May 16, 2020 - Health

Special report: The front lines are now explosive and overwhelming

Mike Allen

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

In this special issue, my Axios colleagues dig into the trials and heroics of America's front-line health care workers.

I got the idea for this Deep Dive when I saw doctors and nurses — for the first time in any crisis — telling their own stories, in real time, with social posts, on cable TV, and even with essays, op-eds and online diaries.

  • I found these accounts captivating, informative and moving. I kept telling friends about them — always a sign you should do a story.
  • The most memorable single image for me: Resourceful, compassionate nurses are using borrowed iPads to set up FaceTime conversations for dying relatives to talk to families who aren't allowed to visit.

I realized that front-line health care professionals usually escape our attention, and certainly our acclaim, until we have a forced personal encounter: a scary symptom ... a life-changing diagnosis ... an accident in the family. Doctors and nurses are suddenly the most important people in our life. We thank them, take them donuts, pray for them. And then, if we're lucky, we move on.

  • Now, during this once-in-a-century global calamity, society is finally and unanimously recognizing them as heroes, with the spontaneous shows of gratitude that greeted America's soldiers after 9/11.

Why they matter ... Caitlin Owens, in a takeover issue last month of our health care newsletter, Axios Vitals, framed the medical professionals' valor:

  • These workers, with loved ones of their own, keep showing up at hospitals across the country, knowing that more Americans than they can possibly care for are depending on them.
  • And they've left the relative safety of their hometowns to fly into New York to help overwhelmed colleagues.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow has played a parade of videos of nurses just talking into their phones — often in their cars, before or after a shift — pleading with people to stay home and avoid becoming one of their patients.

My biggest fear — as I encourage my staff to come to work every day, and be compassionate and help people — ... is I'm going to lose one of them. And then I have to carry [that] on my shoulders, because I'm asking them to do a service that I realize is very hard...

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