The Unsung Coronavirus Heroes

A doctor on the front line reflects on the less visible people keeping everyone safe

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Tila and Dr. Abraar Karan

Many people have been saying “thank you” to me for working on the Covid-19 response. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. There is a lady who cleans the cubicle where I have been working each night—she’s there later than I am. But I’m not sure that anyone has thanked her.

We’ve had many conversations over the last few weeks: about her life, her kids, Covid-19, and more. She is originally from El Salvador; we spoke about this, too. She exposes herself to keep our workspaces clean and protect us—but who is protecting her? Who is recognizing her? Who is thanking her?

She, too, is a hero, just like doctors and nurses. Those who are most forgotten and taken for granted—the people making your food, cleaning your offices or houses — those who cannot afford to miss work, because that is life or death for them — we owe them a lot.

Many of these people were subject to policies like Public Charge. Many don’t have a doctor to call up if they have symptoms. And many are afraid of deportation still; they can’t afford to trust our health system.

Yet they are a big reason society is still running. As a doctor, I recognize so much similarity in what I’m doing, and what that lady cleaning the office space is doing. She too is on a front line. If not for her, I could be sick. The difference is how invisible she is.

Let that all sink in. There will be a world post- Covid-19. Remember that there were many heroes—some visible, on television or Twitter, and that’s great. But there were so many who didn’t get recognized; who instead were systematically silenced and exploited.

When the time comes to fight for them and protect them, remember what they did for you during this time. They, too, saved your life while risking theirs.

I’ll make this more personal, because it is. The lady I described — the woman from El Salvador — reminded me of Tila, the woman who raised me when I moved here from India when I was a baby. When I was growing up, my parents, brand new to this country, both worked full-time, straight hustle.

I was raised by my grandma, who passed away from cancer when I was young, and by Tila, an immigrant from El Salvador. I spoke Spanish and Hindi as a kid, literally translating for my grandma and my nanny because they couldn’t understand each other. Tila was my second mom, and still is.

I’ll never know exactly how tough it was to be Tila, but I know the stories of all the struggle she went through and we lived some of them together. As fellow immigrants, my parents did what they could to help her and her family as well. Tila was the person who would be home for me after school.

As a kid, that was everything—just knowing there would be someone there for you. Lots of kids don’t have this luxury. When I saw that woman cleaning the cubicle, I saw a woman who raised me—a hidden hero. I write all of this to say: highlight the people that don’t get credit—credit they deserve.

Written by

Doctor @BrighamWomens @HarvardMed

Doctor @BrighamWomens @HarvardMed

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