Friends Josh Belser and Sam Dow are more than 400 miles apart from each other, but, as health care workers, they're united in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Belser, a nurse in Syracuse, N.Y., and Dow, a health care technician in Ann Arbor, Mich., grew up together in Florida.
Both are self-isolating from loved ones and regularly speak with each other, but the childhood friends connected remotely this week for a special StoryCorps conversation.
"Looking back on it now, I'm not at all surprised that we both ended up working in health care," Belser said, recalling a memory that, to him, foreshadowed a life dedicated to taking care of others.
In the late '80s when the two were about 10 years old, Belser said, the Ku Klux Klan distributed recruitment propaganda flyers around their neighborhood in Brandon, Fla.
"We all got 'em on our doorstep," Belser, now 42, said.
That day, he said, his friend, Dow, a black kid in a largely white neighborhood, knocked on his door with the idea "that we go around on bike and get all those flyers so that when people woke up in the morning, they didn't have to wake up to that."
"We got as many as we could, yeah," Dow, 43, said.
"You were somebody who did think about other people's feelings," Belser told Dow.
Dow said they're both that way.
"You were always the guy that sticks up for the underdog, you know," he told Belser.
Now, working on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak, they're both channeling their care for others in ways they couldn't have imagined. Belser has been a nurse for a decade, and Dow has worked in the industry for eight years.
Dow says the floor he works on was one of the earliest at the Michigan hospital to be converted to handle COVID-19 patients only.
"Our jobs had to change like seemingly overnight," he said. "I mean, there was no dress rehearsal because the numbers just started to go up — and then it was show time."
He said three of his patients died within one 12-hour shift last week.
"The bravest of us right now is absolutely terrified," Belser said.
Dow says that one of the hardest things is coming home and just being alone. He decided to move out of where he'd been living with his girlfriend to limit her exposure to the virus. He also hasn't seen his stepdaughter in three weeks.
Belser, meanwhile, is living with his 13-year-old daughter and is self-isolating from the rest of his family. He hasn't seen the younger of his two daughters for more than a month.
"I wish I could be there with you, brother, I do," Belser told Dow.
"That means a lot from someone who is also in it," Dow said. "There's definitely, like, a club that nobody wants to be in — but we're in it."
Belser is thankful for Dow's 30 years of friendship.
"God willing there'll be 30-something more," Belser said. "But if something were to happen to me, I think I'd like to be remembered as that guy who would give all for his friends and the people that he cared about — and maybe even a complete stranger, too."
As for Dow, he hopes he can make a positive difference in people's lives.
"I guess that's the best any of us can really hope for," he said.
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.
Recently, StoryCorps developed a new way to bring people together that makes it possible to record interviews remotely. Go to storycorpsconnect.org to try it out.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
On StoryCorps today, a conversation between two health care workers treating COVID-19 patients. Sam Dow is a health technician in Ann Arbor, Mich. Josh Belser is a nurse in Syracuse, N.Y. They have been friends since they were kids, and they started their conversation by remembering a defining moment from their childhood.
JOSH BELSER: Growing up, the Ku Klux Klan actually flyered (ph) the neighborhood. We all got them on our doorstep, and you were a black kid in a white neighborhood. But that morning, you'd knocked on my door and came up with the idea that we'd go around on bike and get all those flyers so that when people woke up in the morning, they didn't have to wake up to that.
SAM DOW: We got as many as we could, yeah.
BELSER: You were somebody who did think about other people's feelings.
DOW: We're both that way. I mean, I think you were always the guy that sticks up for the underdog, you know.
BELSER: Looking back on it now, I'm not at all surprised that we both ended up working in health care.
BELSER: When did you realize COVID-19 was serious?
DOW: My floor was one of the first that were converted to strictly dealing with COVID patients. Our jobs had to change, like, seemingly overnight. The numbers just started to go up and then it was showtime. And last week, I had three patients that died in one 12-hour shift. It's definitely life-changingly (ph) real for me.
BELSER: Yeah. The bravest of us right now is absolutely terrified. How are you dealing? How are you holding up?
DOW: You know, me and my girlfriend, we're living together, but with the greater risk, I decided to move out by myself. I have a stepdaughter also that I have not seen going on three weeks now. So one of the hardest things is coming home and just being alone.
BELSER: I wish I could be there with you, brother. I do.
DOW: That means a lot from someone who is also in it. There's definitely, like, a club that nobody wants to be in, but we're in it, you know? So I appreciate that, man.
BELSER: Thanks for 30 years of friendship. God willing, there'll be 30-something more. But if something were to happen to me, I think I'd like to be remembered as that guy who would give all for his friends and the people that he cared about and maybe even a complete stranger, too.
DOW: You know, there's a quote from the French philosopher Albert Camus. He actually wrote a story about a epidemic. The main character, he was a doctor, and he says the way that you get through something like this is to be a decent person. And, you know, somebody asks him, what makes someone a decent person? He says, I don't know, but for me, it's just doing my job the best way I can. So, hopefully, I made a difference in people's lives in a positive way. And, you know, I guess that's the best any of us can really hope for.
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MARTIN: Health care worker Sam Dow in Michigan and Josh Belser in New York. They recorded their conversation using StoryCorps Connect, which allows loved ones to record interviews while maintaining social distancing. It'll be archived at the Library of Congress. To find out how to record your own StoryCorps interview, go to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.