Mark Shields: Recognizing heroes in our midst

By Mark Shields

That terrifying Tuesday morning, now 14 Septembers ago, when terrorists connected to al-Qaida hijacked jetliners and drove them into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center will be forever with us — just as we can never forget the 343 New York City firefighters who, on a mission to rescue fellow human beings in the burning buildings, walked bravely into the fires of hell to their deaths. Almost overnight, ambitious politicians everywhere were frantically getting their pictures taken with firefighters, who — in spite of the fact that they were public employees and often even dues-paying union members — had emerged as America’s most popular heroes.

The current Ebola scare in the U.S. is not 9/11. But once again, we need to recognize American heroes whom we see every day and whom we have too often taken for granted. Let us begin with Nina Pham, the 26-year-old Texas Christian University graduate who, as a critical care nurse, voluntarily put herself in harm’s way to treat Thomas Eric Duncan, a stranger from Liberia who would be the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States. The eldest of three daughters born to parents who had immigrated to the U.S. from their native Vietnam after the war, Nina, according to her medical colleagues, has a single standard for the treatment of those in her care: “What would I do if it were my mom, dad or grandparent?”

As this is written, Nina herself is battling Ebola, while on the airwaves, those who do not know — and who ought to know better — idly and endlessly speculate on whose mistakes caused her infection. Missing is our national recognition of the constant courage and dedication of fellow human beings we sometimes bloodlessly identify as “health care providers.” Nurses are the firefighters of 2014.

Unlike celebrated Wall Street wiseguys, they don’t spend their time and energy trying to figure out how to move their money into a Cayman Island account to evade taxes. Nurses and hospital workers, after their rent is paid and after the food is put on the table, have precious little money left to spend, let alone to move. They do not do what they do for money or for fame or for celebrity; they do it for humanity.

Nurses and medical workers don’t get asked for their autographs or approached by interviewers for their views on the economy. They do get up every day and they do work long, hard hours — giving of their considerable knowledge, talent and, yes, compassion — to cure the sick, to reassure the fearful and to comfort the dying. Let us recognize and let us honor these genuine American heroes who walk among us. The next time we see a nurse, let us tell him or her, “Thank you. Thank you for your service.”


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