Christmas in the time of Covid
On Nov.19, downtown Rotterdam descended into "an orgy of violence" as furious Dutch citizens confronted police gunfire and rioted against Draconian Covid-19 measures amid a surge of deadly coronavirus infections.
In a land known for happiness and windmills, the Covid chaos in the Netherlands and across Europe threatens to cancel Christmas celebrations for another year.
Meanwhile in Waukesha, Wisconsin five people were killed and more than 60 people including little children were mortally wounded when an angry man drove his SUV into a crowded Christmas parade.
Last month here on Guam, a passionate debate about Covid vaccination between a doctor and his friend deteriorated into bloody murder at a family meal.
Several millennia ago, downtown Bethlehem descended into slumber. There was no room in any inn for a poor carpenter and his scandalously pregnant 14-year-old wife. They had just walked 90 miles from Nazareth to fulfill some Draconian government mandate. Rejected by the House of David, Mary and Joseph were at least given a bed with the cattle and the sheep. There, in the feeding trough amid the dung and zoonotic disease, the first Christmas was celebrated.
Meanwhile in Jerusalem, an angry man named King Herod drove his marauding army to slaughter all boys two years old and younger in the region of Bethlehem. Apparently, he didn’t want them to participate in any future Christmas parades.
Here on pre-latte Guam, in that time of King Herod, a passionate debate about where to situate the Yo’amti’s place of healing possibly deteriorated into bloody warfare among the large families of indigenous CHamoru, who once lived on the fertile coastal plateau in Mangilao now known as Eagle’s Field.
From a historical standpoint, Christmas was never a good time to be a child. Migrant babies being born in animal sheds, the politically-motivated slaughter of innocent children, and the government of Guam trying to steal your family’s land in Mangilao don’t typically make the yuletide gay.
No Virginia, there was never a red-nosed reindeer named Rudolph, never a singing snowman named Frosty, and the song “Let It Go” from the Disney movie “Frozen” is not a Christmas song.
We were lied to. Christ’s birth is not about fairy dust and toy-making elves. The true story of Christmas is dark and beautiful and frightening and inspiring and not over yet.
Just like Christmas, the story of the novel coronavirus is still ongoing. The virus has killed more than 5.2 million people around the world and thousands more die every day. By Christmas, one million Americans will have suffered and died from Covid infection.
We were lied to. Vaccine mandates, forced quarantine and suspension of civil liberties were never going to save all of us from Covid. Guam needed to have a much better Public Health system than what we had when Covid was finally diagnosed on island in March 2020. Too much of Guam’s suffering has been due to the broken health system caused by the local government’s addiction to payroll politics.
Because of the Guam legislature’s policy failures, robust village outreach to our most vulnerable communities was underfunded and poorly staffed when Covid began killing people. Due to the governor’s lack of leadership, coordination between Public Health doctors and the much larger private medical community was disjointed and toxic.
Covid-19 exposed the true corruption in the government of Guam. The politicians had used taxpayers’ money to enrich themselves and their cronies and left the basic services of government in shambles.
When the governor finally declared a state of public health emergency, no one knew who Public Health’s medical director was. Public Health’s headquarters in Mangilao had just been declared uninhabitable by the Guam Fire Department and the infectious disease laboratory burned down.
During the most consequential medical threat to their community, many key politically appointed Guam Public Health officials abandoned their fellow front liners and quit.
Nurses at Guam Memorial Hospital didn’t quit while the deteriorating public hospital became the epicenter of Covid suffering and death. Nursing and medical staff were pushed to their physical and spiritual limits. Amid leaking roofs and moldy wet towels strewn about the crowded dirty hospital, they were worried about bringing the infection home. They were scared to hug their kids. They couldn’t even kiss mom for fear that the virus would infect those they loved.
The governor said GMH was beyond repair and should be abandoned. The hospital administrator said fixing the hospital was useless and Guam should just give up and build a new hospital. The exterior envelope, electrical system, and fire safety equipment were found to be unsafe and beyond reasonable use.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the governor that the hospital’s life expectancy would have extended for another 25 years had the building been properly maintained. Their damning April 2020 report with explicit photos is a litany of the consequences of deferred maintenance all in the name of political patronage.
The Army corps made clear that even if a decision is made to construct a new facility, immediate repairs to the existing roof, HVAC and critical life safety items with an estimated cost of $21 million must be undertaken to address the life-threatening infrastructure needs to re-obtain accreditation and continue GMH operations safely.
While Guam’s politicians saw a political problem, the GMH staff saw Covid death. They saw loneliness and despair. They saw darkness.
Somehow, Guam’s hospital angels found the strength to rise through that darkness and show up to work every day. Like the Christmas star, the men and women of GMH shine with a perfect light giving hope and healing to the people of Guam.
In most disasters, communities come together. As we hear about the ugly greed and political corruption consuming the GMH administration this Christmas, a disintegration of trust at every level of society is now upon us. The virus forces us to tell the truth. We are not children. There can be no peace if there is no justice.
The GMH nurses must be paid. There can be no further excuses. The Hospital must stop being used as a political dumping ground.
Dr. Vince Akimoto practices Family Medicine at the American Medical Clinic. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org