March 10, 2020


Time for a long post to make sense of all my existential angst. I’m sure all of my brothers and sisters in health care professions are feeling it too, watching a viral pandemic unroll in front of us in real time. We know far too much about the possible ramifications of where the corona virus may lead and it’s tough to walk the knife edge between the hopeful news that the majority of us will weather an infection without too many ill effects and the despair that a sizable minority may suffer and die but also might bring our wobbly health infrastructure down with them. I live in a state without reported cases… yet. Does this mean it has not yet reached us? It is here and circulating but among untested populations? What is the correct amount of societal change and social distancing to put in place at this time locally? Is it better to over react and cause major disruptions and financial hardships or is it better to wait until there is proof positive that such measures might have an actual mitigating effect? People come to me because I am a doctor with some training and all I can really say we can’t treat it, we can just support someone while they heal themselves. Wash your hands, avoid sick people, use common sense. There are some estimates that pretty much the whole human race will be infected within the next few years. Most of us will make it. Some will not. The mitigation factors won’t prevent the spread, it will just slow down the rate of spread so that society has the resources to care for the sick while they recover.

I have a number of risks personally. I’m over fifty (I find that hard to believe sometimes but it’s true). My health is pretty good, but not perfect and I have some chronic disease burden which tends to accumulate in all of us with time. I’m a doctor. The price I pay for societal respect and a decent salary is the expectation that I will put my body on the line in this sort of situation. I’m used to being coughed and sneezed on, to catch whatever the viral crud de jour is, which rarely lays me low enough to miss work. If I get something this winter (and I’ve been pretty lucky so far), do I get tested? Stay home for days throwing clinical schedules into havoc? When I get viral bronchitis, as I do every few years, it tends to linger with me for weeks and weeks. Does this put me more at risk? If the virus becomes endemic and my hospital becomes flooded with patients and it’s all hands on deck, do I brush off my rusty critical care skills and volunteer for extra shifts to spell exhausted colleagues? Will my hospital be able to cope? My frail elder patients, many of whom I have taken care for decades and who trust me implicitly, are most at risk. How can I protect them? This disease has the possibility of profoundly altering my professional life for the rest of my career. What will that look like? Can I really prepare?

My family, of course, are all in Seattle, epicenter of the US infections. Seattle seems to be running about ten days to two weeks behind northern Italy in terms of case load. The Italian health system is buckling and it’s not some third world system, it’s as good and robust as our own. Will Seattle look like that in three weeks? My 87 year old father’s senior living facility is on lockdown. Everyone in their own apartment, no visitors, meals on trays. My brother found out today that an infected child had been running rampant through the high school at which he teaches for several weeks. So far, so good and everyone is fine but will it remain that way? I am scheduled to go to Seattle in six weeks in order to attend and speak at my mothers memorial. Will it have all blown over by then? Will the whole region be on lockdown? We’re all playing it by ear and will, of course, reschedule as necessary. A lot can happen in six weeks. Six weeks ago, corona virus was but a whisper of a problem someplace in central China.

This was probably not the time to enter a major real estate transaction, what with volatile markets and interest rates so I’m sitting here thinking ‘Oh lord, I’m not going to be able to sell my house and I’ll be saddled with two mortgages’. But that decision was made before current events started to take shape and I will roll with the punches. I never seem to have a lot of luck with real estate transactions. I guess I should be used to it by now. I’m going to start the process of cleaning out the week of the 23rd so anyone who wants to help, let me know and we can sit and sort through the detritus of Steve, Tommy and my lives while listening to Sondheim CDs. Sondheim is always my go to in times of trouble just as Jerry Herman is the best for house cleaning.

ASO Chorus. You can actually find me in this shot.

On the good news front, performances of Mozart’s Requiem with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and Chorus went very well this last weekend. I’ve always loved the piece (ever since seeing Amadeus with my mother at the Guild 45th theater one evening) but this was the first time I’d had a chance to sing it. I used Tommy’s score from his last time singing it and it was comforting to have all his little handwritten notes and IPA symbols staring up at me while singing a mass for the dead. I think he would have appreciated that. Tommy never feared death. He was as matter of fact about it as he was everything else. His motto was you live, then you die. Rehearsals for Massenet’s Cendrillon are going well and it promises to be great fun. Once that’s over, nothing theatrical for some weeks while I clean out, pack, and move.

We haven’t had societal wide bad in the USA for about 75 years so I think the thing I’m most afraid of is what happens to us and our society if certain structures start unraveling. Will we turn to each other and help each other overcome and rediscover ourselves as one people of many creeds, colors, and beliefs, or will we let the stresses exacerbate our factionalism becoming more distanced from each other than ever, perhaps violently. No one under the age of 80 has really known a society without abundance, choice, freedom of movement and if those things start to disappear, all sorts of unforseen issues may start to arise. As the old curse goes, ‘May you live in interesting times’.

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