In the morning, my fiance and I wake up, get dressed for work, blow each other a socially distanced kiss goodbye and head off into what feels like a battle.
I work in a hospital. When I get there, I don my armor: scrubs, a mask, a gown, and gloves. He works in a supermarket deli. His armor: a hairnet and an apron.
Although our battle grounds are vastly different, in many ways they are the same.
My walk from the car to the side door of the hospital is eerily quiet but I know what I’ll find inside. Nurses, techs, doctors, and the rest of the staff hard at work, most suppressing their fears and anxiety for the greater good.
We all knew what we were signing up for when we took our jobs as emergency personnel, but I’m not sure any of us ever imagined this. My fiance, on the other hand, signed up for a job with benefits and a steady paycheck, definitely never imagining that one day he would essentially become “essential personnel.”
As my workday heats up, a fearful thought keeps popping into my mind: What happens when our supplies run out? I quickly suppress it, but then my mind wanders. How is he staying safe without any protection at all?
While I’m donning and doffing my personal protective equipment, he’s unloading inventory, stocking shelves, and slicing deli meat for his customers with no protection other than a disposable pair of vinyl gloves. The cooler he fills with the shrimp we used to buy for a holiday treat has been rummaged through by at least 10 hands in the last hour.
I breathe in through my re-used face mask that is now battered and soiled. He inhales air that holds the breaths of the hundreds of customers scurrying through the store.
Day after day we both willingly march into the madness, fighting different fronts of the same battle. He fights to ensure you have the supplies you need to stay free of Covid-19 as you shelter in place; I fight to ensure that when health is no longer an option, at least safety might be.
Day after day I worry when my armor will run out, while he worries if his armor is even enough.
Every day that my fiance shows up to work, he is keeping a silent vow to his customers that he will do whatever it takes to keep food on the shelves. While he tries to ensure normalcy in this ever-changing time, I try to assure my patients that when normalcy fails and their health takes a hit, they will still be cared for in the best way possible. But uncertainty eats away at us both.
We are essential personnel.
There are days when we wake up and wish we could stay in bed. There are days when the fear of the unknown leaves each of us with a pit in our stomach. But we get up, and we do it, for our loved ones, for your loved ones, for humanity as a whole. And we are proud of that.
We are at your service.
But when you aren’t needing us, please do us a favor: Remember that not everyone fighting on the frontlines knew what they were signing up for. So when your needs are met and your safety ensured, stay home. If not for yourself, do it for your essential personnel.
Michelle Myles, M.D., is an emergency department physician who works in Rhode Island.