Paul Gibbs: Health care workers deserve our respect

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Esther Ortiz working at a COVID-19 testing station at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

I’m recovering from a painful case of shingles that knocked me flat and left me in agony throughout October. It stopped me from doing a lot of things I normally would have done (helping to make my kids' Halloween costumes, responding to poorly researched rebuttals to previous op-eds, etc.).

But it gave me time and reason to contemplate and appreciate the important role that doctors, nurses and other medical professionals play in our lives. I got through this miserable illness because of dedicated doctors who cared for me through a weekend in and out of the emergency room as they struggled to find the cause of my pain, and eventually my own primary care physician and a colleague of his who were able to diagnose it and give me the care I needed.

As a kidney transplant patient with two children who had medical issues early on, I’ve had many reasons to ponder my gratitude to medical professionals. Which is why I’m saddened and angered to see how much disrespect they are sometimes given at the times when we need them most.

The recent protest at the home of Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, was disgraceful and crossed the line into harassment. I’ve participated in peaceful protests and will again, but at public government buildings and other appropriate locations.

Protests at a public figure’s home are intimidation and cross the lines of civility, morality and decency. And the shooting of a Department of Health building with a pellet gun is beyond the pale.

And then, the president of the United States baselessly alleged at a rally on Oct. 30 that doctors faked the numbers of COVID-19 deaths because they got paid more when more people died of COVID. This produced actual tears of rage from me.

To slander people risking everything to protect and care for us is unconscionable. Doctors and nurses here in Utah are about to be stuck in a hell most of us can’t imagine as COVID-19 cases overwhelm hospitals. This was an indefensible moment that should leave the entire country outraged and supporters who brush off these presidential mendacities deeply ashamed.

Most important is the disrespect shown to doctors and nurses every time someone chooses not to wear a mask, exercise social distancing or follow other simple coronavirus safety guidelines. Whether this is done because of annoyance at inconvenience or due to confusing “liberty” with selfish hyper-individualism, it is at best a slap in the face to those who will be stretched to the limit caring for the victims of this carelessness.

Even worse are those in positions of authority who support this behavior, or fail to adequately prioritize public health in favor of economic or ideological priorities. Without public health, there will be no economy or ideology left to protect.

I was happy when, in the spring and early summer, people began to refer to health care workers as American heroes along the lines of those who serve and protect in the military or in other capacities. I’ve long thought of them this way. But our actions are too often at odds with our words, and the best evidence is the alarming surge in Utah COVID-19 cases.

Every second of my life and my kids' lives we owe to medical professionals who did their jobs. And while it may not be as dramatic and clear in all cases, I believe most of us likely owe more to doctors and nurses than we realize. It is time to treat them with the respect they deserve. In word and, most importantly, in action.

Paul Gibbs

Paul Gibbs is a filmmaker and health care activist who lives in West Valley City with his wife and two children. His views on health care issues can be read at entitledtolife.net, or heard on the podcast “Entitled to Life” on Anchor, Spotify, Apple and other platforms.