I Am Not a Hero

There’s a scene in the Godfather where Hyman Roth complains to Michael Corleone about the killing of Hyman’s childhood friend: 

Someone put a bullet through his eye. No one knows who gave the order. When I heard it, I wasn’t angry; I knew Moe, I knew he was head-strong, talking loud, saying stupid things. So when he turned up dead, I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we’ve chosen.

Well, the doctor business is the business I’ve chosen. My med school diploma says it grants me a degree with “all the rights, privileges, and immunities thereunto appertaining.” Although the diploma doesn’t specify it, the main immunity I get is from getting tickets for speeding, and for talking on the phone, and for texting, and for making a right-hand turn from the left lane in midtown New York City. In return, I don’t shy away from standing within 6 feet of infectious people. That’s the deal. And, just to make sure my fellow students and I learned the rules of the covenant early on, there was a plaque in our med school lounge. Dedicated to students who died of “pestilential disease in the service of humanity” in 1918, the plaque implored us to “never hesitate to hazard life in the performance of professional duty.” 

So, forgive me that I wince when I see #healthcareheroes. I don’t want a parade. I don’t want banging pots. I don’t want hazard pay. I will settle for one year without playing “Mother may I?” with insurance companies. It would be great to be able to prescribe CT scans and generic drugs without begging for pre-authorization. Tort reform wouldn’t hurt either. 

Nurse and EMT’s make similar choices. Firefighters choose a business that requires running into burning buildings, yet I never met one who thought he was a hero. On the other hand, supermarket checkout clerks’ job descriptions never included standing face-to-face with a parade of potential SARS super-spreaders. They should get credit for showing up. 

The other day, based on serology data, Governor Cuomo claimed that healthcare workers are at less risk of contracting COVID than the general population. So maybe we’re not really heroes at all. The real heroes are the people walking the street. 

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