For those who labor 24/7

Posted: Sep 01, 2000 12:00 AM
I caught the first installment of "Hopkins 24/7" this week. It's a documentary series on ABC chronicling the daily life of medical staffers at Baltimore's prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital. One adjective captures the atmosphere: bleary-eyed. At 1 a.m., Dr. Edward Cornell, chief of the trauma unit, saves a young shooting victim's arm. At sunrise, he and other surgeons gather to review the week's harrowing surgeries in which their patients either died or became gravely ill. Then it's back to the floor. In an upcoming episode, a young and harried resident, 27-year-old Dr. Kathie Pooler, compares working in the emergency room to being a waitress juggling eight tables at once. Another resident, worn down by emotionally draining, 100-hour work weeks, quits. It's "ER" on a double dose of Vivarin. This reality-based programming is more than mere infotainment to me. My dad, a neonatologist who cares for premature babies, trained at Hopkins nearly three decades ago -- and he has been working nonstop ever since. This Labor Day weekend, he'll pull three, 24-hour shifts. He sleeps, if you can call it that, overnight in a hospital bed. When he isn't at the hospital, he's on call. When he isn't on call, he's reading up on the latest innovations in his field and handling a mountain of administrative tasks. His vacations, to use the term loosely, are scheduled around medical conferences and seminars. He never rests. And he never makes a fuss about it. According to records at the U.S. Department of Labor, Labor Day was first suggested by Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold." Millions of working men and women employed in the trades or by the government will enjoy the day off. Union leaders will pay homage to the labor movement and use the Labor Day commemoration to demand higher wages, more benefits, and more vacation. Both presidential candidates will be pandering to the teachers' unions, singling out public school educators for proposed tax credits and deductions and bonuses and incentives to reward their lifelong dedication. Sure, teachers perform an important role and often bring their work home with them. (My mom -- a public school teacher for nearly a quarter-century -- still does.) But do they deserve special treatment over others? This Labor Day weekend, I'll be thinking of so many other white- and blue-collar workers who, like my dad, will be working diligently and anonymously through the holiday weekend while the rest of us loaf, complain, picnic, and play. There's the patrol cop on the night shift. And the dogged detective who won't give up on an unsolved case long after he goes off the clock. There's the 911 telephone operator. And the emergency room receptionist. And the nursing home aide tending to elderly patients from dusk to dawn. There's the taxi driver, traveling alone in high-crime neighborhoods to pick up a fare. There's the waitress at the roadside cafe, cheery even at 2 a.m. when grouchy travelers shuffle into her station. There's the clerk at the 7-11, gulping coffee to stay alert and studying law or computer programming in the midnight hour between customers. There's the farmer who has done a day's work before daybreak. And the trucker who has logged a half-million miles while we slumbered. And the janitor who makes your child's school sparkle before you've had breakfast. And the ink-stained typesetter making sure your newspaper's ready when you do finally wake. And, of course, there are those other important workers who labor "24/7" but receive no paycheck -- parents who stay at home raising their children out of the spotlight and without fanfare. For all those who give without expecting anything back, who believe hard work is its own reward, and who toil around the clock for the health, safety, and comfort of others: Thank you.