The Dead Horse of 2020 (No, not the Election)

By Angela Self, MD – TCMS President

This piece was originally published in the January/February issue of the Tarrant County Physician. You can read find the full magazine here.

Though I vowed not to touch the pandemic as a topic, it seems to be the one thing that’s on my mind. Still crazy after all these months.

I was in Florida when I saw President Trump come on television and announce that we were facing some big changes due to the coronavirus. What I remember most was that his face was white as a sheet and his voice, uncharacteristically, had no dramatic intonation. The serious look on his face and the coming lockdowns scared me much more than the thought of running out of toilet paper. I knew we were headed for a major disaster in this country and it hit me in the gut, hard. I cried easily and often for the next two weeks. I mourned the loss of my country. I knew that many would die, that we would be divided over the handling of the pandemic, and that the pandemic would be highly politicized. I kept changing the channel that March day in 2020. Forgetting Sarah Marshall was needed, and fast. It was an election year and we were already dealing with the polarity of being either a Democrat or a Republican, and now we would be divided over COVID-19 controversy. Let me just say that I have never, ever wanted to get sick from anyone in any public place who was coughing and spewing infectious particles. Masking is about the best idea I’ve ever heard of; I think it’s a great way to decrease disease spread during every cold and flu season, as well as in a pandemic. I once missed Thanksgiving with my family after my sister called and said, “We’re going, but John is sick and he’s running a fever.” I took the next exit off of I-35, turned around, and spent Thanksgiving home alone. It was worth it. 

This past January I was speaking with a girlfriend who was getting over a pretty bad upper respiratory infection. She wasn’t sneezing or coughing, but as we talked a little spit droplet flew out of her mouth and into my eye. When that happens, and it does, I just say, “Whatever they’ve got, you’ve got it now.” I do not get that close, or face to face, to this friend anymore. Some people have to spray it when they say it, and COVID-19 is the last thing you want to have sprayed in your face. Looking back over this year I remember a few of my friends had severe upper respiratory infections. Was it COVID-19? Maybe. It seems like years ago that it was okay to cough or sneeze in public, but not now, and it’s just been a little over nine months. Now when a dust particle brings on an unexpected sneeze, the next thing you hear is, “It’s just allergies, I’m not sick!” I agree with stringent infection control measures in public places. I am saddened, however, by businesses closing, millions losing their jobs, nursing homes not allowing any visitors in a safe, distanced way (meaning little accountability and possibly increased neglect), and healthcare professionals using their credentials to further polarize an already confused society.

“Masking is about the best idea I’ve ever heard of; I think it’s a great way to decrease disease spread during every cold and flu season, as well as in a pandemic.”

So what do we do? How do we move forward? I have a friend who lost his wife to COVID-19 months ago (she was an ER nurse in New Jersey), and I have another good friend who just recovered from COVID-19 pneumonia. This virus is still a public threat. People are still dying. Treatments are helping many, but like the flu and other diseases, there is not a cure. A vaccine will not be 100 percent preventive. It’s the best we’ll be able to do, but it won’t be 100 percent. Do we allow our economy to collapse or do we get back to work in a safe and smart way? It’s easy for those of us who can go to work to say, “Stay home,” as we are able to provide for our families. During this pandemic, I went to a certain coffee shop every day and sat at a table outside with my cousin (it was the only contact that the both of us had with another person during the early days of the pandemic). We would see other coffee friends pull up and have their orders delivered to their car. We watched the mask requirement come in and we complied; we still do. The thing that we mostly did was sit there every morning and act normal while supporting a struggling local business. We were socializing over coffee in a safe manner. If I had to cough (allergies) I would get up and walk around the side of the building. In the spring, if the group ever grew to over the allowed number, someone would leave and let another sit and visit. Our coffee shop owners had to lay off twenty employees and close their shop in Southlake. One of the negative consequences, besides death from illness and job loss, is depression that has been made worse due to social isolation. Though many of us feel we can safely get our groceries, have our coffee, and take care of business, as long as the protective measures are being used, there are still many who are very afraid. That fear has likely served the most vulnerable well, as they’ve had limited exposure to COVID-19, but it has cost others their lives due to depression and suicide. It has cost some child abuse victims their lives, with school being a safe place where they could escape the abuse for at least a few hours. I am grateful that Texas has allowed businesses to reopen and let our citizens get back to work and their kids back to school. This pandemic is not over yet, but hopefully, much of the devastation is behind us as we learn more about this virus and how to best treat it.

 The way I would like to see us move forward is with safety protocols and measures in place, while returning to our livelihoods with moms and dads able to pay the mortgage, keep the lights on, and feed their kids. Talk about “social determinants of health”; can we even measure the food insecurity that’s out there when we’ve taken a meal away from a kid who might not get any meals at home? Let’s move ahead with disease prevention. How many mammograms and colonoscopies were not done this year, leaving cancer undiagnosed and untreated? I’ve seen some “quality” scores and there are many “gaps” that weren’t closed in 2020. The thing about open gaps is that you just don’t know which gap closures would’ve caught a disease process in its early stages.

I wanted to start off the year with an article about avoidable hospitalizations from UTIs gone wild or how medical directors are people too, but instead, I have broken my own rule about avoiding controversy. If you’re a little confused on where I stand on COVID-19, here are my thoughts: 1) respect your fellow man by wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance; 2) consider if you might be putting a high risk person at increased risk (self-quarantine if you’ve been exposed); 3) be kind to each other as many are struggling with the loss of friends, family, personal health, or their job; 4) exercise your rights and freedoms in a safe manner; 5) the virus is very real and very deadly (to some even previously healthy people); and 6) take the vaccine if you get the opportunity—it’s the best we can do to turn the tide on this pandemic. Blessings, and I look forward to an America without COVID-19.

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