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Sarah Gassen: How to thank a healthcare worker amid COVID-19 outbreak
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Sarah Gassen: How to thank a healthcare worker amid COVID-19 outbreak

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Tucson-area, Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Cynthia Carsten, assistant chief nursing officer at Tucson Medical Center, talks with Bill Fleming, director of security for the hospital, inside TMC’s COVID-19 command center.

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

Greetings from the home office – well, from my home office.

Like most of my Arizona Daily Star colleagues, I’m working from home. And like all of my University of Arizona teaching colleagues, I’m conducting my editing course via video conference and online assignments.

Thank you, technology, and thank you, people who make it work.

Olivia the wiener dog supports my transformation into a homebody. Dorothy the desert tortoise is still hibernating but I think my two hamsters, Steve and Franklin Tostada, and my mouse François have noticed something’s up. They’re more active than usual.

Realizing I should be the same — more active than usual — I’ve been taking Olivia on walks, which, truthfully, is an exaggerated description.

She’s not big on the perambulation part of dog walks, so I’ve renamed our out-the-front-door venturing “smell safaris.”

We were standing outside Wednesday evening, me watching the clouds at sunset and Olivia trying to get away with eating something unidentifiable off the ground as I gazed upward, when a neighbor walked up the apartment complex drive and headed toward her door.

“Tired of being cooped up?” she asked. I shrugged. “A little. You?”

She works at a hospital, she said, so no. She’s far from sequestered.

As I read about the increasing number of people with COVID-19 and those who have died, and the health-care workers fighting this virus without the protective equipment they need, I’ve found it impossible not to think about the three weeks I spent at Banner — University Medical Center when my husband was hospitalized with a heart infection.

Those long days and longer nights were filled with questions without definitive answers, tests, procedures, the incessant beeping of monitors and machines, the agony of trying to find hope amid constant uncertainty.

At every turn medical professionals — to a one, a person with strength I don’t possess — cared for my husband and cared about both of us.

He died the day after Thanksgiving and late, late that night I finally left the hospital.

I went home.

And the nurses and doctors and therapists and technicians and assistants and meal deliverers and surgeons went on with their work, giving their gifts of healing to the next patient and family who needed them.

Just like they’re doing today.

But now, nationwide, they’re doing it without the equipment needed to help stay safe and healthy, protected from the potentially deadly COVID-19 virus as they tend to those infected and contagious.

Here, health officials are worried about a shortage of personal protective equipment health-care workers need, including masks, face shields, gloves and goggles.

Dr. Bob England, interim director of the Pima County Health Department, said this week that “reusing equipment, trying to sterilize masks and reuse them” is likely because the entire healthcare system is overwhelmed and under-supplied.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced a reckoning I don’t think we’re prepared to face — it’s revealed how we’ve taken for granted health-care workers’ dedication to saving us, no matter their personal risk.

I’ve been searching for a way to thank the people at Banner UMC who helped my husband and me during those three weeks.

I’ve been trying to find the right words, the right combination of pastries or flowers or whatever to convey my gratitude and let them know that yes, my husband died but they made every day of our fight to save him possible and they did it with incredible generosity, skill and kindness.

So I think I’ve found the right gift: My absence. I will do my part in stopping this dangerous and contagious virus by staying home, alone except for my animal friends.

Please, join me by staying home as much as you possibly can. We must stop the spread of the virus.

Health-care workers do their best to save us when we need them.

Staying home is the best we can do to save them.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen is the Arizona Daily Star Opinion editor. Email her at and follow her on Facebook.

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