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Be Strong and Courageous

Sharma Vaughn, RN, MPA
Executive Director, Community Care Alliance
Western Healthcare Alliance
May 04, 2020


“Be strong and courageous.” It was from a story I heard growing up. It was a story about an evil city known for slaughtering the innocent, children discarded on burning alters to gods with no eyes. It was a story about a homeless people with an unorthodox military strategy, and a victory won without arms. The admonishment: “Be strong and courageous” when they crossed into enemy territory. “Be strong and very courageous” when they walked around the city. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid” when the walls of the evil city imploded at their feet, not a single weapon having been raised.

I have needed this story in the years since, and I need it now. The repeating message: Be strong and courageous.

I was reminded of a different childhood story today, a story shared with my daughter.

“Do you remember the Narnia story?” I asked her. She sniffed. I felt her soft hair nod under my chin.
“Remember the four children at the professor’s house and how they found the magic wardrobe?” I asked her. Another nod. She was listening.
“Do you remember why they had to go to the professor’s house?” I asked her.
“No.” She answered, small-voiced. She was tired. We all were.

So, we remember the story together. Set in WWII, the cities of England were cracked and weary of the ravaging German Luftwaffe. Choosing life over family, parents who would willingly lay down their lives for their children did something heartbreaking; they sent their children away. At first to relatives in the country. Later, to safely distance the legacy of the nation from the air sirens, blackouts, and falling bombs, their children were sent to strangers. Trains put miles and years between urban targets and their children while the war consumed.

What did that feel like at the train depots? The chaotic arms of children reaching for their mothers, the severing of pairs not meant to part. Did it smell like fear, the wafting of uncertainty in the air? Would they see each other again? Did it taste like tears and copper in a tight throat, a bitter but necessary pill? Did THAT sound leave an imprint? THAT sound. The one people make when they lose their heart. Its pitch fries neural pathways from the ear to the brain and lands hard in the left side of the chest.

For us, my little blond love and me, we are only saying goodbye for a little bit. She is going to Nana’s house to get help for school. With Dad in the oilfield and Momma, a nurse helping the hospitals, we are falling behind at home. We are calling in the big guns to keep our heads above water. It is family, not strangers. It is for a few days, not years. We are separated by a mountain range, not by a nation at war.

Or are we? This is our war. This pandemic. While most of us battle through isolation, unfamiliarity, economic hardship, and uncertainty, others battle for their lives. Be strong and very courageous.

This is why it was said three times. So, I could remind her. So, I could remind myself. So, we would understand when we needed it; this is our battle. The warfare is novel to this generation, the methods unorthodox, the weapons as unprecedented as the virus: shelter, protect, and carry the vulnerable to safety.

Our healthcare providers are at the forefront of this march. They shelter, and they protect their community. They carry the town.

They carry the town from the twisted metal of a high-speed motor vehicle accident. They carry the town from the operating room gurney to the hospital bed. They carry the town until strength returns, and we take our first steps again.

They carry the town as one third of the local rural economy. They carry millions of dollars of federal funding into the community where it is recirculated between four and eight times, lifting family businesses up and keeping bellies full.

At the end of the day, they carry things home, too, like the worry about making payroll through COVID-19. Hospital CEOs carry the pain that making the right decision to preserve the cash flow will mean severing an employee from their livelihood – or maybe a hundred employees. No one in their small town will remain untouched by this. There is a price to pay for those necessary and bloody decisions, the cost exacted in friendships and sometimes in exile. They carry this burden anyway, because in a hospital they prioritize life over limb, and survival of their community over their own. Their fear is that there will be more death for the town, and no hospital to prevent it.

What would that feel like? Would it look like chaos, the severing of a community? Would it smell like fear and taste like copper? Would the sound rise? The one people make when they lose a loved one? You know, THAT sound. It leaves an imprint.

So, this is our battle. The warfare is novel. The hospital has stood to shelter and protect. It faces the fight of its life. The community is called to an unorthodox battle. One where heroes are called to be courageous, leading a weaponless charge to shelter each other, to protect their hospitals, and to carry their legacy.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid.

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