America in Pandemic: A Doctor’s Perspective on What We’ve Learned so Far

America in Pandemic: A Doctor’s Perspective on What We’ve Learned so Far March 25, 2020

Allow me to put on my white coat and speak as a physician for a bit.  Like every other well-informed American, I’m alarmed, furious, and anxious over events this past month.  I don’t think anything I’ll be writing here is original to me – and I’ll cite sources where I’m able – but it’ll be therapeutic to vent a bit.  In bullet-point form, here’s what I’ve learned.

  • It is unspeakably awful to have a disreputable game show host at the helm during a pandemic. Couldn’t it at least have been Alex Trebek?  As countless memes have (accurately) spouted, an anti-vaxxer who stares at eclipses, believes raking forests can prevent wildfires, and thinks windmills cause cancer is about the worst option for Chief Executive we could have right now.  A man who privileges “a good feeling” over evidence, in pushing to open businesses prematurely and in touting a drug combo with mere anecdote to support its effectiveness, is actively detrimental to our society’s health.
  • The bumper stickers are right: critical thinking is America’s other national deficit. The fact that so many people still have faith in this con man is horrifying.  When even physicians (shame on them!) are self-prescribing vast amounts of Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin, because their Dear Leader said so, we are deeply screwed.
  • Fox News is social poison. What other conclusion is there, when a single night’s prime-time “reporting” shucks unproven COVID-19 remedies and recommends that culling the human herd of AARP members might be a swell idea?  Turn it off if it’s playing while you’re in the room, and argue your family members out of watching this social malignancy.  It’s a fight worth having, with life-or-death repercussions.
  • We are living the consequences of a federal health policy void. Isn’t it great that Trump got rid of the pandemic task force in 2018?  What we have now are lone institutions and individuals making policy decisions.  Sometimes this leads to A) deadly lag times; sometimes it results in B) what I’d term outright negligence.  In Category A, my wife is a hospital-based speech-language pathologist, and she had to discover on her own that the tools she uses in imaging studies pass through one of COVID-19’s favorite places to colonize, and that the standard cleaning techniques for these instruments might not kill the virus.  For her safety and that of her patients, it would’ve been nice to get this information from a federal clearinghouse.  In Category B, the community mental health center where I worked till December had a COVID-exposed patient mosey in last week, and nothing timely was done about it.  The nurse practitioner seeing her failed to react promptly, and a sluggish administration had no policies of their own to fall back upon.  Which brings me to my next point.
  • We are reaping the whirlwind of health care systems run by businesspeople. In both of my previous examples, the CEO of those health systems are MBAs.  Doctors and nurses are hardly perfect, but when the spotlight is on us, we’re a hell of a lot more likely to make decisions from a humanistic, healthy standpoint (Rand Paul excepted).
  • Our society is only as healthy as our least-insured individual. There’s nothing like a pandemic to prove the necessity of free and universal health care.  C’mon, America, let’s join every other industrialized country already!
  • Andrew Yang was right. On top of a pandemic, does the 80% of America living paycheck to paycheck need to lose sleep over their next rent check, grocery store run, or utility bill?  A Universal Basic Income could eliminate those fears, and we wouldn’t live on edge every time our divided Congress has a budget showdown.  Which leads to…
  • With Republicans, it’s always about the green. The Party of Lincoln might do their snake oil sales pitch over Jesus and the embryos, but this week’s debate made transparent where each party’s priorities truly reside.
  • If you still haven’t voted in a primary or caucus, vote Bernie. A recent New York Times analysis put it succinctly:  Bernie is the candidate of revolution, Biden is the candidate of restoration.  If these past two weeks haven’t laid bare for you the failed, morally bankrupt agenda of neoliberalism and capitalism run amok, you haven’t been paying attention.  We need political revolution.
  • We need a nationwide shelter in place. Now.

 Thanks for reading.


(Image credit for photo:  NVaden CC BY-SA 4.0 – cropped to widescreen format)

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