Connections critical now more than ever

As an ICU physician, I have seen the horrors of COVID-19 up close. I have witnessed firsthand what this virus can do to people, to their bodies, to their spirits and to their families. These patients become frighteningly sick, and they do so frighteningly quickly. In all my years of clinical practice, I have never seen anything like this before.

And so, I am a big believer in doing what we can do as individuals to help reduce the spread of this virus. This includes social distancing, frequent - very frequent - hand washing, isolating ourselves if and when we get sick, and wearing a mask when in public spaces.

These best practices have been shown time and again to work, and they are an essential tool in helping mitigate the transmission of this terrible disease and pandemic.As a healthcare professional, it distresses me to see how the issue of wearing masks - which research clearly shows can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 - has become a societal fault line. It distresses me to see how some people take wearing a mask as a "political statement," a way to divide us from each other. This should never be the case.

Still, just because we need to continue to social distance, however, does not mean that we need to emotionally distance from each other. Every family - and we are one American family - has disagreements between themselves. That is normal. What is not normal, however, is when we turn those disagreements into frank division.

Yes, we should maintain a physical distance from each other as much as possible. That doesn't mean we need to cut out any emotional connection. Yes, shaking hands may not be totally advisable in a pandemic, but that doesn't mean we can't greet one another with a big smile, one that can be seen in our eyes regardless of the mask we are wearing.

The necessary lockdown to control the pandemic in Illinois, and our subsequent impatience with it, shows how necessary human connection is. We are just hard-wired as a people to connect with our friends, our family and our neighbors. "Drive-by" birthday celebrations or memorial services are just not the same. It is a heartening reminder that our humanity has not been completely destroyed by the stress and anxiety wrought by COVID-19.

Let us always remember that as we navigate the next phase of the unknowns about this pandemic. What will happen with school? Will the virus come back with a vengeance in the fall and winter? Will the flu season make it worse? We can't know the answers to these questions.

What we can know, however, is how we respond as a people. And we should respond to this virus by keeping our emotional connection strong with each other. We are all one family, even if we have to "air hug" each other for the foreseeable future.

- Hesham Hassaballa of Hinsdale is a former contributing columnist. Readers can email him at [email protected].