I was struck recently by two stories, within days of each other that show how the COVID pandemic has exposed the best and the worst in us. There is really no need to provide much more background information. We all know that COVID has closed businesses, kept us at home and even made us fear for our health and safety. We are all ready to try and move toward something that feels more like "normal," as we reopen Kansas.
Dissatisfaction with the current situation led a group of people to the Topeka Capitol Building to protest Gov. Kelly and her stay at home order. It also led a few health care workers to the same location to protest the protesters. As the health care workers stood silently with their masks on, one woman approached them with some choice words. She called them liars and implied they weren't real nurses (they were). She asked them why they weren't in the hospital working and called them "disgusting" several times. All through this harassment, the health care workers stood silently, refusing to engage.
About the same time, we were hearing the story of a northeast Kansas farmer who gave one of his only N95 masks for a health care worker on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in New York. At one of his regular briefings, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo read a letter from Dennis Ruhnke, a retired farmer from Troy, Kansas. Mr. Ruhnke told of having five masks left over from his farming days. He kept four of them for his immediate family, including his wife, who is in her 70s and only has one lung. The fifth mask he wanted to give to a nurse or doctor fighting the pandemic in New York. Gov. Cuomo, who was obviously touched by Mr. Ruhnke's letter, praised his "generosity of spirit."
It's easy to get caught up in disdain for the irrational protester in Topeka, and I admit her antics angered me. But thinking about the quiet, selfless act of Mr. Ruhnke is far more productive. It shows the great regard that the average person has for those health care workers who are serving their communities every hour of every day. It's a reminder that strength is often the opposite of belligerent and loud. I think it's reflective of the generous nature of most citizens of our state and frankly, it makes me proud to be a Kansan. It is, as Gov. Cuomo said, a "snapshot of humanity."
Tom Bell is the president and CEO of Kansas Hospital Association, a voluntary, non-profit organization existing to be the leading advocate and resource for members. KHA membership includes 216 member facilities, of which 123 are full-service, community hospitals. Founded in 1910, KHA’s vision is: “Optimal Health for Kansans.”