October 18, 2020

Annual Review – do I measure up?

We may all be preoccupied with dodging coronavirus but, against that background, life continues on with its minor domestic triumphs and tragedies. There’s part of me that wants to hide from the little curveballs life throws as I’m just tired of things happening and there’s another part that revels in them as it’s proof that I am alive and that the story goes on. It reminds me of the period when Steve was so sick and much of my energy went to taking care of him. The little ups and downs of life felt greatly magnified as the battle against his disease process took so much of usual living away from us. Now it’s Covid-19 stripping things away and leaving that which remains to occupy time and energy. It may not be much but when all your general connectedness is gone, it can feel like too much.

On the up side, I’m going to have to put my virtual film studio back together in the dining room. Someone dropped out of the Importance of Being Earnest so I’m picking up the slack and playing the other servant in Acts 2-4. I have to come up with a different look, voice, and physicality to try and disguise one person two butlers but I figure if Peter Sellers could do it, so can I. Holly, Tommy’s wig and makeup assistant is coming over later today and we’re going to experiment and see what looks good on camera. On the down side, something has gone wrong with the drain pipe from my kitchen sink. It’s not the trap. It’s deep inside a wall or maybe in some central piece of plumbing – I’m trying to find out if this is is something I need to take care of or if it’s the responsibility of the building. I’m hoping for the latter.

I had my annual review on Friday and I am happy to report that I have a job for at least another year. My 22nd anniversary at UAB comes up in a couple of weeks and it looks like I’ll be with them a total of 25-30 years by the time I get around to retiring. It seems funny to be contemplating that milestone as it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago that I was in college – med school – residency – fellowship but it was all a lifetime ago at this point. I have two things to do before I can contemplate stepping down – making sure health insurance issues are covered (Medicare or otherwise) and paying off this condo. I want the mortgage gone.

Back to some accidental plague diary thoughts. Numbers are spiking again in Europe leading to further shut downs. Numbers remain way out of control here. On the other hand, most of Asia has the disease under control and things are pretty much back to normal. It’s never really gained much of a foothold in Africa. If you look at rates in first world countries after mid-May (the time when there was enough understanding of the disease, its spread, and modes of transmission for governments to get their act together) some interesting things appear when you look at case rates normalized to population. While most of Europe and the rest of the first world was wildly out of control in March and April but came into control as more strict lockdowns were imposed and case rates were pretty low throughout the summer, just beginning to increase in the last few weeks. The two major outliers with much higher case rates are Sweden, which made a societal decision to let the disease spread and herd immunity take effect, and the United States where there are two populations divided by politics, one of which is vigilant in undertaking basic societal containment measures, and one which takes great joy in flouting those rules. Rates in the US are higher than in third world slum districts.

Why has Asia fared well and the first world not? I think there are a couple of cultural factors at play here. First, Asia is well versed in the spread of pandemic respiratory illness having been through SARS and various avian flu strains. Their populations, as soon as it became apparent that Covid-19 was going to be a problem, did the things they have been trained to do . They masked up and started practicing social distancing and obeyed their public health authorities as they have done many times in the past and the virus had difficulty getting a foothold and, where it did, was easily detected and abatement measures were targeted and put in place without public outcry.

Asian cultures are not cultures of individuality. They are cultures which put the well being of the group or the society ahead of the well being of the individual. People are willing to endure personal inconvenience as they innately understand a greater good is being served. We don’t do that very well in the USA. Modern Eurocentric culture comes into being in the post-Renaissance world with one of the lynchpins being that of Cartesian dualism with its corollary that every mind and individual is unique and that the needs of the individual and the ego should be paramount. Four centuries later, and we have constructed a technological society (with a heavy dose of Ayn Rand’s objectivism thrown in for good measure) in which people are not only unwilling to endure for the sake of the collective good, but are downright hostile to the idea. This ‘I have the right not to do anything I don’t want to do’ mentality is so ingrained in American thinking that it’s going to be very, very difficult to even begin to bring Covid-19 spread under control. The populations of those who understand what needs to be done and those that bristle at what they view as governmental intrusiveness are so intermixed that things will be dragged down to the lowest common denominator as the virus doesn’t care about these issues. It will spread where human behavior allows it to spread.

If there’s a change in administration in a few months, will we be able to start emulating societies with better track records? Not without good leadership and I am afraid that governmental leadership has been badly damaged. It’s going to take some sort of institution that a majority of Americans still trust to deliver messages and model behavior to start and turn things around. I have some hope that faith communities might start filling the gap. From what I can see, some of the leadership there has started to figure out that they have been rendering more to Caesar than to God in recent years and that this has seriously damaged their reputation and standing. This might be an area of the ‘love thy neighbor’ variety that they could enter and start turning the tide. Beyond that, I’m not sure if there’s a societal institution that both red and blue America trust in the same way. The military, perhaps, but public health really isn’t it’s role. Both sides tend to trust doctors but we aren’t given much of a public platform these days. The concerns of practicing physicians, especially in primary care are overwhelmed by the concerns of the administrators and money side of the system and that’s the narrative that makes it into the media and public discourse.

As the Emcee sang in the last show I did before theater vanished along ‘Money makes the world go round’CommentShare

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