Sisters of Mercy

Posted on: Friday, March 27th, 2020

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I’m old enough to remember when nursing homes and hospitals were named after saints and religious orders. Back then, caring for the sick and dying was not so much a business as it was a calling.

Sure, people today talk about finding their “passion,” and like to say they are willing to “do their part” in the fight against this pandemic, but in truth, most of us are career oriented and will be glad when things “get back to normal.” And that’s ok.

But the folks who work in healthcare – and I’m not talking about the administrators or even the doctors – but the nurses, the phlebotomists, and the people who clean the floors – folks like that; those folks have a connection to a tradition that predates insurance companies and big pharma. And that tradition resonates in the work they do, and the sacrifices they make today.

When I saw the bulletin that authorized nursing homes to segregate the people infected with COVID-19 into distinct areas of their facilities, I imagined those wards, and I imagined the people who will be working in them. I pictured the CNA’s that will go into those wards and change the briefs of the infected, and likely demented, residents. And the nurses who will hold their hands while they get a shot, and the people who will take out the trash. And along with their work, I could see these caring professionals offering a smile, a kind word, and likely the only human contact these frightened lonely residents will experience all day. And I think: Are these not the Sisters of Mercy of times gone by? Many still making minimum wage, or barely more. And yes, mostly women.

Look, I’m not naïve. I love modern medicine. Like most folks my age, I know that I wouldn’t be here but for the advances that have come about because of these changes – because medicine has evolved from a charitable enterprise into a well-funded industry. It isn’t perfect. But it provides great care. It’s just that, at times like this, it’s comforting to think about the people on the front lines of the healthcare industry, and to recall and celebrate their connection to a noble tradition of kindness, healing and charity.

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