Everyone of a certain age remembers what they were doing on 9/11/01. I remember it was a Tuesday, my late night as the employee assistance program (EAP) psychologist for Progressive Insurance in Tempe, AZ. My alarm woke me to the news and it was so unreal I thought it was still part of a dream. I turned on the TV because I had to see if it was real. How many of us felt that way that day?
In no time, I got a call reminding me that I did not have the time or luxury to be a human experiencing the moment. Because we had both a call center and claims training center, there were literally hundreds of people needing me at work, immediately. In the 15 minutes it took to drive there, I put my emotions in a box because the job demanded it and people needed me, what I could do for them to help in a crisis. First responders did the same. My professional colleagues across the country did too. Get up, help manage the crisis, go home exhausted, feelings in a box to keep working.
After about a month of helping people through acute trauma, I realized I wasn’t sure how to access my own emotional experience of 9/11. These things must be experienced to be processed, so I made myself watch footage for one intensely painful weekend. It still brings tears to my eyes nearly 20 years later when I think about it.
We are in another crisis now. Now, it’s ICU health care providers who have to put their feelings in a box to keep doing the emotionally exhausting job of trying to keep people alive, not always successfully. They’ve been doing it for over 7 months in the US. I am certain the emotions have to break through. Their work also puts them at personal risk.
I feel certain they dread the coming fall & winter with the bleak predictions. I’m guessing they feel some form of despair when people gather in big groups, especially with out taking precautions. It’s already been 7 months of feelings in a box every work day. Acute trauma becomes chronic trauma. It’s not sustainable. As a nation, we need to help them as much as they help us.
Here’s the thing, after 9/11/2001 we came together as a country. Mostly anyway. We’d all gone through a transformative life event together. We tried to work together, across political aisles & across faiths. Mostly we did a good job. We took pride in supporting one another.
We aren’t doing that in this crisis. Americans are still the same people whose better angels push them to support one another. To work together during a transformative life event. A once in a century public health crisis isn’t political. Covid doesn’t care who you voted for or will in the future. ICU health care workers don’t care either. Their job doesn’t change. The need to labor tirelessly to save lives & put their emotions in a box so they can carry on professionally doesn’t change.
EVERYONE is tired. Everyone wants things to go back to normal. We all miss being able to be social, to sit inside a movie theater any time we want or to feel no anxiety when someone’s tickly throat makes them cough. Covid doesn’t care. Covid doesn’t care if you feel uncomfortable in a mask. Covid doesn’t care if you are young or healthy or feel invincible. The virus will spread regardless of what you or I want. It doesn’t matter to the virus.
It does matter to the ICU professionals what we all collectively DO in this virus though. It matters to anyone at risk. It may end up mattering to any one of us more than we know right now, or guessed at the beginning of the year. It may matter for the long haulers who could have chronic disease or disability. It’s not political. It’s humanity. It’s supporting each other in a crisis. Some of the things we are called to do aren’t even that hard. Wear a proper mask in the right way. Keep a distance of 6′. Wash your hands. I will grant you, as social beings, it’s very hard to limit contact. It’s not forever.
We can do this. We proved that 19 years ago. Americans are known to rise to the needs of the occasion & we can now. We still have better angels, we don’t have to give in to inner demons. We still care about each other. We still have humanity & compassion. We can still show the world we can work together, united for a common purpose of helping.
Abraham Lincoln would appeal to our better angels. The Bible, Torah & Koran would appeal to us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Bill & Ted, in their excellent adventure, would say “Be excellent to each other”. Yes, please…let’s do these things.