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Column: How do we decide who lives in a pandemic?

Column: How do we decide who lives in a pandemic?

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I have hope for 2021, but it’s off to a grim beginning.

I never envisioned a time when a medical crisis would be so dire that emergency personnel would have to decide whether to transport someone to the hospital or let that person die. But the COVID-19 pandemic could thrust many emergency personnel into that awful dilemma.

I have known many EMTs, rescue workers and other people trained to respond when help is needed. They perform heroically and have saved countless lives over the years. As a journalist, I had access to these heroes before, during and after moments of crisis.

None of these dedicated men and women would dream of choosing whether to stop their life-saving efforts and tell families and friends their loved ones can’t go to a hospital. Today, however, they may have to do that.

Seeing humanity in its most pitiful, heart-breaking state is one of the realities for a journalist — writer or photographer — who accepts the responsibility of “cop reporter.” The job isn’t just about law officers, but firefighters (local, state and federal), rescue personnel, emergency medical techs, the courts, the jails, the injured, violence, and the people and events that create victims.

You find out what really happens when accidents and violence occur. I took photographs of accident and crime scenes when I was a cop reporter in the days before digital devices. I learned to frame the photo and focus the camera without staring at the subject.

You learn to cope with the images and the odor of death and catastrophe.

The most important realization concerns the people who dash toward the emergency, often putting themselves in harm’s way, and push themselves to the limit of human ability to save lives. They must have the technical skill and the mindset to do their jobs over and over and over again.

It’s the mindset — a necessary component of dealing with indescribable pain and woe — that is the most impressive. These heroes work through obstacles most of us can hardly fathom; obstacles that assault all the senses.

And now they face the possibility that they may have to decide when to quit, when to literally give up, because medical facilities and personnel aren’t available for everyone. They might not be able to do their jobs they way they always have — never stop until the victim is delivered with all haste for treatment, working feverishly all the way.

I haven’t heard of this happening in our area, but it’s probable in other places.

The emergency personnel I know never entertained the thought of turning off the flashing lights and going somewhere else. They keep going as long as there is one ounce of hope that a single, tenuous thread of life is left in a victim.

They were not, and they are not, trained to give up. The possibility of having to choose to give up is one of the most awful tragedies of my lifetime. If you don’t think this is tough, then you write down what you think an emergency worker should say to family and friends because the victim isn’t alive enough for hospitalization.

Have your family or friends scream and cry while you’re reading it aloud. Go on, give it a try and see what happens. Then ask yourself how did we get to this point and what can we do about it?

One of the things we can do is get vaccinated as soon as we can. There are other ways, but getting our shots is the simplest thing we can do.

We must remember that by getting vaccinated, we deprive the virus of hosts. Just as we did with polio and other diseases, we’re trying to starve the coronavirus to death.

Certainly, polio still exists, but it’s no longer a pandemic-level threat. Enough of us got shots or ate the sugar cubes (or both, like me and many my age) that polio is a medical afterthought that affects hardly anyone. We starved it to death.

What is so abstruse about that concept? That’s what vaccines do.

I’m hopeful we will have a much better 2021 than 2020 turned out. I’m accustomed to wearing a mask, but this is a sorry way to live.

Small as it may be, I want to do my part in the effort to make COVID-19 a thing of the past. It’s the least I can do for myself, the people I love and all the heroes I’ve met.

Reach Larry Clark at

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