Crises. They are often a turning point, or a life marker, "This was before the diagnosis or after the accident or before the hailstorm of such-and-such."
They can be life-altering but also revealing, exposing unknown strength, perseverance and faith. But they can also uncover weaknesses, previously known to exist, but magnified in stressful situations.
Crises also have a way of unmasking everyday people for the heroes that they are.
In January, I reached out to a dear college friend who is treating COVID patients in an ICU in Austin, Texas.
Over the last nine months, her Facebook posts have revealed very little about her reality as a registered nurse during a pandemic. In December she posted a few photos of herself dressed in scrubs and a mask. In one photo, she was posed next to a Christmas tree, her neck adorned with a Christmas bulb necklace, wishing friends a "holly, jolly day." The other photo was taken Christmas Day on her ICU floor, surrounded by fellow nurses clad in antler ears and Christmas-print masks with a post that read, "With this family for Christmas."
As my friend and I caught up, she talked about purchasing 100% cotton scrubs. "I thought of you," she said. But we also discussed the last nine months — a stretch where she's lost more patients to COVID than she's lost in nine years of nursing.
She described it like treating the injured during war. "You feel useless, like what you are doing isn't helping." But as more is learned about how to treat the virus, she says treatments seem to be more effective — a sign of hope for those in the trenches and those in their care.
She was frank about her fatigue and feelings of dread, even asking herself if she could keep doing what she's doing. She is. She returns for each 12-hour shift. That's what heroes do.
But even heroes have heroes. She referenced the teenage transporters who risk their lives to move COVID patients throughout the hospital. Or the housekeepers, often in their 50's, who put their lives on the line to clean the critical care units so the medical staff can focus on patient care. "I'm humbled they are willing to do that for us."
She described the doctors as incredible, daily gearing up for every challenge and after being exposed, "still have to go home to their families."
She also named grocery store workers and educators. "The teachers are coming together in a Petri dish, making huge changes to how they teach students who are also going through something difficult."
As she looks ahead, she's encouraged about the vaccine. She challenges us "outsiders" to put ourselves in others' shoes. Wear masks, social distance and do what you can to minimize transmission, she said. We can all be heroes. Let's do our part!