I was brought up in a small town in Southern California, and my Mom made sure I went to church, and urged me over the years to participate, be a part of the “religious family”. I must admit that I learned a lot about social structures, what’s acceptable and what’s definitely not. It’s not easy keeping a rambunctious 6 year old quiet during a church service! My Mother definitely deserved sainthood. I got pretty creative trying to pass the time during the sermon… usually 20-45 minutes, depending on how long winded the speaker was. I would lean back in the pew and look up at the clear finished pine ceiling high above, and try to count all the knot holes. I never got very far, generally because by the time I got to 200 or so, the sermon was about done and it was time to go.
What I also learned was the dogmas of the denomination, including all the apocalyptic, end time events that would signal the end of the world. And because “we” as a denomination had “the truth”, I would certainly be on the front row when it came to the Pearly Gates and entrance into Heaven. The thought of entering through those massive gates made me think of standing in line with thousands of other people, shuffling through to the turnstiles and gates into Disneyland. It was a real life promised land for a young boy.
55 or so years later, I work in a hospital in Northern California… in the Radiology department. Been working there for 31 years now.… a total of 39 years in the profession. I Have seen many things in my career. There is the reality of a necessary disconnect from the patients that I deal with and the tremendous difficulties they each face, because without that disconnect I would not last long… I would be overwhelmed with the burdens of what I see and take in every day. That’s not to say I don’t have compassion and empathy for my patients, because I surely do.
The current COVID-19 situation has given me pause and caused me to reflect, in many ways. In the process of doing the best job I can for my patients, part of that is learning a little about their history and what we are looking for, so I can better tailor the exam being performed. The reasons for disease and conditions can sometimes be predictable… such as, if a person has smoked cigarettes for a good part of their life, it’s a sure bet that majorly contributed to their lung, heart, peripheral vascular disease, and more. I would see a patient with a large hemorrhage or bleed in their head, and many times their life story would include a history of uncontrolled high blood pressure, tobacco and alcohol abuse, or illicit drug use. Sometimes it seems that the line of humanity coming into the Emergency Department due to their abuses is endless and will never cease. Something that is not part of my job process is to judge people for why they are sick, rather it is to realize they have a need and are desiring help.
The Coronavirus takes captive anyone regardless of clean, healthy living or not. There is so much information disseminated… all the numbers thrown out there about the potential death tolls modeled by the doomsday computer programs… the what if’s and possibilities if the worst happens… 240,000 to 2.2 million deaths in the United States alone! The shelter in place lockdown could go on for several more months, or maybe even a year. The virus will come roaring back in the Fall or Winter. We haven’t seen the worst yet. One thing for certain is that stress and anxiety levels are up. I know mine have been. My Doctor just told me that Psychiatry is the busiest branch of healthcare right now. No doubt!
Hearing the overhead speaker calling out for the Code Blue team, or the newly formed CART squad to the rooms where we hospital employees know the temporary COVID ward is located makes me realize our vulnerability. I think of the outstanding movie Glory, a historically based film about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment made up of African-American soldiers led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. The movie depicts, accurately or not, the 54th leading the assault on the Confederate’s Fort Wagner, in which Colonel Shaw is killed along with a soldier that he had flogged as an example to the regiment for being caught AWOL. One of the final scenes shows, in slow motion, Colonel Shaw sliding down an embankment into a large grave, and right after comes the soldier that was whipped for being AWOL. The gravity of that scene is that the Colonel’s rank, family wealth and connections could not save him from death at the hands of the enemy…. just like the soldier that had nothing… they both wound up in the same place… in a grave dug in the ground. Death is an inescapable equalizer…
I’ve been hearing many people state, based on superstitions and religious beliefs, that COVID-19 is retribution from God for a disobedient civilization… that this can possibly be the end of the world, the end of humanity. I really doubt that is the case since the world has seen much worse happen, and our current civilization is still here. Anytime there’s loss it’s always perceived as some judgement from God.… good vs. evil…. Something I realized along my journey is that nothing in life is fair…. and there’s nothing fair about sickness either… nor death. Everyone is potentially at risk, no matter what their social status or beliefs. The Coronavirus is an ominous equalizer….
It’s been 29 days since California Governor, Gavin Newsom gave the order for people to stay home, and most businesses and venues are closed now. I’ve been working all along because I’m considered an “essential” worker. My wife asked me if I was overly concerned about catching Coronavirus at work… and my response was, I deal with so many other “bugs” every day, many are a lot worse than Coronavirus. I try not to dwell on it all…. Sometimes I’d like to lean back and start counting knot holes again.