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A doctor returns the applause

02 April 2020

We are not in the front line, says Dr Alice Gerth: you are


Medical staff at San Cecilio Hospital, Granada, in Spain, return applause from members of the public on Tuesday

Medical staff at San Cecilio Hospital, Granada, in Spain, return applause from members of the public on Tuesday

I AM lucky to have a job that I adore. Work as an anaesthetist and critical-care doctor has its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t wish to do anything else.

In normal circumstances, I get to help mothers have babies, care for the frail and elderly as they have broken hips replaced, relieve pain, and meet with people on some of the hardest and best days of their lives. It is as privilege.

Covid-19 has not changed this. I still love my job. At this time, I do not want to be anywhere other than caring for patients in hospital.

As a generalisation, doctors and nurses are doers. We like to be active and on the go. We want to help. We like to be in the thick of it. Ask us to stay at home and watch, that’s hard. Colleagues who are in two-week quarantines because of children with temperatures and coughs are testimony to this. They are itching to come back.


SO, I find it strange that we are held up as heroes. Don’t get me wrong: I understand the intention, and it is overwhelmingly generous. But hear me when I say that we aren’t the heroes. You are.

For all of us working in hospitals, doctors in particular, we have a stable salary and a job that will exist at the end of all of this. In fact, I’m earning more, as I’m working longer and more antisocial hours. Business and local communities are providing food for us for free.

The sentiment is so kind, but I feel guilty. There are many in much harder economic situations than I am. There are the children who normally get their main hot meal at school, and their parents trying to feed them on their two-of-any-item rations and a reduced salary. There are those who need foodbanks, which are struggling to meet their needs. There are those who have lost jobs or had their hours cut.

We get a pat on the back and a round of applause for getting on with the job. We get regular texts asking how friends can pray. If we are not careful, we become like those practising our righteousness in front of others (Matthew 6): we will have received our reward in full.

Those who quietly and sacrificially stay at home, their giving is seen by the Father.


CHRISTIANITY doesn’t really subscribe to the idea of heroes in the same way as the Greek and Roman mythology that it was born amongst. There are no Herculean trials of strength.

Instead, Jesus washes feet, mixes with undesirables, and demonstrates God’s heroism in dying for others. This is biblical heroism, sacrificing yourself to help others. Paul in Romans 15.1-2 says: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbour for their good, to build them up.”

In other words: staying home; supporting your family and neighbours. Doing what is hard to protect others from Covid-19 — especially the frail, elderly, and those with underlying health conditions — is modelling Christ’s heroism more clearly than any health-care professional who goes to work.

The heroes are the parents with children at home 24/7; and that’s before I consider single parents, or those in houses and flats that are too small for their families.

The heroes are those staying at home who don’t know whether their job will still exist at the end of this, and for how long their employer will keep paying them.

The heroes are the business owners desperately trying to keep staff on the books while maintaining the chance of their business surviving.

The heroes are those who live alone, who have lost their Thursday lunch club, who don’t have Zoom or Facebook to keep in touch, who are scared because they are frail and old.

The heroes are the families who worry about us and tell us to stay safe as we go out to work.

The heroes are the patients and families separated by stringent visiting rules that mean they cannot be together when ill or dying.

The heroes are those who unceremoniously get on with the unglamorous day to day staying at home with no applause or accolade.

So, thank you. Thank you for staying at home. Thank you for weathering this storm. Thank you for understanding when I say that you can’t come and visit family in hospital. Thank you for your kindness.

You, the humble stay at homers, are the heroes.

Dr Alice Gerth is an anaesthetist working in the East of England.


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