctors, fulfilling the same role as those who led their companies through German fusillades and up the cliff faces of France, or crept with their platoons — carefully, oh so carefully — into nests of enemies hidden in the jungles of Vietnam. We’ve honored them, over and over. And rightly so, just as we’ve honored the foot soldiers, those GI grunts who really win the wars.

In the war against this pestilence – as with any virulent, dangerous disease – the foot soldiers are the nurses.

It is the cadre of nurses who are most likely to first encounter face-to-face action against the Ebola enemy. Somebody – somebody sick — shows up at a hospital hut in Africa, or a clinic in Spain, or an emergency room in America, carrying with them the equivalent of an armed land mine. It’s a job not unlike that of Marines who walk across mine fields in Afghanistan or cops who defuse bombs in Boston: Protect yourself against the explosive first, then carefully begin taking steps necessary to defuse it, knowing that it could go off in your face. Nobody comes closer to daily danger than bomb squads and nurses.

But, unlike many others who deal with and defuse the immediate threats, nurses have only begun their fight. In this Ebola war, after the risk-taking docs have diagnosed and prescribed and moved on to the next, it is the nurses who must remain, carefully and closely attending the highly contagious patient, hour after hour, until there is recovery, or death. Cloaked in every protection that can be devised, from helmets, goggles and gloves to shrouded, taped-up hazmat suites and moon boots, these givers of care face the constant possibility, slim though it may be, that the Ebola virus can hit them, too, like a sniper’s bullet through the eye. Now, with two nurses afflicted in Dallas, we’ve got proof of that, too.

These foot soldiers of medicine, just as those in warfare, are the bravest among us. Have no doubt. And have no doubt that until this war has been won, they will stand on guard and ready for close combat, not only in huts of West Africa, or the big-city emergency rooms of America, but also where a creeping disease might next make a visit —  a small hospital in Eureka, California, a clinic in El Rito, New Mexico, or a doctor’s office in Galax, Virginia. We’ll find them everywhere, these risk-takers and caregivers, waiting, watching, and no doubt wondering if they are about to encounter a sick person carrying a deadly, fused bomb.

They wait and are ready to risk their lives for others. At the very least, we have to thank them for their service and their bravery.

Better yet, next time you see a front-line nurse or doctor, just give ’em a salute. It’s deserved.

& I’m outta here, hoping the same for Ebola.

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