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Holidays: A doctor’s point of view

Mental Health | Safety | December 7, 2020
Dr. Sarah Coleman puts an ornament on her Christmas tree
Healthcare providers look to find new ways to celebrate the holidays this year.

If you’re finding that time-honored holiday traditions are different this year, you’re not alone. Doctors and other healthcare providers are in the same boat.

Below, Sarah Coleman, MD, medical director of PeaceHealth Cottage Grove Community Medical Center, shares insights about her family’s decision to forego decades-long traditions this year and what they’re doing to make the best of “staying in their bubble.”

Deciding to limit holiday celebrations was an easy decision from a public health standpoint, but so very hard as a daughter and mother.

I was raised Catholic and am one of many in a large extended family. We’ve been celebrating the “Coleman Christmas” for as long as I remember with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. The photos over the years started with us as kids sitting on a staircase, lined up by age, gradually expanding to include our own children and grandchildren. Every year, Santa would come and hand out presents. I loved it as a kid, and when I had my own, it was sweet and adorable when they were babies and toddlers, and made me laugh the year the kids were suddenly taller than Santa, as he looked genuinely concerned when they moved to sit on his lap.

My children have never known a holiday season without this annual tradition, but we’re not holding the “Coleman Christmas” this year. It’s just not worth the risk to my parents and relatives’ health.

I broke the news to my children, and the fact that it came as no surprise to them was yet another sad point. On my youngest’s Christmas list is “a dog bed large enough so that Lily and I can hang out on it together.” He told me that Lily, his dog, is really the only friend he talks to now. Oof. The worst part was how matter-of-fact he was about it.

So, what are the holidays going to look like this year? Dr. Sarah Coleman decorates her Christmas tree

I’m already planning to put up the decorations and the lights as soon as I can, to make the most of the holiday as early as possible. I want to come home from a shift in the ER to Christmas lights twinkling and Christmas carols playing. That much I can make feel normal, even as I sanitize and shower before settling down to enjoy my home.

In years past we usually took down the Christmas decorations soon after Christmas day, but with nowhere to go we may leave them up longer this year.

My youngest, who enjoys baking, will still be able to make Christmas cookies and use an immense amount of sprinkles.

I’m going to find a safe, socially distant way to deliver them to family and friends, or else risk packing on even more quarantine pounds. 

I can revisit my time in grade school by cutting out lopsided snowflakes to hang on the front window. And eye my husband’s much more artistic creations.

Our celebrations will be smaller and quieter, but we can still make them fun. This holiday season needs to be different to keep everyone healthy. I have hope that if we make the necessary sacrifices now, we can look to 2021 and plan elaborate over-the-top holiday celebrations.

Dr. Coleman’s story could be told many times over by thousands of PeaceHealth doctors, nurses and other staff who care for patients every day in this pandemic. They make the best of working during the pandemic — and, like everyone else, grapple with stay-at-home school, stay-at-home shopping, and stay-at-home-everything-else.

And like many of their patients, this year they’re staying at home during the holidays to prevent the spread of the virus.

We hold fast to the promise that better days and more joyful seasons lie ahead. Until then, we are resolved to do all we can to protect ourselves and serve our communities.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Sarah Coleman:  Dr. Coleman hangs an ornament on her tree. Her family will stay home this year.

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