March 12, 2020

The feeling of dread is no better after forty eight hours of rather unbelievable news from all quarters. I feel like I’m trapped in one of those movie scenes where someone is hurtling towards disaster and everything switches into slow motion while our hero tries to prevent the crash/murder/gory accident/breaking of the irreplaceable clue, usually to no avail so we can set up the third act of the story. It’s just that things have switched into such super slow motion that it takes hours and days to get to the next chapter rather than twenty seconds.

It has become pretty clear to me, and to most of us who work in medicine and public health, that governmental entities have failed in a rather spectacular fashion when it comes to dealing appropriately with the corona virus rapidly sweeping the land. The one thing that encourages me about all of us this is the stepping up of private and public entities to stop the mixing of too many people in too confined a space for the near future. Social distancing, which seems to be public health buzzword de jour, is the one thing that we as ordinary folk can do to protect our fellow citizens by making it harder for the virus to leap from person to person. The corona virus is new to humanity. None of us has immunity. Even though it’s not likely to cause serious consequences for most of us, it’s still going to be very problematic for a small subset and if that small subset all gets sick at once, our health system will look like that in Northern Italy within a month. 2.5% seems pretty small until you realize that 2.5% of 330 million people is roughly twice the population of the state of Alabama.

As a gay man who survived the 1980s,I am not in the least surprised that the federal government is playing politics while peoples lives are at stake. Been there, done that. And when the LGBTQ community figured out that they were considered a disposable population,they rallied and saved themselves by creating community organizations and services that still endure. Communities are going to have to do that again, looking out for each other and not expecting a federal white knight to come riding over the hill to the rescue. The federal track record over the last couple of decades has been pretty dismal – Katrina and Maria in Puerto Rico come to mind. The canceling and closing down of life is painful and difficult but it is the one thing we can all do in the fight. Most of us aren’t virologists. And this is an enemy you can’t fight with your stockpile of AK-47s. Viruses don’t care about your bank statements, your passport, the color of your skin, your religious beliefs or anything else. They only care about replicating and moving on to the next host. I’ve heard more than one state official here make reference to some sort of godly intervention that has so far kept our caseload down. In my cosmic view, god is the god of viruses as much as of humans. Maybe s/he is on their side this year.

The closing down of society includes me. The opera has cancelled both the annual gala which was to be this Friday evening (to be rescheduled at a later date) and the actual opera itself which was to be performed next week. The plan is to carry the production forward to 2021 and reassemble as many of the cast and staff as possible at that time. It may be a good thing that Birmingham is to be spared the sight of me in full drag as one of ‘les filles d’altesse’ trying on the shoe at the end of Act IV. Ah well, there’s always next year. This, of course, frees up the next couple of weeks considerably so I suppose I’d better start my downsizing sort a bit earlier than I had originally intended. Who am I kidding, I’ll binge watch a couple of things on Netflix, read a few of the books in my tsokundu pile, and take some nice walks now that the weather is warming up.

We’re open for business at work, of course, but everything is a bit skewed as we all prepare for the unknown. A month ago, Italy had a handful of cases and now its health system is on the verge of collapse. Will we follow that pattern? Our transition of our health care system over the last few decades to a health care industry has demanded that the system become lean and mean and operate at pretty much all beds full during normal times to maximize profits. This means there’s not a lot of excess capacity for an emergency. It doesn’t make money to have extra beds sitting around unused or to pay staff who aren’t on the edge of overwork. If the worst happens and the ventilators are all occupied, I’m likely to have to spend a lot of time having a lot of very difficult conversations with patients and families. Can I do it? Yes. Do I want to? No. But it will be necessary work and I just hope I have enough of a reservoir of kindness and compassion from which to draw to be up to the task should I be handed that particular cup.

I had pipe dreams this last year of retiring at 62. I haven’t had the heart to check my retirement account balances after hearing about the carnage on Wall Street over the last week or so but I have a feeling early retirement is now off the table. At least I had a meeting with my financial people in January and reallocated everything into a new portfolio to begin minimizing my risk now that retirement is starting to look me square in the eye. It’s all monopoly money and numbers on a spread sheet at the moment anyway and we’re all in the same boat.

I have found, quite possibly, the worst film I have ever seen on Netflix so I’m going to finish it up and then MNM is going to have a field day with her column tomorrow evening. There’s a new column due out in a day or two and this one will follow that. You’ll have to stay tuned to find out what it is and what she thinks about it.

Be well, eat right, get some sleep, steer clear of large crowds and, above all, wash your hands. Holmes and Semmelweis were right.

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