I am an emergency physician who has been treating patients for almost 40 years. My practice consists of patients with strokes, heart attacks, and GI bleeds. The emergency department treats patients as they are born and as they are about to die. I have fought the viral wars many times, SARS, Avian, Swine, MERS and the popular yearly influenza.
This battle, COVID-19, is a coronavirus related to SARS (Severe Adult Respiratory Syndrome), the 2003 pandemic. From a strictly non-medical view, we are living in a state of terror, rarely seen in other viral emergencies throughout recent decades.
I have asked myself why are so many people scared? Maybe I should be asking the question we ask during the Pesach Seder, why is this viral pandemic different from every other pandemic? It isn’t from lack of an information stream. In my household the news is on many hours of the day. The Government holds news conferences at least once a day, news organizations cover the other twenty-three plus hours.
I’ve learned which segment of the population is at the greatest danger from COVID-19 as I know that children (Thank God) are tolerating the virus well and there have been no known deaths in this age group. I know that people under 50 and even older healthy adults may be infected but not even know they are infected. I know that the same segment of society who is most vulnerable to seasonal influenza will find COVID-19 a potential murderer.
Being a clinician, I have studied each of these viral illnesses that have plagued us. I was the point man as Associate Director of an ER with SARS, Avian and swine flues. I helped prepare my Emergency Room for an onslaught of patients who thankfully never arrived. We faced the sick and we used what we had to treat them.
I think what truly terrifies the population are the politicians, editorial/news staffs and governmental medical personnel who instead of trying to reassure the public that we will get through this calamity, verbalize that governmental/medical leadership will fail and the dead will litter the streets like scenes out of post-apocalyptic movies. They will preach we don’t have enough respirators, hospital beds, or medicines. They selectively blame the government and forget to mention that these problems were with us during SARS, MERS, always during the seasonal flu, which means every flu season we have the same disaster in our Emergency Rooms and hospitals. This is the medical system’s reality and has been as long as I have practiced medicine. It is the reality we are in and need to address not only during pandemics but everyday no matter who is running the government. We are all guilty of being both the Tam, the simple son or the Echad she-eino yodea a lishol, the son who doesn’t know what to ask.
The clinicians work with the hospital administrators, improvise and save lives no matter what. The government whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative tries its best to protect the populace. It is always a three-ring circus when a virus strikes. In fact, COVAD-19 was actually named NOVEL coronavirus, because as the name NOVEL implied it was an unusual virus necessitating new treatments for an original disease.
A virologist whose specialty is coronaviruses said something I thought profound. Whenever a new viral disease rears its head, no government looks competent. Every step in a treatment plan is like a mini-experiment, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Of course, we demand immediate perfection and instant cure. The wizards of government and medicine wave a magic wand and eureka raise the dead, and you look ten years younger. This is a fiction perpetrated by doyens of the press and politics and has nothing to do with our reality, but everything to do with keeping their jobs. In medicine, scientific investigation is the key. Non-specialists trying to make points with the population raises disappointment, lowers morale and leads to failure. This encourages behavior that increases fear and lack of confidence in any government or clinician trying to protect people here and worldwide. Eventually in the collective mind we fail, even if we have conquered the disease and saved millions.
To see our world now is to see a grocery store in the Soviet Union of the 70s. Shelves empty of food, no toilet paper or cleaning products, and people picking up the last bits of what used to be an abundance of plenty, all with an expression of fear and depression on their faces. Why? Warehouses have food, farmers are still growing produce and chickens are still laying eggs. Social distancing doesn’t mean stopping distribution, it means to be careful.
The fear must stop. The medical field will save all who can be saved. The equipment, drugs, beds will all be provided by a government that is learning rather quickly the correct paths towards success. The next pandemic, and there will be others, will learn from what we discovered in this pandemic. The supermarkets will correct their supply problems and life will return to “normal,” if We the People of the United States listen and learn what we need to do to win this war by having confidence in our leadership.
In the meantime, does anyone know where I can find some schmurah matzah for my Seder?