Real Heroes

Some recent family events  (basically, mule-headed 92-year-old Italian man plus decades of family dysfunction vs. granddaughters) have prompted me lately to muse on the real nature of heroism. It’s a word, in my opinion, that gets overused, or that perhaps needs a redefinition. While I certainly wouldn’t argue against using the word ‘hero’ when referring to a firefighter, or a police officer, or a veteran, I don’t think heroism should be relegated to the emergency and rescue sphere. There is heroism in the day to day dirge of providing someone with care.

Call it a moment of clarity, a minor epiphany, or a total lack of sleep, but sitting in a hospital hallway the other day, I couldn’t help but marvel at the incredible people whose job it is to scrape the fungus from between an overweight person’s stomach folds (yes, fungus) and still keep a smile on their face. To deal with a never-ending array of runny bowel movements, sick-up, bloodletting, and even gnarlier conditions. Who can brighten the day of someone in massive kidney failure, while patiently explaining to them their treatment options. The orderlies and nurses and aides who do not get the doctor glamor, who get screamed at by patients and family members and random strangers, who get blamed for everything and thanked for nothing, who have to perform some of the grossest tasks imaginable and get a bacterial infection for their trouble. The kind of people who take time out of their endless shift to sit with a mentally ill patient in a room of four who talks non-stop. The kind of people who inspire patients in long-term rehabilitation facilities to put their lives back together step by step, day by day. The kind of people who sit with our oldest, our loneliest, our unloved, our abandoned through the last moments of their lives.

The kind who put up with an ornery, cranky, and downright hostile 92-year-old Italian man and his demanding granddaughters.

To those and all the other real heroes of the world, thank you.