healthcare workers toronto

This is how healthcare workers are safely celebrating the holidays in Toronto this year

There's no denying that this holiday season is pared-down like never before, with the majority of Toronto residents choosing to listen to public health advice and compromising their typical plans in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but no one is sacrificing more than the city's healthcare workers this Christmas.

Dr. Sonja Babovic, for instance, is a family doctor serving both Toronto and northern Ontario, and she's working in the emergency department for five days in a row between Dec. 23 and 27. 

In a typical year, Babovic says she'd be spending time with family, friends or some combination of both. 

But this year, she'll be making public health a priority by staying away from friends and family and working most of the time.

"On my time off I'm going to mostly sleep, talk to my family and try to cook something festive if I have the energy," Babovic told blogTO. 

Although this healthcare worker's holiday plans are simple, safe and altruistic, she says she worries about whether Toronto residents will be willing to make the same sacrifices over the coming days. 

"I hope that people spend the holidays only with the people they live with (or one other household if they live alone), and not try to circumvent the rules even if they think it's safe to do so/there will be no consequences," Babovic told blogTO, reiterating the public health advice that has been communicated to Toronto residents for several weeks now.

Dr. Shankar Sivananthan, a critical care doctor at Etobicoke General Hospital, also shares some of Babovic's concerns. 

healthcare workers toronto

Dr. Shankar Sivananthan wearing his Christmas sweater at work. Photo provided by Shankar Sivananthan

"The projected numbers are horrific for January. ICU volumes and acuity are already high. I can't imagine having five times as many ICU patients which is the current 'worst case scenario' for mid-January," he told blogTO. 

"I hope people spend the holidays with their immediate families. Virtual visits are an option, but if you really need to see someone consider something outdoors in open air while maintaining distancing. Please don't travel between regions. Most of Ontario has been relatively spared to now, I worry that with travel over Christmas that cases in those regions will climb."

Just like Babovic and the majority of law-abiding Toronto residents, Sivananthan, too, is missing out on his typical holiday plans this year. 

During a normal Christmas, Sivananthan says he and his family would be spending time with relatives from out of town and using the down time to catch up with loved ones they don't often see. 

This year, he'll be spending most of his time working in the ICU.

"I'm on ICU this week which is quite busy with some nights being spent in hospital," he said. "I'll be having a quiet Christmas dinner at home with my wife and kids but unfortunately won't be able to have any friends or family over."

Sivananthan says he has had some virtual gatherings with friends and family in an effort to recreate holiday traditions, though it's made him really miss "the normal times." 

But while Sivananthan acknowledges the challenges of staying apart this holiday season, he says it's essential that everyone do so nonetheless, and he has some safe activity suggestions for anyone struggling with how to spend their time during the Christmas holidays.

"If you're an outdoors person, there are great winter activities that are safe — snowshoeing, hikes, trail runs are all great options and might as well get cracking on a healthy New Year's resolution!" he said.

"If that's not your thing and you'd rather stay in — holiday movie marathons, a good book, get into a new game. It's a very unusual time, but it might be the right time to just disconnect and focus on yourself and your family and know that next year will be better (hopefully)."

Babovic has some similar suggestions for safe holiday activities, but most of all she says she hopes people find a way to enjoy their time while making responsible decisions this year.

"I like the idea of connecting with close ones over phone or video. I think this year also offers us the opportunity to step away from the hustle and bustle of the holidays and take some time to ourselves," said Babovic.

"Maybe that means reading a book, watching some quality TV or listening to a podcast. What we do in the next few days will make a difference for months to come."

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