Now, who is essential?


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



Several years ago, during my time as mayor of Wilmington, I was often asked to speak to youth groups — Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, church youth groups, elementary school classes and others. They almost always wanted me to tell them about the city departments that we all considered to be “essential services.”

At that time “essential services” meant city safety services — the police department, fire department, emergency medical services (EMS) and dispatch.

One evening I was speaking to a Cub Scout pack in fellowship hall of the United Methodist Church. I threw them a curveball when I totally changed the topic.

I said, “OK, scouts. By show of hand, how many of you go to the bathroom every day?” They all looked a little confused (including the pack leaders), but of course every hand was raised. Then I asked them, “After you use the restroom, you always flush the toilet. How many of you have ever wondered where that poop goes?”

Well, that changed the entire tone of the presentation. First, all the kids looked at each other and started giggling. I saw one of the scouts lean over to a friend and giggle, “He said poop.” Giggle, giggle, giggle.

Then I said, “I know. I know. Even though it’s an everyday thing, adults don’t normally talk about poop. It is a funny thing to be talking about. Most people flush the toilet and never think about it again, but as your mayor, I have to worry about where that poop goes.”

I went on to explain where our wastewater treatment was located and how their job is to clean up all the wastewater (poop) that is produced by the city.

Up until recently, everyone who thought about “essential services personnel” still thought about our safety services staff and hospital employees. No one would have considered the wastewater staff or the landfill staff and trash collectors as essential personnel.

Now, most of us are reconsidering who is essential in our lives.

Debbie and I have drastically reduced out trips to the grocery store. I know quite a few people who work at Kroger. Last week, as I bought some things we really needed, I was so impressed with the Kroger staff’s dedication to us, their customers, as they stocked shelves, brought out Click-List packages and helped with check out.

They are all exposed to numerous customers every day, yet they do their jobs. They still smile and say thanks. Those fine folks are now on my essential personnel list.

That list has grown dramatically in the past few weeks. It now includes teachers, restaurant employees, retail employees, barbers and beauticians, our mailman and anyone else who still must maintain contact with the general public.

Of course, those highly trained medical professionals who staff our hospitals have to be at the top of everyone’s list of essential personnel.

I was honored in my career to work shoulder-to-shoulder with physicians, nurses, other respiratory therapist, lab and radiology technicians, housekeeping staff, maintenance and food service staff. I was always proud to be a hospital employee.

At that time, we rarely imagined that our jobs could be dangerous; life threatening to both us and our families. Times have changed.

I found out Friday that one of my favorite physicians, Dr. Jeff Manser, has COVID-19. His wife, Dr. Tina Gabbard, has asked us to spread the word about Jeff. She wants Jeff and their family to be covered with prayers and warm, loving thoughts.

Tina informed us that Jeff has spent a few days on a ventilator. As of this writing, he is being weaned from mechanical ventilation; however, he remains in the ICU.

Whenever a child was born with significant complication, we were always relieved to turn around see Dr. Manser in the room.

One afternoon, I witnessed a miracle. Resuscitation was started on a critical newborn. Our efforts continued for over an hour. We were about to call the resuscitation off when Jeff said, “Let’s try one more dose of medication.” Miraculously, that final dose worked.

A year later, the child’s mother brought her in to visit the people who had saved her life. Thanks to that “one more dose,” she was alive. She was perfectly healthy thanks to Dr. Manser.

Last night, word went out on social media to keep porch lights lit for Dr. Manser. Lights were on all over the community. Today, Debbie said, “Let just keep our porch light on until this nightmare is behind us”

That’s what we’re going to do. Until this pandemic is history, were keeping our porchlight on as a sign of hope and as a prayer of thanksgiving for all of those “essential personnel” who keep working for us.

Let your porch light burn brightly in honor of all our new heroes.

The very least we can do is to stay home. Be safe. Be strong and stay well. This too shall pass.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist