Before You Have Your Big Thanksgiving, Listen to What These Doctors Have to Say

While Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers will still be on the frontlines of the pandemic.

While Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers will still be on the frontlines of the pandemic. (Shutterstock)

By Dr. Jafar Haghshenas, Dr. Crisanto M. Torres, Dr. Joseph V. Sakran

November 24, 2020

Doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers will be on the pandemic frontlines as you enjoy your holiday this year. They want you to do right—by them and your fellow Americans—this holiday season.

As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, this year we are grateful for those who will be avoiding traditional family gatherings. With nearly 12 million COVID-19 cases and over 250,000 lives lost to the pandemic, you can take it from us, three Johns Hopkins physicians: Your decision to stay home will literally save lives. 

The truth is that healthcare workers are experiencing a very real form of post-traumatic stress disorder right now. Back in March, we personally witnessed death at a rate that should not be seen anywhere in the 21st century, much less in the United States. Hospitals were overrun, personal protective equipment (PPE) was scarce, and patients who were perfectly healthy one day were saying goodbye to their relatives via Facetime the next. 

Unbelievably, and unconscionably, we are back there. Hospitals have begun to repurpose certain units, expanding intensive care capacity. We are cutting back on elective surgery to accommodate the upsurge in COVID-19 related admissions. Visitation restrictions have been reinstituted, staff shortages are a concern, and personal protective equipment (PPE) inventories are running low. 

As coronavirus numbers trend in the wrong direction, public health experts—like Dr. Anthony Fauci—continue to remind the public that we must take additional precautions over the holiday season to help mitigate the spread of this virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted updated guidelines for safe holiday celebration and is currently advising against travel for Thanksgiving. 

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While these public health measures mean that we will not have the hugs and companionship of a traditional holiday, they will ensure that those empty seats at the table will be filled in the years to follow. 

The desire to be with family for the holidays is an impulse that we, as doctors, also understand. We too admit to daydreaming about gathering with family over the holidays—especially since 2020 has been so uncertain and dark. But what is a dream must stay that way. None of us want to lose a loved one because we indulged in a comfort that could, quite literally, kill. 

As physicians, many of us will be away from our loved ones on the holidays as we deliver care for those Americans that have fallen ill. We will continue to expose ourselves to a disease that has taken the lives of thousands of healthcare workers—a risk that we are ready to take. We will care for many patients over the next week for whom we—their doctors, not their families—will be the last individuals they see in this world. 

We have personally witnessed the prolonged physical and mental suffering endured by these patients. We have seen death ravage generations of a family; we now hold memories of orphaned children and widowed spouses who survived the virus only to be told their loved one did not. These are mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers who will die alone, terrified as they struggle to gasp for air. 

RELATED: Thanksgiving Is Going to Be Weird This Year. Here’s How to Cope.

In the coming days, we will connect breathing tubes and machines to support them. Many will die. Some will survive. Those that do may very well be traumatized, if not permanently debilitated. 

As November turns to December turns to a new year, thousands of health care professionals will continue to care for those impacted by COVID-19 across the country. We cannot do it alone. 

Individuals and communities must take on a shared responsibility to be part of the mitigation strategy as we aim to quell the surge of cases. Simple public health measures such as wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing your hands can save lives. Moreover, being cautious and limiting family gatherings outside of your bubble during this holiday season can and will help stem the tide of transmission and prevent super-spreader events. 

While we all have been impacted by Covid-19, there is a glimmer of hope in sight: A promising vaccine may very well be on the horizon. But hope stems from the countless health experts guiding us through this pandemic, and from future leadership that will put data and science above politics. 

As we head into this holiday season, we know we have so much to be thankful for: We have our health, we have our loved ones, and we have ways of staying in touch even over long distances. Each of us has both the opportunity and the responsibility to protect our loved ones. Let’s remember that staying home this Thanksgiving could mean that we’ll have more to be thankful for next year. 


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