Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Unsung Heroes

Heroism is a term bandied about all too lightly. Teenagers describe the latest pop-sensation as their hero. Sports fans describe the latest world-class footballer, baseball-player or sprinter as their hero. And every so often, a short note in the media, or a new internet-based meme will try to portray unlikely people as heroes, including paramedics, nurses and other medical staff. 

Whilst I agree that all are undervalued, the stretch to the point of heroism is a little bit far-fetched. I've written about it before. The fact that EMS finds itself at the bottom of the heap of the medical world is unfortunate and not a little unfair. Yesterday, I saw a tweet that described it thus: "Whether EMS is part of the health system, or public services, it seems as though we will always be treated as the red-headed step-child." From my experience and understanding, through either virtual or actual meetings with EMS providers around the world, the feeling is mutual across the globe. And this is coming from a (albeit balding) red-head. 

Still, I feel that to reach the point of hero-worship, as some seem to feel should be the case, cheapens the meaning of the word as well as the act of heroism. 

Overnight, as the fury of Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern shores of the United States, a hospital in New York City had to be evacuated after both its regular and emergency supplies of electricity were cut off. According to reports, 215 patients, from the youngest to the oldest and in all manner of medical conditions, had to be moved to other hospitals. 

Staff ventilated patients manually, keeping them alive. They changed mains-powered machines to battery-powered back-ups. They climbed down and up flights of stairs to the ninth floor to rescue the tiniest of neonates, as brittle and dependent as it is possible for a human life to be. 

Ambulance crews braved the weather conditions and risked their lives in a manner which the rest of the population had been ordered to avoid. Not just advised - ordered. 

That, to me, is heroism. It isn't the constant calls, it isn't even the life-saving calls. That doesn't make paramedics into heroes; it makes them damn good at their jobs, as they should be. It's the paramedic who, despite everything he has learnt, despite the awareness of the risks he is taking, jumps into a dangerous scene because he knows he can make a difference. It's the hospital staff who, when faced with the most serious possible crisis, don't walk away, but run towards it, armed with knowledge, skills, awareness and, no doubt, no small amount of fear. 

It's occasions like these that show the world the reality, the true meaning of heroism. 

I certainly didn't see any footballers or pop-stars there. 

Stay safe. 


Anonymous said...

Agreed. The word hero is used much too freely and almost always about those completely undeserving of it.

flobach said...

I am not a hero.

Geoff said...

Very nice, and I agree as well. What we do on a day to day basis is simply our job. Doing it well is required, but is not heroic. Evacuating a Hospital during a natural disaster is a little closer to the real meaning.

Shannon said...

I remember a few years ago, when captain "Scully" was forced to do an emergency landing in the Hudson River and he was heralded as a hero when everyone escape with their lives. I got into a rather spirited debate with a dear friend, that while he did his job and did it exceptionally well, such an accomplishment didn't make him a hero. I argued that using such a term ultimately devalues it (and we in turn have to find new and bigger ways to describe true heros). I'm glad to see I'm not alone in believing it's a word that's been overused.

Anonymous said...

Shannon - interesting choice of example. As in fact that is one of the cases I'd say "hero" was a justified term.

The fact is he kept his cool and brought down a plane successfully. If it had crashed, say into a building in New York, hundreds could G-D forbid have died.

What gets me is when the term is used about the latest bunch of overpaid, underworked, foul-mouthed yobs who spend (not even) 90 minutes kicking a ball around to win something, and are hailed as "the heroes who ..."

Robin said...

On 7/7 London was bomber. My hero from that day was a young femail paramedic. While driving to the insident she became concerned about secondary devices.
Her first thought was to phone home and tell her family that she loved them. At no time did she consider doing the sensible thing, turn around and go home. She quietly drove to one of the bomb sites and descended into hell. All to deliver what help she could.

She is my hero. Not because she did her job but because she overcame her rational fear so that she could help others.