It is without question that the COVID-19 pandemic brought an amount of loss and grief that remains incomprehensible. Thus, as we enter the eve of another Thanksgiving, it's safe to say that what many will be most grateful for--as vaccinations allow us to safely gather with family and friends this year--is the opportunity to do just that: gather. Yet for the many that will have the opportunity to embrace loved ones, there will be just as many experiencing empty spaces at dinner tables; managing the void of familiar laughter in rooms; reflecting on the absence of warm embraces at front doors. Like a callous thief, the coronavirus indeed robbed so many of us of so much and, for those of us who experienced those losses personally, it was a painful reminder that there is no greater wealth on earth than your health.
For the many who contracted the virus, it was simply inevitable. As the virus came and grabbed hold of persons of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds, it showed itself as unforgiving, non-selective, and relentless. And with 5.15 million deaths worldwide (and unfortunately continuing), it remains a phenomenon unlike any we've seen in over a century, after the 1918 Spanish Flu, which claimed upward of 50 million lives. And much like the Spanish Flu, COVID-19 was a battle many just couldn't win. However, when it comes to managing health that is still within our control, the pandemic served as a wake-up call that we must be diligent in doing so not only for ourselves but for our loved ones as well.
I was personally reminded of this recently when a close family member was left in wait about a possible diagnosis that would have most definitely put their mortality in jeopardy. What was most interesting was how their possible diagnosis had also impacted everyone around them who was quietly fearing the worst yet praying for the best. The angst and worry was palpable; the wait felt like an eternity. Yet all praise to the Most High, the results revealed my loved one was in the clear. Thanks to early screening, they were able to get ahead of a diagnosis that continues to claim the lives of so many. Much like the fear that had overwhelmed us as a family, it was soon replaced by a joy that consumed us, lending itself to a gratitude that would make this Thanksgiving more special than it has been in a long time.
This is when I was reminded that our responsibility for managing our health is not just about us; it is about those that love us as well. For those of us blessed to have access to affordable healthcare, not taking advantage of pre-screenings, annual exams, and routine checkups is simply irresponsible--and dare I say--selfish. And for persons of color, not only should many of those screenings happen sooner than for others, but the impact of not doing so if often so much greater. For as many of us have seen, when a person's health is in jeopardy, it is often loved ones who will bare the brunt emotionally, in sacrificed time and, often, financially. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, if everyone in the United States received recommended clinical preventive care, over 100,000 lives could be saved each year. That's 100,000 less heartbreaks, 100,000 less tears and, subsequently, 100,000 less loved ones laid to rest.
Yes, death is inevitable but premature death often remains preventable and the power is often in our very own hands.
So as we slowly begin to emerge from a most painful pandemic in which we didn't have much control, take this Thanksgiving to not only be grateful for your health and the health of loved ones who are still with us, but let us all commit to remaining diligent with our own health care not just for our sake but the sake of those who love us the most.
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!
For a complete guide to annual health screenings by gender and age, click here.