Thanksgiving is a special day of the year when we pause to give thanks for the blessings that we have. This year, the holiday has to be different - it will be smaller and more somber, virtual and outdoors or indoors with few people and the windows open.

That’s how we can safely, still show appreciation and give thanks.

As we celebrate this day, I would like to take a moment to contemplate about the past nine months and remember that in more than 15,000 homes, chairs will be empty around Thursday’s table. That's the number of New Jerseyans who have died from COVID-19.

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Thousands and thousands more will be in quarantine; and many will be hospitalized in healthcare facilities that are facing staffing shortages and filled to capacity.

Abraham Lincoln is often credited as being the father of the idea of the nation giving thanks after having suffered the trauma and pain of the Civil War. So in that spirit, I would implore to my colleagues and members of the community that we serve, to express gratitude as we fight in this agonizing war against an invisible enemy.

We give thanks to the many families who have made innumerable sacrifices since this pandemic began including socially distancing themselves from loved ones. They understand how crucial it is that we slow the spread of the virus so we can reverse this very disturbing exponential rise in cases and reduce the burden on our local healthcare systems.

It has not been easy to do this in an economy that has been devastated by the virus. We give thanks to you all because we know you were out there cheering and rooting for us. Sometimes just knowing one’s efforts are acknowledged gives that extra much needed boost of strength so desperately needed to endure such a difficult time. We are very proud to serve our communities and extremely appreciative for your trust in us.

We give thanks for the public transport workers, the grocery workers, the mail carriers, the maintenance workers, the food delivery teams and others who worked tirelessly to bring some sense of normalcy and ease to us amidst a most unsettling anxious time. Many essential workers truly went above and beyond the call of duty to carry out their tasks.

We give thanks to law enforcement and all the other essential workers who protect and care for our communities. On behalf of Saint Michael’s Medical Center, I would like to express my most sincere gratitude to all these workers and their families. This year, their hard work and heartfelt dedication is cherished more than ever.

I’m especially thankful to the hospital staff; the cleaning and transport staff, the maintenance crew, the medical assistants and technicians, infection control, the physical therapists, the pharmacists, the IT team, the dietary team, the doctors and the nurses who served during the pandemic.

As they have done from the start, they are standing at the front lines to care for our Newark community despite risks to themselves and their families. They show up every day despite the unprecedented numbers of cases and hospitalizations. I thank them for their sacrifice, their courage and bravery, and their dedication to healing and caring for the sickest of patients.

I have witnessed these heroes choose selflessness over self-preservation every time they step into their scrubs. I thank them for inspiring me and many of my colleagues by choosing to serve and care for our COVID patients even though they are potentially putting themselves and their loved ones at risk. I thank them all for choosing patient care day by day, shift by shift, during this unprecedented period marked with fear and anxiety.

I am thankful for nine months of countless stories of encouraging a patient to prone so they can breathe better or of holding a phone in front of a patient on a mechanical ventilator as a family member tries to make sense of what their loved one is experiencing so they may reconcile the excruciating reality created by the virus.

I am especially thankful for the heart-rending stories of nurses and nurse aides holding the hands of dying patients and letting them know they are not alone.

The past nine months have been physically and emotionally demanding, and carries incredible health risks for many of our health care staff. We have experienced sad and painful moments and lost extraordinary staff members of the Saint Michael’s family but yet we are grateful for the memories that galvanize us as we carry on, try to do as much good as we can and save as many lives as we can despite overwhelming obstacles.

I am grateful. I am thankful.

Dr. Hamid Shaaban is the chief medical officer at Saint Michael's Medical Center