In a social media post directed to First Lady Michelle Obama, Ivy Vainio wrote on March 30, 2020: "My husband @ArneVainioMD who has practiced on the Fond du Lac Ojibwe Reservation in MN for the past 23.5 years. He is the most selfless, caring, empathetic, intelligent and giving man, physician, dad, and husband. His patients & his colleagues respect him so much. #mashkikiinini"

Arne Vainio: Zoongide'iwin is the Ojibwe word for courage

Something incredible happened. Former First Lady Michelle Obama posted on Twitter and Instagram on National Doctor’s Day and requested people comment on loved ones who are physicians. My wife Ivy sent in my photo with a short caption. That photo ended up getting almost a thousand comments and on World Health Day Michelle Obama shared a post with 6 photos of health care providers and my photo was in the middle on the bottom row.

The response on Facebook and texts and emails, Messenger and Twitter was immediate and strong and positive. The responses came from local friends and co-workers, but they also came from across the country and from as far away as Bangladesh and Finland. As of today the responses to that post with those six photos, just on Instagram, is over 675,000 and climbing. I am one of the faces of all those physicians out there and for hundreds of American Indian health providers.

It’s humbling to have that kind of response and it would be easy to get a big head about it.

The truth is, Ivy originated that response and she doesn’t always get the credit she deserves. Also not getting the credit they deserve are all the other providers who take care of us. This includes physicians, but it also includes pharmacists filling medications and continuing to educate patients, pharmacy techs running prescriptions out for curbside pickup, x-ray techs, respiratory therapists, lab, receptionists, certified nursing assistants and the maintenance staff who keep our health care facilities running and to the janitorial staff who sanitize and clean to keep everyone safe.

All of these are essential employees and are required to stay on the job.

The World Health Organization proclaimed 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. This was before the pandemic was a pandemic and those nurses and midwives are proving themselves worthy of that recognition.

Every single day.

As a physician I work with people who went into health care to make the world a better place. They go to work to make sure your children are healthy and safe and they work to make sure a diabetic foot wound doesn’t turn into an amputation. They are integral to delivering babies to end of life care and everything in between.

This is a huge responsibility and no one had a pandemic in their future plans when they were graduating. Not one of them thought they would be wearing a surgical mask all day and avoiding eating or drinking so they wouldn’t have to touch their masks and undressing in the garage when they got home to avoid bringing COVID-19 home to their families.

There are far too many stories of decisions forced when there are too many critically ill patients and not enough equipment. No one should have to choose who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t, especially in a country as rich as ours.

But those decisions happen.

I am indebted to Former First Lady Michelle Obama for posting my photograph and spotlighting all our selfless essential workers. Thank you to everyone who commented or sent well wishes, it is truly humbling. We are all indebted to the nurses and other healthcare providers and everyone providing front line care.

Zoongide’iwin is the Ojibwe word for courage and this is one of our grandfather teachings. Zoongide’iwin means to do what is right when the consequences are unpleasant, to do what is right even when you’re afraid.

This is the time for courage. This is the time to stay strong. The virus is depending on you to bring it to others and we cannot let that happen if we can help it.

Protect our elders and those most vulnerable. Protect our essential workers. Help slow the spread of this virus and give us time to care for as many as we can. We go to work for you. Please, stay home for us.


Arne Vainio, MD is an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and is a family practice physician on the Fond du Lac reservation in Cloquet, Minnesota. He can be reached at a-vainio@hotmail.com​.

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