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Winter is coming, but health care heroes are ready

“Winter is coming” is a saying made famous on the “Game of Thrones” television series, as it serves as the motto of one of the houses in the show. For this group, winter is a season that could have grave impact on their land and well-being. This requires preparation and vigilance for what is to come.

While we do not live in a fantasy environment like the TV show, there is much to take away from “winter is coming” for our world today. COVID-19 is here and not going away anytime soon — an unfortunate reality. Vaccines are our light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is long. After 20 months of continual uncertainty, change and hardship, everyone has been impacted in some way — to many, it has even been a story of life and death.

A real winter season is not far away, which could bring more potential adversity — colds, the flu and many other respiratory illnesses. Kids are more susceptible to this kind of sickness, and schools are typically a ripe environment for viruses to circulate. COVID-19 in the backdrop could make seasonal illnesses this winter potentially worse.

The good news? Our health care heroes are already here and are ready. They have been fighting COVID-19 for what now seems like forever, putting their lives at risk by taking care of this community. Heroes, yes, but not superheroes. They are tired, and no one can blame them; however, they are resilient. Knowing what is going on around them, they still manage to control their behaviors and their feelings, and they bounce back quickly during these challenging times. Resilient people are not just self-aware and able to cope, but they stay positive while doing so.

Here are the stories of three of our heroes with whom I recently spoke about how they keep their resiliency going:

Dr. Noah Keller is a physician and leader in the emergency physician group at Meritus Medical Center. Dr. Keller and his colleagues have been involved with COVID-19 since day one. He said it has gone from a scary time and a “sinking feeling in my gut” when first seeing a patient with the virus to it now just being “the norm.” With the ongoing drumbeat of a deadly pandemic and all he and his colleagues see in the emergency department every day, Dr. Keller focuses on self-care and personal fitness. He makes time to do what he likes for exercise. He also plans for his next event — a vacation, wedding, dropping his son off at college — something to look forward to. He believes in focusing on the things he can control and not stressing about the things he cannot change, like the past, which you can learn from but not change. The future you can change.

For his team and others he works with, Dr. Keller makes frequent personal connections, providing small tokens of appreciation, knowing “the little positive things we do for each other make a difference.” Dr. Keller loves what he does but admits it is harder these days. He offers this advice to the community: “Be supportive of people trying to advance medicine.”

David Topper is a nurse who works at Meritus Medical Plaza in both urgent care and at the COVID-19 drive-thru screening and testing center. This Meritus location has been a beacon of care in our community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to primary care, rehabilitation therapy, laboratory and urgent care services, the staff there has provided more than 125,000 COVID-19 tests since the start of the pandemic. Screening and testing for COVID-19 was never part of the plan for employees there, so doing this day after day for nearly two years has been challenging and sometimes difficult. During the busiest months, more than 1,000 cars would come through the drive-thru center.

David stays resilient by trying to not let stress bog him down, taking on one task at a time and focusing on the main goal — to take care of the staff and patients. His outlet for coping is music, and he goes to concerts to enjoy his wide range of musical tastes. Like others, David views his co-workers as part of one big family, so when they “need to take care of everything we see,” he means it. On more than one occasion, David has been seen changing tires or jump-starting cars waiting in the line at the drive-thru center. He is the epitome of goodness.

Lori Aleshire is the director of practice operations for the Meritus Medical Group and has been an instrumental leader who turns ideas into actions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With the continuous demand, she stays resilient with her belief that “we all have a calling.” She keeps going because she and her team’s calling is to answer the needs of our community.

Her perseverance is clear because she makes sure everyone gets what they need, and she supports her team. Lori has an intrinsic value to empower those she works with to be more than they thought possible. She helps people step away when they need a respite and has an admirable mindset — that the pandemic is a rollercoaster and will have an end. Until that end, she will continue working hard with her team to meet the needs of this community.

Lori Aleshire, David Topper and Dr. Noah Keller are just three of our more than 3,500 health care heroes at Meritus Health. From them, we can all learn to manage uncertainty by focusing on what we can control, taking care of ourselves using personal outlets for stress management, and working on the main goal — taking care of and making our community better. We can all model how they think and care about the people they work with, stay positive even while tired and stressed, and continue loving what they do by remaining resilient.

Winter is coming, but our health care heroes are here and ready, again.

This guest editorial first published in The Herald-Mail and on HeraldMailMedia.com in October 2021.

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