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On Call: A Doctor's Wish After Heartbreaking Year

Thu, 12/17/2020 - 08:41
The entrance to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital's emergency room in April, at the height of the pandemic's first wave.
Doug Kuntz

As I write this, the death toll from Covid-19 will cross the 300,000 mark, a threshold that would have been unimaginable in so many ways just a year ago. Contrary to what so many people think, it's not "just" the very old patients or those with numerous chronic health conditions who have suffered or died -- it's otherwise healthy men and women in their 40s and 50s. 

And children. 

It's horrifying and heartbreaking, but in so many terrible ways it has somehow become a part of everyday life. When we first experienced a surge of cases here in New York in the spring, so many of us in the health care field fought tooth and nail to uphold our sacred oath to heal and keep death at bay. Many of those under our care died, and with each one of those who passed away under our watch, a piece of our hearts died as well, particularly because so often we -- the doctors and nurses and therapists and everyone else in the hospitals and nursing homes -- were there beside them instead of their families. 

At least, we thought, it will be worth the sacrifice and heartache because the rest of the country will see our experiences, will hear our voices, and will be better prepared. We were able to breathe a little easier, to recover from the scars of losing not just patients but also colleagues, to go back to sleep after the nightmares woke us, knowing that other lives would be saved. 

Except, here we are again. Every week I talk to someone new who has contracted Covid-19, and a good number of those cases involve people who do not take the virus seriously, who travel without quarantining, who do not wear masks, who gather in groups in friends' homes. 

Every week, I see more and more news reports regarding people across the country who protest the supposed loss of freedom that mask mandates or travel restrictions represent. 

All of this, while every day I call or text my friends who are doctors and nurses and hospital workers across the country just to make sure they are okay, or call to tell my brother I love him as he heads into another shift in a hospital assaulted yet again by Covid-19. 

When it comes to this holiday season, my wish list has changed dramatically compared to years past. I'm not asking for Santa Claus to hand-deliver vaccines this year. Incredibly, vaccine distribution is not just on the horizon but actually right around the corner, and that sure knowledge is a miracle in and of itself. I am asking, however, for a holiday miracle of a different kind, a gift beyond any I've asked for before. 

This year, I hope everyone remembers that the holidays are about coming together in the darkest time of year and celebrating what matters most to us, our families and communities and faiths. As people across the country engage in a variety of religious and spiritual celebrations this week, all I want this holiday season is for them to do so safely, with attention paid to social distancing and mask wearing and with as little travel as possible, for them to celebrate only with those whom they reside with whenever possible, so that extended family can be kept safe. 

I know it's a lot to ask. But if I believe anything, I believe in the amazing, generous hearts of Americans across the country to come through so that we can all celebrate many more holiday seasons together down the road.


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