The Helpers-a book review

Starting from the pandemic’s quiet beginning late in 2019 through the vaccine distribution in early 2021, the author unfolds how the pandemic impacted their lives, their families, and communities. Despite being front line workers, they suffered the same things others did-isolation, loss of jobs and income, demanding work schedules under pressure; and for some, infection, hospitalization, intubation, and death. From their stories, we watch their lives intertwine with each other and the virus that stalked their daily lives.

The Helpers

Profiles from the Front Lines of the Pandemic

by Kathy Gilsinan

The test of a whole person is whether you can keep showing up when you’ve lost faith entirely.

I thought The Helpers would be a feel-good story about the heroes of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. It is a story about the heroes of the pandemic, but it didn’t make me feel good. And, as I learned in the book, they don’t like to be called heroes.

(Note: I chose the photos in this post to illustrate the book’s message, they do not appear in the book, and are not affiliated with the author. There are affiliate links in this post, used to generate funds to pay expenses. )

a scientist in a lab working on covid antibodies
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientist was preparing patients’ samples for SARS-CoV-2antibody testing. Serological testing is used to detect antibodies, which indicate past infection with the virus that causes COVID-19, and is important to the understanding of disease prevalence within a population. credit James Gathanay, public domain

I should have known that. As a primary care physician, I didn’t know I was an “essential worker” until the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the so-called lockdown, I still went to my clinic every day, although we cared for some patients virtually. I didn’t feel like a hero, I was just doing my job. And so were they.

Published March 1, 2022, The Helpers tells the story of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic through the eyes and hands of eight people who truly lived it on the front line, those whose “stubborn spirits” drove them to help others-

  • a son in a Vietnamese immigrant family, caregiver to two parents and brother to a physician who is trying to keep herself and her family well
  • a semi-retired divorced paramedic from Colorado who is devoted to his work, so much so that he and a co-worker drive across the country in an ambulance to volunteer to help with the pandemic in New York City
  • a Latina ICU nurse who lives with her extended family in a small apartment and fears she will bring the virus home to them; besides fighting the virus, she crusades for more of everything that she and the other nurses need-tests, ventilators, and especially PPE, which they now have to reuse
  • the CEO of a small ventilator manufacturing company in Seattle, whose company tries to increase production from hundreds a year to tens of thousands, by partnering with an unlikely source
  • a scientist who has been researching mRNA vaccines at Moderna for 10 years, developing a “vaccine in search of a virus” and thinks she has found it in SARS-CoV2
  • a biracial chef in Louisville Kentucky who finds herself jobless, so channels her knowledge into creating a neighborhood meal service for others who need help feeding their families
  • a young critical care physician, who wonders if, when, and how she will ration ventilators if necessary
  • and a funeral director, whose facility soon has more bodies than spaces to put them, and for the first time in his career must turn families away.
a stretcher pushed by two EMS personnel
photo by Daniel Sun, from LIGHTSTOCK.COM, affiliate

Listen to an excerpt from Audible

Starting from the pandemic’s quiet beginning late in 2019 through the vaccine distribution in early 2021, the author unfolds how the pandemic impacted their lives, their families, and communities. Despite being front line workers, they suffered the same things others did-isolation, loss of jobs and income, demanding work schedules under pressure; and for some, infection, hospitalization, intubation, and death. From their stories, we watch their lives intertwine with each other and the virus that stalked their daily lives.

Parallel with their stories, Ms. Gilsinan looks at the government response to the pandemic, a picture that is not flattering. She starkly points out the delays, misplaced priorities, and partisanship that made the response less successful than it could have been, and cost needless lives.

“even when their elected leadership and public institutions fail them; they chase down the resources to save lives while politicians bicker and buck-pass and evade responsibility.”

These patients’ samples were to be tested for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) serologic test. CDC/ James Gathany, PUBLIC DOMAIN

I said this book didn’t make me feel good, but it did make me proud- proud of the people this book introduced me too, and to all of us who faced this virus together. As Ms. Gilsinan wrote

“The Helpers isn’t a partisan morality tale. The virus further polarized a deeply politically divided country, but it didn’t care which side its victims fell on…and no one is worried about anyone’s party affiliation in the ICU or the food pantry. Even at our most divided, our country is so much bigger and better than our politics.”

