Hero. The title is usually sports stars, entertainers, actors.

Not many people would put nurses, doctors and lab techs on that list. But the COVID-19 crisis has elevated those on the frontlines to that status.

And it can be uncomfortable for those not used to the spotlight.

“I have had people stop me in the grocery store when I am wearing my scrubs and tell me thank you for what I do,” said Piedmont Columbus Regional registered nurse Sarah Thornton. “I feel like I am doing what I have always done. I have tried to take great care of patients. … I don’t feel like a hero, but I am thankful for the support.”

Brittany Luther, executive director of The Bradley Center, has counseled some of those providers and she knows that the newfound love can be difficult for some.

“We call these people out as heroes and it has a connotation that they have to be strong,” Luther said. “They have to be calm in all situations. But they’re human. They get scared. They get frustrated. They are sad. They are grieving.”

Piedmont Columbus Regional Interim Director of Emergency Services Jack Rodgers knows this well.

“We didn’t get into this business to be heroes,” he said. “… We can feel good now that, in some way, that other people see the effort we are putting in where it may have been taken for granted previously.”

For some, they have always been the unsung heroes, now the can hear the signing.

“For us in the laboratory it’s a little bit different because we are often the unsung heroes,” said Melinda Chase, Microbiology supervisor Piedmont Columbus Regional. “People don’t really know what we do. So, this has kind of put it on the forefront to recognize what we did. And our phlebotomist who are on the front line doing that. … We are not used to that.”

Being heroes has come with public respect and acknowledgement, Rodgers said.

“For some longtime ER docs and nurses to walk out the front door and see cars parked in the parking lot with headlights flashing and horns honking and signs that say, ‘We appreciate what you do,’” Rodgers said. “That’s something they have never experienced and they don’t know how to process that. And the hardest of the hard tear up when they see that.”

Inside the Fight Against COVID-19: A six-part series

  1. A different fight: This COVID-19 battle has forced healthcare workers and institutions to do things differently. And it has stretched them.
  2. On the front lines: The fight against COVID-19 is not an easy one, as spaces are converted to accommodate more patients and hospital staff face 12-hour shifts day after day.