“We stay here for you. You stay home for us!!!” I see the viral Facebook post for the fourth time today: a photo of 11 doctors in scrubs, gloves, and masks holding signs. The first 10 each have one word; the final doctor has three exclamation points. The message is clear, concise, and necessary: The men and women of the healthcare industry are risking their lives to save those of us who may have chosen to not take precautions during this epidemic, so the least we could do to thank them is heed the government’s warnings.
I think of my father, an orthopedic surgeon who continues to see patients for as long as his employers will allow. He has told me and my mother several times that he may have to temporarily become a trauma surgeon to treat the increasing number of patients in the intensive care unit. If things in our area become worse, the hospital would become short-staffed, and he could become the one to intubate COVID-19 patients, instead of a nurse who usually does so.
I think of my aunt, a pediatric nurse at St. Louis Children’s Hospital who regularly comes into contact with severely immunocompromised patients. Even as COVID-19 continues to impact her community, she goes to work each day to honor the oath that she took decades ago—to “practice her profession faithfully.” The hospital has asked that she start wearing a bandana around the lower half of her face, as they may soon not have enough masks for her to use. The N95 masks that Columbia students, including me, have been sporting for weeks to protect themselves from the virus are in high demand among those who need them most.
Meanwhile, I also think of the photos from my Columbia peers that have been plaguing my social media feed for the past two weeks: bikinis, martinis, and beaches. Smiles, poses, and laughs. A month ago, I was sure that I would be the source of those photos; I had planned to go to Florida with my parents to lounge on the beach and scuba dive. As the pandemic progressed, my parents warned me that we may have to drive to Florida to avoid potential risks at the airport. The day before our trip, they told me that we had to cancel our plans, as five days in the sun were not worth potentially killing hundreds.
I think of the captions on my classmates’ Instagram photos: “Feeling serene.” “It’s like a dream.” “Breath of fresh air.” The last one makes me wince. How many inhabitants of these vacation destinations will be infected with COVID-19 at the hands of tourists? How many of them will have to fight for access to a ventilator? How many of them will never again experience a “breath of fresh air?”
Finally, I think of all of the selfless and kind gestures that I have seen within the Columbia community during this time: a boy offering me his bin as I awkwardly dragged several moving boxes to Wien Hall, a girl sewing cloth masks in her dorm room for local hospitals and clinics, and students coming together to box up the belongings of those who left campus with no time to pack. All of these acts give me hope, for they illustrate my peers’ good character and strength.
We have not just the option, but also the obligation to social distance in order to prevent the spread of the virus abroad and “flatten the curve” domestically. However, what is right is not always what is easy. COVID-19 has taken many things from all of us: time with friends walking in the park, New York slices, hugs and kisses, normalcy. We have to be willing to part with these things for a while. If we do, we can always have them back in a few months. But if we do not, we could force others to part with them forever. We have a responsibility to protect each other, and I have seen enough solidarity and perseverance among the Columbia community in the past few weeks to know that we can rise to this challenge.
Laura Bane is a sophomore in Columbia College studying economics and political science. She loves large dogs, Klimt paintings, taro boba, musical theater, and spirited political debates. When she’s not quarantined, you can find her touring the Met, eating a New York slice at Sal & Carmine’s, or strolling down Central Park West on one of her marathon walks.
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