The author of The Helpers

Kathy Gilsinan is a contributing writer at the Atlantic, where she has reported on national security and contributed to its extensive and acclaimed coronavirus coverage. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Helpers is available from Bookshop.org.

Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. They believe bookstores are essential to a healthy culture and they are dedicated to the common good. Bookshop.org donates a portion of every sale to independent bookstores.

exploring the HEART of health in a pandemic

As a NetGalley reviewer, I received a complimentary digital copy of this book and agreed to write a review.

I have been fully vaccinated for COVID based on my age and medical status, and I hope you are too, unless medically unwise.

Dr. Aletha inspecting her arm after a COVID-19 shot
Three days after my first vaccination the soreness in my arm was almost gone, and I had no redness or swelling. After the second shot, minimal soreness. No other side effects to report. I feel fortunate.

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

On a recent trip I happened upon a local art exhibit and found this interesting piece.

Dr. Aletha

Our Auntie Rosa-how her family remembers Rosa McCauley Parks

She travelled all over the world meeting with world leaders, including the Pope. The U.S. Capitol Building’s Statuary Hall holds a statue of her. The Postal Service issued a stamp with her likeness. Grand Rapids Michigan named a park after her. But to her large, loving family, she was simply Our Auntie Rosa.

Our Auntie Rosa: The Family of Rosa Parks Remembers Her Life and Lessons

by Sheila McCauley Keys with Eddie B. Allen, Jr.

Published January 2015, Our Auntie Rosa offers a personal, intimate, revealing glimpse of a woman who made history for “standing up” for justice and equality by sitting down.

The act of declining to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, simply because she was Black, on December 1, 1955 is a snippet of her life’s work. Even prior to that day she had been quietly working in the civil rights movement, and never stopped, continuing to speak and exemplify courage, faith, and acceptance for all people until she died in 2005.

In this book, her family- neices and nephews, the children and grandchildren of her only sibling- share the moments she spent with them, as a group and individually, encounters that they remember fondly after many years. Without their willingness to be transparent, the world would not know the true depth of spirit of the woman known as “the mother of the civil rights movement.”

She attended their childhood birthday parties, weddings, baby showers, and graduations. She encouraged their education and vocational pursuits, and counselled their marriages. She was the “show and tell” for a great-nephew’s elementary class.

She travelled all over the world meeting with world leaders, including the Pope. The U.S. Capitol Building’s Statuary Hall holds a statue of her. The Postal Service issued a stamp with her likeness. Grand Rapids Michigan named a park after her, where I took this photos.

But to her large, loving family, she was simply

Our Auntie Rosa.

When the history of this country is written, when a final accounting is done, it is a small quiet woman whose name will be remembered long after the names of senators and presidents have been forgotten.

then Senator Barack Obama at the dedication of her statue in the US Capitol building. 
a bronze statue of Rosa Parks
statue of Rosa Parks at the Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids Michigan, photo by Dr. Aletha

Some excerpts from the book

Having been raised on a southern diet, one of her favorite dishes, calves brains with scrambled eggs, she became much more health-conscious late in life at an age when many of her peers were so set in their habits that not even a doctors warning might have convinced them to change. We would go to the Cass Corridor food co-op together and share ideas about nutrition.

by Asheber, nephew.

Each person must live their life as a model for others. a sculpture relief of a bus, with people standing to board.

listen to an excerpt

I would like to be known as a person who is concerned abut freedom. sculpted relief of a bus
.

Well into her senior years she has only recently begun practicing yoga. Splendid silver hair gives her away as the oldest student in most of the classes she occasionally attends with family but she doesn’t care. She’s reached a point when she considers herself a student of life.

Eventually, she learns the movements well enough to practice alone in her home. The exercises help clear her mind, the stretches keep her body limber. She takes sanctuary, be it at a studio under the voice of an instructor or in the sunlight of her living room. Inner peace and clarity have always been important to her.  

by Sheila, neice

statue of Rosa Parks, Grand Rapids Michigan

Bookshop.org

Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. They believe bookstores are essential to a healthy culture and they are dedicated to the common good. Bookshop.org donates a portion of every sale to independent bookstores.

exploring the HEART of families

I hope you will get and read this charming book by people who expressed their love and admiration for a woman most of us only know from history books. She may remind you of a special relative or friend t you may want to call or write to tell how much they meant to you. Do it while you can, they won’t be with you forever.

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

an open book with pages folded to make a heart

Dr Aletha

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