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

Do you know CPR? Try Cardio-Pulmonary Reading

But new evidence has revealed that anyone infected with COVID is at higher risk for heart issues—including clots, inflammation, and arrhythmias (irregular beats)—a risk that persists even in relatively healthy people long after the illness has passed.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus enters the human body through the upper respiratory tract-the nose, mouth, and throat, and sometimes stays there. But other times it stealthily moves down the throat into the trachea, the bronchi, and finally the lungs.

There the virus creates inflammation that impairs the lungs’ ability to do their job- take oxygen from the air we breath and send it to the heart which pumps it through the aorta to all the other organs of the body.

Although inflammation caused by the COVID virus can damage other body organs, the most common causes of death in its victims are respiratory failure and/or cardiovascular disorders such as heart attack, heart failure, or stroke.

Even apart from COVID, diseases of the heart and lung are the leading causes of death all over the world. This post reviews 3 books I have read and reviewed that explain the intricacies of these two related and vital systems. One review is new, the other two have been previously published.

(This post and the ones linked to contain affiliate links that may pay a small commission to this blog, while you pay nothing extra. Quite a deal. )

diagram of the human heart
Heart diseases affect any and sometimes multiple parts of the heart- the atria, ventricles, the valves, the aorta, the pulmonary artery and veins, the walls and the coronary arteries (not shown in this diagram. )

The Source of All Things

A Heart Surgeon’s Quest to Understand Our Most Mysterious Organ

By Dr. Reinhard Friedl, With Shirley Michaela Seul; Translated by Gert Reifarth

Originally published as Der Takt des Lebens. Warum das Herz unser wichtigstes Sinnesorgan ist

In his memoir, Dr. Reinhard Friedl introduces us to the heart, describing its unique role in the human body, one he considers the most important of any organ. He believes the heart is the “source of all life”.

Dr. Friedl describes the heart’s structure and basic function, in detailed but non-technical terms. He does not view the heart as a mere pump as it is often described, but as a turbine, an engine.

Then he whisks us into the operating room as he performs a middle of the night emergency surgery to save a man’s life by repairing his damaged aorta. Later, he travels to a home to resuscitate a 34-week premature baby who wasn’t breathing. He describes the challenge of performing a delicate heart surgery on a 24-week premature infant. In each case, he acted automatically, calling upon years of training, using his mind and hands with precise attention to details, focusing only on the patient’s open chest on the table.

But operating with his brain was not enough for Dr. Friedl. He realized as a heart surgeon he needed to know and use his own heart. He wanted to find out

“Can we sense thing consciously with the heart? May we act from the heart? Is there a connection between the voice of the heart and illnesses, between a fulfilling life and one full of suffering?”

He explored the answer through meditation and deep breathing. He dove into the connection between the heart and the brain, studying philosophy, neurology, genetics, and even quantum physics. He finally concludes

“The greatest challenge for modern medicine is to bring back together the fragments of the human being and integrate them in holistic medicine.”

Dr. Friedl’s story wanders at times, as did his journey to self-discovery. One chapter title, Farewell to the Artificial Heart, characterizes the journey he started and continues; reading his memoir may prompt you to start your own journey.

This book is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for a complimentary galley copy in exchange for a review.

flowers arranged in the shape of the lungs overlaid withthe word BREATHE

BREATH TAKING – a book review

We take 7.5 million breaths a year and some 600 million in our lifetime. Breath Taking is an exhaustive review of why and how our lungs work, and what happens to our lives when they are attacked and injured by disease.

Keep reading
an illustration of the coronavirus with its characteristic surface spikes
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MSMI; Dan Higgins, MAMS

A researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined the long term effects of COVID on the heart.

“Until now, people who suffered mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 were thought to have dodged the brunt of the virus’s brutal side effects.

But new evidence has revealed that anyone infected with COVID is at higher risk for heart issues—including clots, inflammation, and arrhythmias (irregular beats)—a risk that persists even in relatively healthy people long after the illness has passed.”

Read the article at this link-

COVID and the Heart: It Spares No One

exploring the HEART of health

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.

a world globe with two crossed bandaids

Doctor Aletha

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