Front-line workers, COVID-19 patients find gratitude, resilience this Thanksgiving

It may be hard to believe there’s much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. It has been a painful and difficult year for many -- the global pandemic has impacted the lives of billions of people, sickened tens of millions and killed more than a million. Still, for many Canadians on the front lines of the pandemic, or those who got sick and recovered, giving thanks comes with special meaning this year.

For critical care nurse Brenda Mayers, who has tended to COVID-19 patients since spring, it is the chaplain who came by every morning. For ER nurse Marluci Alves, it is experiencing the strength that comes with teamwork.

“We have a job to do -- to come in and take care of our patients so that they can go home. So we just love our job and we just come in and do what has to be done,” Mayers said.

For Nicholas Boulieris, an ICU patient attendant, it is the supportive colleagues who helped share the burden and heartache during the most challenging moments of the pandemic.

“We went through a week where we just had death upon death and I got to the point where I didn’t know if I was going to do it anymore,” said Boulieris. “But always having those coworkers, having a strong team is the key and ... We just had each other's back. So I just felt such pride at that time to be honest.”

A survey of more than 1,000 people in Canada and the United States found that amid the weight and suffering of the pandemic, half the respondents said there have been silver linings to the lockdowns.

Steven Taylor, a professor and clinical psychologist with the department of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, has been doing research on psycho post-traumatic growth and found that despite the terrible events of the last 10 months, not everything is negative. While some people are feeling very anxious, many are doing well under the circumstances, he said.

“Some people say, well, yeah, they've grown closer to friends and family, they've developed greater trust in their community, they've grown to appreciate the little things in life, they've deepened their spiritual beliefs,” Taylor said.

“Some people say they feel more resilient as a result of having gone through all this and having gone through lockdown, and so forth. They feel like they've grown tougher as human beings that are more optimistic and better able to deal with life's challenges.”

The idea, Taylor said, is that humans look for things to be grateful for. Gratitude encourages us to think about the good things that have come out of all this, which can be helpful for our mental health.

For those who have lost friends or loved ones to the virus, or have lost their jobs, marriages, or homes, it has been a terrible year, Taylor acknowledged.

“We as a community should be reaching out to those people and offer them the assistance that they need,” he said.

Finding ways to grow stronger illustrates how adaptable human beings are, Taylor added.

Nadeem Ahmed, a pharmacist in Mississauga, Ont., is one example of that: in the early days of the pandemic, he had to figure out how to dispense essential medication while protecting his customers, himself and his staff from all the unknowns of the new virus. This meant getting creative, using shower curtains, tape, and plexiglass to create a barrier, helping to ease some of the fears and worries while still providing an essential service.

“A lot of people are worried and people are scared, but myself and our staff we've done an amazing job I feel. We've gone above and beyond what was asked of us,” Ahmed said in March.

“We have been through SARS now with COVID, we've kept our doors open, we’ve risked our lives. So I’m extremely thankful that we have the means, the ability, the knowledge and skill to make a difference in people’s lives.”

For Matthias Gotte, an Alberta scientist who was studying Remdesivir, an antiviral medication typically used to treat Ebola but is now used to help fight COVID-19, he is grateful for the swift funding that is allowing this kind of research.

“Even though it is not a silver bullet … at least this is a good start. And I think the government also in Canada played a large role by rolling out these funding programs to help the scientific community to be players in this regard.”

Perhaps the most thankful of all are people like Bruno Iozzo, a healthy 73-year-old man who in late March was among the first COVID-19 patients admitted to the Humber River Hospital in Toronto. For the next 104 days, Iozzo would fight the infection in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Today, he is home celebrating Thanksgiving dinner with his daughter Gisella. He is grateful he can walk and be with his daughter.

“There's just so much to be thankful for this year and, of course, having time with my dad, all this time together and I'm thankful for everyone who's helped,” Gisella said.

Still, for front-line workers and families now reunited, they will be most thankful when the pandemic will finally be over.

“We will get through this. We will somehow get to the other side of this and when we do, we should love each other more and be more appreciative of each other and definitely appreciative of life,” said Boulieris.

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