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Essential

Sep 11 2020
Elizabeth Williams
Atlanta Dream
Sep 11 2020

One of the things I remember most from my childhood is a scene that played out again and again with my dad.

It involves a couch, a TV, and something that happens when you’ve been working hard for a bunch of days in a row.

My dad is a doctor, a gastroenterologist to be specific; my mom is a registered nurse. My dad has a practice and sees patients in his office and at a hospital. My mom has worked night shifts in hospitals for more than 20 years.

I have two siblings, so we had a lot going on when we were younger. And my dad, he always did everything he could to spend time with us. He’d switch with other doctors in order to make it to soccer tournaments, or work extra shifts so that he could attend band performances. But because of all the switching of schedules, he’d often end up having some really brutal weeks where he’d be on call literally nonstop. He never complained. He wanted to be there for us.

After a while, though, I mean … you can only keep going and going like that for so long.

I remember being like eight or so and sitting on the couch in our living room watching TV with the family at night … Dad’s on his big comfy chair. And every time I look over it seems like his head is dropping down, and then snapping back up as his eyes open.

My parents grew up in Nigeria, and after my older sister, Victoria, was born in 1988 we moved to England. I was born overseas, and then my family came to the States in 1996 so my father could do his residency at UConn. I was still little then, so pretty much the only thing I remember about Connecticut was us living in a small apartment and my dad studying all the time. A few years later, when I was eight, he got a job at a hospital near Virginia Beach. My mom was already working as a nurse by then.

I didn’t have to look anywhere else for role models. My role models lived with me, and they taught me all I needed to know through their hard work and dedication to serving others.

From a very young age, I realized that what they did was special. And that it was….

Cool!

I already wanted to be a doctor when I was five.

From a very young age, I realized that what they did was special.

My parents have been all about helping people for as long as I can remember, and that didn’t change when I left for college.

I’ll never forget being at Duke and my mom making that 3½-hour drive to Durham on a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon to watch me play. She’d give me a huge hug after the game, and then drive back home early the next morning so that she would be able to work her shift at the hospital.

Over the years, she and my dad … they’ve just never changed how they’ve done things. They’ve always worked super hard and figured out how to simultaneously show their kids love at every turn.

It’s just always been the same with them.

Until, well … now.

Everything’s different for everyone right now, obviously. And that definitely includes my parents.

But, pandemic or not, they’re still health-care providers. They still have the exact same commitment to their profession.

And to their patients.

I couldn’t be more proud of that fact. At the same time, though, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t worry for their health and safety.

My dad has been doing most of his nonemergency appointments over the computer, so in some ways he’s been fortunate. But my mom … she still goes into her hospital and works her shifts every week. She’s not directly treating known COVID-19 patients, but, as we all realize, that doesn’t mean that she can feel completely safe. Patients throughout the hospital are being treated for the virus — the surfaces and the air she breathes could be contaminated, and she may be treating asymptomatic patients without even knowing it.

My mom has shared with me that there have been a few patients she’s worked with who were later diagnosed with COVID-19, and stuff like that is pretty scary to hear. I know my parents are taking every possible precaution, but, at the same time, you can’t control other people, right? You can’t control how serious people are taking all this — how often patients are washing their hands or whether they’re wearing masks properly.

So, yes, absolutely, I worry about my parents now more than ever.

When it comes to my own health, I’ve just kind of tried to hunker down and only go out when absolutely necessary.

I was actually playing overseas in Turkey when everything started happening with the coronavirus, and I only got back home to Atlanta in April. Obviously, having a nurse and doctor for parents … let’s just say I was extremely well-informed about the precautions I needed to take and the things I needed to do to help reduce the chances that I would get the virus. I basically took everything off as soon as I got home, wiped down my bags, washed all my clothes, and then self-quarantined for several weeks.

Beyond that, I’ve mainly just done my best to stay informed. And as time has passed, I’ve found myself more and more in awe of people like my folks and other essential workers — grocery store employees, sanitation workers, people working in factories, and on and on — out there doing their jobs in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Those people deserve to be recognized. And, unfortunately, so many of them are taken for granted, or overlooked, or aren’t fully given their due.

For instance, case in point … yes, for sure, there’s no doubt that doctors and nurses are essential to our society — especially in times like these. (To get a firsthand sense of that, check out the Instagram Live series that I’m hosting called E Talks with Docs, where doctors share their unique experiences from working during the coronavirus pandemic.) Without them we’d all be in trouble.

But one of the big things that my parents always told me from a young age was that when it comes to hospitals … every person working there is essential.

If anything, this pandemic has made it even more clear that it’s not just doctors and nurses who make a hospital run.

It’s everyone.

It’s the food staff and the receptionists and the technicians and the maintenance people.

And, you know what? It’s something that not a lot of people think about, but it’s actually the cleaning staff of a hospital that is probably the most essential of all right now. They’re in the most danger, and the most consistently at risk. Those workers have to go into rooms where COVID patients are being treated, clean the room, wipe down the surfaces, change the bedding, remove the trash, everything. Think about that for a second, about that person and what they are facing day in and day out.

They’re obviously trying to protect themselves with as much PPE and protective gear as possible, but that’s basically all they have. And they need to clean those areas effectively, to the point where the next set of doctors and nurses who come in won’t get sick.

Their work is massively important. It’s relied upon by so many.

And that’s the case all throughout our hospitals — all throughout society, really.

There are just so many people out there at so many levels who are absolutely critical right now. Some of them we — all of us, myself included — tend to unintentionally overlook at times. And that’s really something we should all try to fix. We all need each other more than ever now, and if we are going to move beyond this moment it’s going to be because we all worked together to make that happen.

So I just want to take a moment to send some appreciation and love to everyone out there working to help keep the rest of us healthy and safe.

Thank you, all of you, so much!

Elizabeth Williams
Atlanta Dream