Heroism is a term bandied about all too lightly. Teenagers describe the latest pop-sensation as their hero. Sports fans describe the latest world-class footballer, baseball-player or sprinter as their hero. And every so often, a short note in the media, or a new internet-based meme will try to portray unlikely people as heroes, including paramedics, nurses and other medical staff.
Whilst I agree that all are undervalued, the stretch to the point of heroism is a little bit far-fetched. I've written about it before. The fact that EMS finds itself at the bottom of the heap of the medical world is unfortunate and not a little unfair. Yesterday, I saw a tweet that described it thus: "Whether EMS is part of the health system, or public services, it seems as though we will always be treated as the red-headed step-child." From my experience and understanding, through either virtual or actual meetings with EMS providers around the world, the feeling is mutual across the globe. And this is coming from a (albeit balding) red-head.
Still, I feel that to reach the point of hero-worship, as some seem to feel should be the case, cheapens the meaning of the word as well as the act of heroism.
Overnight, as the fury of Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern shores of the United States, a hospital in New York City had to be evacuated after both its regular and emergency supplies of electricity were cut off. According to reports, 215 patients, from the youngest to the oldest and in all manner of medical conditions, had to be moved to other hospitals.
Staff ventilated patients manually, keeping them alive. They changed mains-powered machines to battery-powered back-ups. They climbed down and up flights of stairs to the ninth floor to rescue the tiniest of neonates, as brittle and dependent as it is possible for a human life to be.
Ambulance crews braved the weather conditions and risked their lives in a manner which the rest of the population had been ordered to avoid. Not just advised - ordered.
That, to me, is heroism. It isn't the constant calls, it isn't even the life-saving calls. That doesn't make paramedics into heroes; it makes them damn good at their jobs, as they should be. It's the paramedic who, despite everything he has learnt, despite the awareness of the risks he is taking, jumps into a dangerous scene because he knows he can make a difference. It's the hospital staff who, when faced with the most serious possible crisis, don't walk away, but run towards it, armed with knowledge, skills, awareness and, no doubt, no small amount of fear.
It's occasions like these that show the world the reality, the true meaning of heroism.
I certainly didn't see any footballers or pop-stars there.