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  • Writer's pictureEric Knabel

Thoughts From 6 Feet Away: The Reluctant Hero

“Heroes are made by the path they choose, not the power they’re graced with.”

There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.” – Steve Rogers, the Avengers

“In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.” – T’Challa, Black Panther

“I am not a role model.” – Charles Barkley

I am an ungrateful hero.

I didn’t mean for it to happen. It just did. To be honest, I’m not really sure how I got here. The beginning of March saw me changing jobs. Needless to say, when you start a new job, you feel more like the kid whose cat is stuck in a tree than the fireman who climbs up to rescue it. The pressure of remembering the names and faces of new co-workers can be daunting, but I was managing. After two weeks, I was getting comfortable. I even hung pictures from my old office, looking forward to embracing a new path, one that was compelling enough to deviate the course of my career.

Then came, ironically, Friday the 13th.

I have long joked that there is a “hysterical disease of the year,” and the mainstream media sinks their teeth into it like a pit bull. You remember the names – SARS, West Nile Virus, avian flu, H1N1. Heck, you could even throw in “societal plagues” like Y2K and the end of the Mayan calendar. I managed these mini-disasters the way I managed all others – wait for the media to have something else to wring their hands about. But this coronavirus business was different, and for weeks I couldn’t understand why everything was getting shut down. But, in the interest of being a good example and trusting that someone smarter than me knew something I didn’t, I hunkered down with my family. I have to admit, at the time I was excited about being ordered to slow my life down a bit.

But something interesting happened. As the number of cases increased, my brethren and I became heroes. Social media touted “the real heroes,” and Facebook posts abounded. I’ll admit, I got caught up in the adulation at first. If nothing else, I was happy not to be dealing with the usual banes of my existence – people griping about wait times and various other administrative headaches. I have always believed in the power of what I do, but it was nice to get the recognition nonetheless. If I wore my scrubs in public, people thanked me for my service.

Then it got weird. Lines were drawn between essential and non-essential workers. Quick aside here – my osteopathic training teaches me that our bodies are single functional units, and what affects one part will invariably affect all the other parts too. To apply this to society, aren’t we all essential by that logic, and if we’re not, why do our roles exist at all? One thing is for sure, we’ve learned that the office meeting can be handled via email (something I’ve suspected for years), and that most of us could technically work from home. Anyway, different factions of the essential crowd started grumbling about the attention the medical folk were getting. Teachers had to adapt their entire way of working – why aren’t they getting praised? Restaurant workers who were providing carry-out service for patrons reminded us that they weren’t compensated in proportion to the risk they were undertaking. And I didn’t disagree with any of these sentiments, it did give me a “cause for pause” and take a step back.

After having a chance to reflect, I realize that I didn’t ask for recognition, and there were times that I actually was embarrassed by the extra attention. After all, my clinic had basically ceased “normal” operations (is there any word more useless than ‘normal’ right now?), and sitting around waiting for someone to come in with a fever didn’t exactly feel heroic. I guess risking exposure in the face of inadequate personal protection is heroic. The tactful would call it foolish, and the blunt would deem it downright stupid.

Our society needs heroes. Someone to emulate, to look to when darkness consumes us, whether it be from without or within. The loss of sports robbed us of our heroes, as did the inability to go to the movies. The Marvel franchise has made a killing on the concept of the hero, someone whose deeds outshine our own and shows us what humanity can be at its very best. Maybe the hero worship of the medical profession is just transference, the need to look to those who can lead us out of darkness. It is a heavy mantle to bear, as any role model or competent leader can tell you.

So, as I look to my social media, and see various segments of society lobbying to be the next hero, my answer is simple – be my guest. But as Peter Parker’s uncle said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I’ve never been one for accolades, because I’m well aware of the responsibility that comes with it. Maybe if we worked more on living a principle-driven life, recognition wouldn’t be such a great priority. Maybe our heroes would finally be able to hang up their armor, like I have chosen to do. I’ll be over here doing my job, a job whose risks were well-known to me from the day I listened to that first heartbeat through my stethoscope. You can have my free McDonalds or my health care worker discount -- better yet, why don’t we let someone have it who really needs it. Perhaps the hero isn’t someone who leads, but someone who serves. Keep your trophies and your praise – as my favorite line in the movie “Cars” goes – it’s just an empty cup.


Sorry to get so heavy there – felt the need to get that off my chest. I promise not to leave on a downer, so here are a few random thoughts from the week:

Has there been a bigger waste of money in 2020 than a daily planner?

Politicians are suggesting that I should get combat pay to see patients. I’d rather get combat pay for browsing Facebook.

You can’t fight hate with more hate, no matter how justified you feel you are in your hate. Yeah, I know I already said it…

While we’re on the subject, you know what I hate? Double standards.

Congress – take your latest stimulus package and funnel it into mental health. We’re going to need it.

While you’re arguing that everyone has a right to health care, argue also that there needs to be more primary care physicians. That’s the fly in the ointment, and you don’t even see it yet.

The sound bytes from the past two months would make a hell of a drinking game. Every time you hear “new normal,” drink. “Unprecedented times?” Drink.

Apparently, now that Adele has lost weight, she is fat shaming her younger self. So it’s wrong to be unhappy with your appearance and do something about it? I’m glad I found that out before I wasted all that time at the gym. Waiter, can I see a dessert menu?


Hope this post finds you well. Take care of each other and try to focus on the positive. Be a shining example to those around you and be kind. Do what you need to do to stay safe. And, lest we forget… be excellent to each other, and --

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