Rozeman: COVID doesn’t lessen the gift of Christmas

Over the last couple of years, I have written about COVID-19 and the importance of adjusting what we do as we learn more about the virus. This is all in hopes of reducing the anxiety and fear of the unknown and bolstering hope and confidence. It is in consideration of Proverbs 24:14 that says: “Know also that wisdom is like honey for you… if you find it, there is a future hope for you and your hope will not be cut off.”

Many people have suffered great personal loss during this pandemic. Many grieve over the loss of friends and loved ones. Health and careers have been impacted. The problems of anxiety, depression, drug abuse, and suicides have been even more impactful on our lives.

The negative impact of this pandemic on the development of children is tremendous and will be felt for decades. Marked drops in reading and math skills occurred with substitution of virtual learning for in-school learning. This year, physical and sexual abuse in children and opioid use and suicide in adolescents became even more of a concern than previous years.  The last couple of years have been a time of personal disruption.

Even during the Christmas season, it is hard to think about gratitude with all the personal loss. However, there is much for us to be thankful. We can be thankful for public sector and private business working together to produce effective vaccines. We can be thankful for healthcare workers who worked increased shifts under difficult circumstances. We can be thankful for healthcare systems that stayed flexible and handled the major logistic and personnel difficulties of the pandemic.

We can be thankful for essential workers who showed up at work every day despite the fear of the unknown. We can be thankful for the resilience of small business owners who helped their employees even more than they could really afford. And we can be thankful for physicians who worked together across the globe to learn and share with each other to improve treatment regimens.

We’ve learned the importance of realistic expectations and the need to consider context in the natural history of surges in viral epidemics. As the delta and now omicron variant go up and then down in number of cases and hospitalizations, we should avoid adding “new solutions” aimed at the unobtainable goal of eradication of the virus.

For COVID, the goal is to manage the disease with safe and effective vaccines, natural immunity and very promising new therapeutics. Controversy over vaccine mandates and masks have dominated the news. However, the future impact of the COVID virus will depend on the effectiveness of new therapies as well as establishing natural and vaccine immunity.

Maybe the most notable difference of the last couple of years is the added grief and loss suffered by so many. This past Saturday on December 11th, this became more real for my wife and I as we attended the holiday memorial vigil held at Forest Park Funeral Home in remembrance of her mother who passed away last December.

Also, on that day, we attended the celebration of life for the man who had been the CEO of my cardiology practice for 25 years. December 11, 2021 was also the day our brother-in-law’s stepfather died at age 95 from COVID. Eight years ago to the day on December 11th, my family also lost our daughter Sarah’s twins—Hunter and Brooke—born just a couple of weeks before they had a chance to survive.

At the vigil, I thought about the pastor’s words about the often difficult times of grief at Christmas and I thought again about the great personal loss of so many during the pandemic. In the quietness of the moment, I listened to the words of the hymn “O Holy Night” being played in the background.

“O holy night! The stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Savior’s birth… A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn! Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices… O night divine, O night when Christ was born.”

Christmas is a time to reflect on what is important. And as I listened to the lyrics of “O Holy Night” and thought about the pandemic and the personal impact of December 11th this year, it occurred to me I had left out something very important in all my writing about COVID-19. What we learned again during this pandemic was that we need each other and we need the “thrill of hope” of that night when Christ was born.

So, the most important words I will share this Christmas about the pandemic come from the last verse of “O Holy Night”: “He taught us to love one another. His law is love and His gospel is peace.” If we internalize this lyric, we won’t let COVID lessen the gift of Christmas.

Dr. Phillip Rozeman is a practicing cardiologist. He is co-founder of Willis-Knighton Cardiology and past Chief of Staff at Willis-Knighton Health System. He has recently been awarded the Distinguished Service Award of the NWLA Medical Society and Council of A Better Louisiana. He is the past recipient of the John Miciotto Healthcare Lifetime Achievement Award.

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