By: Trischan Laing

During this pandemic, the term “essential worker” is being floated around pretty much every day. But who are they?  Of course, they are our healthcare workers who work tirelessly to treat patients and conduct testing. However, we often forget about the cashiers at the grocery store who are paid close to minimum wage, or the bus driver who hasn’t hugged his daughter in a month. We overlook the sanitation workers who ensure the country doesn’t become a garbage dump and the factory workers who used to make simple household items but now specialize in making N-95 masks. 

When people sign up for the military, they know that it’s a life or death decision and they make a choice to protect their country. These essential workers weren’t given that choice. One day it was life as usual and the next, they were on the battlefield, fighting an enemy we know very little about. As a medical student, this scares me.

“I am 100% ready to save lives but I am not prepared to die.”

My reason for choose to practice medicine is not remarkable. There was no great tragedy or a life-changing experience that made me realize that this was my destiny. Neither of my parents went to university but they did their best to ensure that I was well provided for. My curious mind and love of reading influenced my decision to pursue the sciences and medicine. The body’s amazing ability to restore and regenerate will forever impress me, but I learned that there was much more to medicine than that. I grew to love it for what it was and not what I thought it would be.

Society often paints doctors as overpaid, compassion-less people; and this hurts. There is nothing that can prepare you for the emotional instability that comes with the job. It is a rollercoaster of joy and sadness and of praise and rebuke. Caring for patients to the best of your ability and watching them die causes you to question your own competence and sharing the emotional burden with relatives is often the most difficult part. But you get used to it, right? You can never get used to death.

You can accept that it is a part of the life cycle and needs to happen, but it’s not something that you get used to. Despite this, at the end of the day, doctors are expected to go home to their families, cook dinner, check their kids’ homework, go to bed, and start all over again. I’ve come to terms with the criteria of the job and I understand what is required of me. However, this pandemic has changed the job description. Thousands of healthcare workers worldwide have been infected and many have died. They didn’t get the opportunity to stock up on toilet paper and barricade themselves in their homes. They didn’t get the chance to complain about how bored they were and post quirky Tik Tok videos. And, this is the harsh reality that scares me the most.

“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others”

– Mahatma Gandhi

Even though COVID-19 has brutally taken many lives, many people have recovered and are still recovering. Those patients are the reminder that the years of medical school, internship, tears and many sleepless nights are not in vain. I salute everyone who would have preferred to stay home with their families but they can’t. Many are underpaid and overworked but they wake up every day and continue the fight. During this pandemic many things have been put to the test; relationships, financial security, our physical and mental health. Our essential workers are also being tested, they do not know if today will be the day they get infected. But, the ability to put country and humanity over self is not something that should be overlooked and their courage has inspired me to want to do the same.

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