An adjusted holiday season and the sacrifices on the table
On Thanksgiving Day of 1988, I met the love of my life.
I was the guest at her traditional family gathering. I didn’t know anybody there except the guest who invited me and it changed my life forever. I have loved Thanksgiving ever since. What a great day! You and your family are expected to eat, drink, laugh and nap and it always comes on a Thursday giving you an extra long weekend every year. You can’t ask for anything better. As a photographer, I have shot the Plaza Lighting Ceremony for several years now. Filled with tradition and music, it is my favorite annual gig.
But 2020 has been a different kind of year and it will be a different kind of Thanksgiving as a result.
You see, we have decided to be one of those families that cancel Thanksgiving this year.
We didn’t come to this decision easily. We didn’t do it as a political statement or because we live in fear for our lives. We didn’t decide to cancel because we were “told to” by the government and are “sheeple” as my conservative friends have suggested. We did it because of what poker players call “pot odds”. Simply put, that’s the ratio between what you stand to gain in a hand of poker versus what you have to spend in order to win it—or what you stand to lose if the hand doesn’t go your way.
Our traditional Thanksgiving brings together family members from six separate households, three of which have people at high risk for COVID-19. To be honest, we would probably risk it except for one thing. With the current rate of infection in our area, it is very likely that if we did hit a “bad card” and someone gets sick, there may well be no room in the hospitals to care for them. The odds are relatively low that anyone would become infected but if they did, the results would be a catastrophic loss that would be too great for the fun of the one day. Pot odds say to cancel this year and drink a really nice bottle of Cabernet that has another year of age on it in 2021.
We are rapidly approaching the point of no return. The point where there are more patients than our health care system can handle. As Americans, we benefit from one of the most well-equipped health care systems in the world. We have more doctors and more hospital beds per capita than any other country on earth. Unfortunately, we have confused the “most” with “infinite” and refuse to believe that the resources of our medical system are also “finite” and limited.
The dangers of COVID-19 are the unseen dangers. It’s not a death sentence. Far from it. Only 5% of people who test positive for coronavirus actually require hospitalization and only 40% of those people will need ICU care. That’s a very tiny percentage.
The problem is so many people are getting sick that a “tiny percentage” translates into thousands of hospital admissions each day. Experts predict that by Thanksgiving, 200,000 people per day will test positive for Covid. Within 2 weeks, 5% of those 200,000 daily cases will mean that 10,000 family members will enter the hospital each day and 4,000 of those people will need an ICU bed eventually. The high number of patients not only fill all the available beds but Covid patients require twice as many medical attendants as normal ICU patients and they stay in ICU three times longer than the average ICU patient. That creates an even greater shortage of beds and staffing for the never-ending stream of patients that are slowly wearing down our doctors and nurses both physically and mentally. By the time that you are sick enough to show symptoms, you have been contagious with no way of knowing for a couple of days. Everyone you come into contact with, you expose unknowingly and add more patients to the system.
Remember, it’s not just your problem if you get sick. It’s our problem collectively. This isn’t like deciding to ride a motorcycle without a helmet. Who cares? If you crash without a helmet it’s your life that is affected. But your COVID-19 diagnosis puts at risk the doctors and nurses that are trying to save your life, you raise the exposure risk for the EMT that rides in the back of a closed ambulance taking you to the hospital. The bed you take up is also a bed that is not available for other patients suffering from normal, non-coronavirus issues.
So make sure you don’t let Uncle Joe get so excited talking about fraudulent votes he has a heart attack at Christmas. By then he may not have a bed available in the hospital.
We don’t really think that our medical system can be overwhelmed. It’s an idea so far outside our realm of experience as Americans that we have trouble imagining that it is possible. But already there are stories coming out of doctors making difficult calls deciding who gets rationed medical treatment and who is left to die. After Thanksgiving, those stories will become more common and more widespread as hospitals around the country get pushed over the brink by an influx of additional patients who were exposed over Thanksgiving dinner by a beloved family member.
This weekend two KC firefighters died from COVID-19 contracted while on duty. And as of this weekend over 70 KCMO Fire Fighters are off the duty roster due to coronavirus. By mid-December, if I am involved in an auto accident I may have to wait for the paramedics because so many are in quarantine that they simply don’t have enough first responders to safely cover the city. If you have three emergency calls and only two available ambulances, somebody gets to wait and it could be someone you love.
2020 is a different kind of year and as such, my family and I will celebrate Thanksgiving in a different way. We are all buying our dinners from local, independent restaurants that need our support. We are calling each other to laugh, tease, and say “I love you”. We will raise a glass virtually and toast to better times. We will stay apart this year to protect our at-risk family members. We will stay apart in honor of the work our first responders and medical personnel do. They have fought this infection for the last 10 months with no break. Simply “liking” a meme on social media saying “Thank You For Your Service” is not enough, we will honor their sacrifice with one of our own. We will miss each other as a family but we will not be part of the problem.
And that’s good enough for 2020.