March 18, 2020

Life finds a way – Ian Malcom

It certainly seems that we’ve all been slapped upside the head these last few weeks with two basic truths. First, humans aren’t special. We’re just one of many species struggling to exist on this blue ball teeming with life and mother nature is in charge. We may like to think we’re exempt from the natural processes that govern the way the world works but we’re not. Second, Americans aren’t special among humans. As the stress of the pandemic and societal shut down grinds inexorably on, we’re starting to recognize that forty years of hollowing out public good for private profit might not have been the best of ideas and that our tools for responding to this situation aren’t anywhere near as robust as they are elsewhere in the world. The last week or so may have seemed surreal to many of us, but it’s only the beginning. This is not something that’s just going to go away in a week or two. We’ll survive. We always do. Humans are a hardy species and pretty darn ingenious when we put our minds to it and this isn’t the first nor will it be the last tough spot we’ve been in. I read somewhere that sometime during the Cro-Magnon era, the human race was down to eight breeding females (determined from sequencing mitochondrial DNA) and we made it out of that tight spot.

In some ways, the economic catastrophe looming over us all is worse than the health catastrophe. And that’s probably what got the federal government to finally wake up. They weren’t terribly concerned about the safety of ordinary citizens (a failure of the first magnitude as that’s the most basic job of government) but they’re awfully concerned about the preservation of wealth, especially in the hands of those who run our institutions. I foresee a lot of changes coming because of this particular dynamic but whether those will be in the direction of an authoritarian cracking down by the power holders or a more equitable future for ordinary citizens is difficult to discern at this point. Maybe both. Maybe neither. Maybe some unknowable third way. I read a meme somewhere that we’re back in the roaring 20s, starting off with a pandemic, the bars are closed, and Wall Street is crashing.

If nothing else, I think we’re starting to recognize who’s really important in our society. As a doctor, I signed up for a job that I knew might include a time like this and where I might have to take on personal risk to benefit patients. It doesn’t bother me. It’s part of the calling. If you don’t have that ethos, you don’t belong in medicine. But people like grocery store clerks didn’t sign up for what they’re doing at the moment in terms of keeping shelves stocked for a populace that seems to have lost its collective mind over toilet paper. And they’re not the best compensated of individuals. Think of those that are really helping us get through theses days: Everyone involved in the supply chain – clerks, truckers, railroaders, port workers, warehouse workers. The people we turn to if we’re cooped up at home are the artists: the writers who provide us with books. The actors, directors, and myriad technicians that create movies and television. The musicians that lighten are hearts with song. We’ve been underfunding the arts and culture for decades in our society and it’s time we stop that because collectively, they are our soul but we only seem to understand that in times of trouble. And don’t get me started on the teachers – underpaid for years. With most of the country being thrust into home schooling, when the schools do reopen, I can see mobs of angry PTA parents marching on the local school district demanding better salaries and working conditions now that they’ve figured out what teachers actually do.

At my job, the people I’m saluting are the behind the scenes folk. The cooks and serving line people that make sure there’s a hot lunch in the cafeteria so I can keep going. The custodial staff who are doing double duty disinfecting. The IT people who make sure the computer systems work the way they need to. My receptionists who are fielding calls from frightened and confused people with a smile. My nursing staff who give a damn on a very personal level about the well being of our patients. It’s easy to elevate a doctor up on a pedestal but there’s a whole team of unsung heroes around him or her that allow the job to be done.

With three days of work, we’ve managed to get ambulatory care in geriatrics shifted away from bringing people into a clinic in a hospital environment to a telephonic based system where we can still provide care. We’re open for business. We will see people in person to keep them away from the emergency department but most routine care will be done through either phone or video chat for the next few months to try and keep our patients safe and out of harms way. I can’t say I like it because I’m a toucher and a hugger with patients (sometimes it does more good than any pill I can come up with) but desperate times call for desperate measures. Anything we can do to keep my peeps from falling seriously ill is OK in my book.

I’m pretty fried when I get home in the evening. It would be nice to have someone to unwind with other than the cats but I’m still being pretty rigorous with my social distancing and will likely be so for a while as I don’t want to be a vector carrying disease to vulnerable populations. I had my first outing other than work in nearly a week this evening when I stopped by the Piggly Wiggly on my way home to pick up a couple of things for the fridge. Sanitize hands before going in. Don’t touch face. Try not to touch anything other than products I’m buying and the basket. Most things were well stocked other than bread and I wanted a loaf. The bread aisle was completely cleaned out but I wandered over to the deli and found a few loaves of specialized brioche bread in an out of the way corner that had been overlooked. Score! And I happen to like brioche. Sanitize hands again in the car. Get home and scrub. My current wash hands song is The Ladies Who Lunch – last verse. May Elaine Stritch forgive me.

Spoke to the mortgage people today. Everything is in place to close on the new condo in a month as was planned. I told them I was fine if force maejure caused a delay. Even if I close on time, I foresee certain issues in the practicalities of moving so I may have possession but it may be a while before I can move and occupy it. We shall see. I can use more time to sort and downsize but that’s not a task I really want to do alone and at the moment, I’m a little leery of having a lot of people traipse in and out and undo the work I’ve put into keeping myself semi isolated.

Everybody continue to be well. I’m going to try and write like this every couple of days for a while, touching on the age of Corvid 19. I thought about going back to the chapters I’m working on for my book about the aging Baby Boom but I’m thinking that may need to wait until new realities take shape. I will try to get some new movie columns written though. MNM’s voice gets stronger in my head when the chips are down.

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