As Thanksgiving approaches, it is fitting to address the disconnect around national expressions of gratitude for veterans and healthcare workers and individual actions.
In this country, many express gratitude to military veterans as protectors of freedom, democracy, and the constitution, particularly around the recent acknowledgments for Veteran’s Day.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 in this country, banners, roadside signs. military flyovers and hashtags thank vets and healthcare heroes—the nurses, doctors, and professionals treating patients around the country.
However, these words of thanks often don’t match actions.
In the midst of the nation’s political turmoil and the COVID pandemic concerning vaccine mandates and mask requirements, there are inconsistencies between outward expressions of gratitude for nurses and everyday behaviors concerning public health safety.
As a nursing professional for almost 40 years, I have heard many say that physicians are curers and nurses are carers. That means that nursing professionals are by the sides of patients at all times.
For many nurses, this can at times entail work overload, extended shifts, lack of meal and rest breaks, fatigue and sleep deprivation from shift work, at times insufficient pay, and more.
In the past nearly two years, healthcare professionals across the country have worked extraordinarily hard to treat COVID patients. Globally, more than 5 million people have died, with 768,000 deaths in the U.S., and close to 48 million cases.
Nurses were often sent into the frontlines of the pandemic unsure if PPE would protect them from a potentially deadly virus. The National Nurses Union recently urged Occupational Safety and Health Administration to adopt permanent protection standards for nurses as COVID protocols.
Hospital human resources departments have been faced with nurse staffing shortages due to the Delta variant surges, nurse resignations, and questionable PPE protocols and at times lax safety measures for staff.
All this is as Americans praise healthcare workers and vets for their service. But to truly appreciate both veterans and nursing professionals, it is important to recognize the parallels of the rise of anti-vaccination movements, resistance to COVID protections, and the preliminary movements leading up to World War II.
I am the daughter of a World War II United States Army veteran who grew up under the spell of Benito Mussolini and the National Fascist Party; my father shared his stories with me. The rise of right-wing extremism in Europe led the U.S. into the global conflict of WWII that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 70 million people.
Certainly, it is inevitable, but still sad that society is losing direct connections with WWII veterans who fought and conquered the Axis Powers of Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Emperor Hirohito’s Japan more than seven decades ago. Most World War II veterans were born before 1927, and few are alive to tell their first-hand accounts.
So as more veterans die off, and WWII fades into history, it is important to make the connection between the sacrifices of WWII vets and the rise of the “Alt-Right” nationalist movement, the very notions veterans fought against. As many make gestures to honor vets, some cancel what they did to protect this country.
Some Americans defiantly oppose wearing masks in the name of personal freedom, while others refuse vaccination due to misinformation and deny the benefits of vaccination in controlling infectious diseases. The Defense Department is dealing with the possibility of denying benefits to service members who refuse vaccination.
Some of these unvaccinated people may attend events where COVID 19 can spread; perhaps they assume that if they wind up in the hospital, the health care heroes will save them. Yet, according to the National League for Nursing, nurses are leaving their jobs in record numbers as a consequence of the ongoing pandemic.
A better option is to help stop the spread of COVID by getting a vaccine, wearing a mask, and employing personal safety measures. It can possibly end the deadly pandemic that is turning the country upside down.
By heeding history and its lessons from WWII, Americans can express genuine gratitude for veterans who fought valiantly to preserve the nation’s freedom.
For that everyone can be grateful.
About the Author:
Cynthia Farina is an assistant professor in the Rush University Nurse Anesthesia Doctor of Nursing Practice Program. She has practiced as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist for over 25 years and is a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.