Editor’s Letter, January 2021: Look for the Helpers

It often takes a crisis for people to do what needs to be done and to truly appreciate those who run ahead to face danger first.

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Every September, when those 9/11 anniversary documentaries air on TV, there’s a scene that always gets me no matter how often I’ve seen it. New York City firefighters run into the crumbling World Trade Center fully loaded, dragging equipment and hoses, determined to climb 100 stories and rescue people. Your heart breaks because you know it’s going to end badly, of course, but also because—even if you could magically transport back to that day and tell them the building was about to collapse—many would still run inside.

Some people are wired differently and are disposed, as the saying goes, to head into danger when everyone else runs from it. They can’t help themselves from helping. We call them heroes.

Our annual Top Doctors section arrives during the pandemic’s worst surge yet, reminding us that healthcare workers have been battling this health crisis for almost a year now. While the general population works from home, avoids public gatherings, and gets groceries and meals delivered, some people put on their gowns, masks, and gloves every day and go battle the virus in person.

Only a portion of the professionals featured in this year’s Top Doctors are working on the COVID-19 frontlines; the section highlights 69 different specialties, after all. Even dur­ing a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, we’re still having babies, injuring ourselves, getting old, and fighting cancer. The 908 doctors included here, selected through a survey of their peers, reinforce that the human body is a complex machine needing constant attention—the better overall shape we’re in, the better chance we have to fend off unexpected assaults like coronavirus.

When the COVID documentaries eventually air, I know one of my favorite scenes will be local small businesses making masks, face shields, and hand sanitizer for medical facilities and local restaurants and shops preparing, collecting, and delivering food to healthcare workers as a “thank you” for their dedication. It often takes a crisis for people to do what needs to be done and to truly appreciate those who run ahead to face danger first.

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