Over the past 24 hours or so, some of my friends and family members in the United States have posted their dismay at what they see as a gross overreaction to the coronavirus crisis. I’ve seen a lot of comments lamenting that business is going to suffer. Some have written about how people die all the time of things like shootings, car accidents, and chronic diseases and we haven’t “banned” or otherwise avoided guns, cars, or things that we know cause chronic diseases. Some resent the government “telling them what to do” or all the “fear mongering”, when we all “know” this is just going to blow over. In fact, I’ve read posts from people who claim that coronavirus “isn’t even all that deadly compared to some other illnesses”, so why should we watch the economy tank over it? In the past, we’ve been threatened by illnesses like SARS, Ebola, and H1N1 (which I actually did have, and it SUCKED), and most of us are still around to tell the tale. Why are we giving in to yet another virus scare?
I can understand why people are feeling this way. We, who are privileged enough to live in modern day western cultures with advanced healthcare and plenty of hospitals, are pretty spoiled. It’s been a long time since we last had a scary, contagious plague that truly threatened and ended many lives. Plenty of people consider your garden variety flu bug totally harmless. I’ve seen lots of posts comparing the coronavirus to the flu, often by people who have probably never even had the flu. Lots of people confuse a bad cold for the flu, when the common cold and influenza are two distinct illnesses. I have only had flu a handful of times in my lifetime. Every time I’ve had it, I’ve realized that it’s really nothing like a cold. Colds can be truly miserable, but they never lay me out flat with a high fever and a solid week in bed the way a flu bug does. Yet even still, every time I’ve had the flu, I have eventually made a full recovery, even if it’s taken weeks. Unfortunately, coronavirus can cause lasting lung damage or otherwise debilitate a person for life. Many people who get it wind up with terrible complications like pneumonia. They have to be intubated and put on ventilators.
Coronavirus, I fear, isn’t necessarily just like influenza. Some people will get the coronavirus and be somewhat sick, but they’ll recover just fine. Some will be largely asymptomatic and continue going about their business as they spread their germs. Some people will get coronavirus and get so sick that they’ll need life support, but then maybe recover to some extent. Sadly, some folks will get it and die– and probably alone.
I think what some people aren’t understanding is that it’s not just about YOU, and your risk of getting sick. It’s about the people who are tending to the sick, who are now stretched to the limits with exhaustion. Some of those caregivers are also coming down with the virus and winding up in the hospital, which means their colleagues have to work extra hard, weakening their own health. It’s about the people with serious chronic health conditions who might be sent over the edge of life if they also get coronavirus. It’s about the people who’ll have freak accidents and need emergency care, then later being exposed to coronavirus and not surviving their injuries because they also got sick. It’s about the lack of supplies, beds, ventilators, and manpower to properly care for the sick, and what it takes to provide, maintain, and finance those things.
Just this morning, I read an op-ed in the New York Times written by an anesthesiologist in Italy. A couple of weeks ago, he was taking care of an elderly man who needed to have a tumor removed. The anesthesiologist put the man under, and the tumor was successfully excised. Ten days after his surgery, the elderly patient got fever, chills, and developed a cough. His “mild illness” soon turned into pneumonia and he’s now on life support, hooked up to a ventilator. He’s a victim of a nosocomial infection, meaning he developed an illness as a result of being exposed to germs in a healthcare setting. Nosocomial infections cause a lot of morbidity and mortality in people who already have things wrong with them.
I think people often forget that hospitals are hotbeds of infection. Hospitals serve sick people, so even though we might think of them as basically being “clean”, the reality is that there are a lot of exotic germs floating around in hospitals, because there are a lot of sick people there. There are also people laid up in hospitals who are physically weakened due to injuries. Those otherwise healthy people are now more susceptible to picking up illnesses that they wouldn’t have if they weren’t injured. Currently, a lot of beds that would be reserved for someone with, say, a cardiac condition, are now being used by people who are sick with coronavirus. So people with other serious medical problems can’t access care as easily as they should be able to, and they are being taken care of by people who are, in some way, worn down by the coronavirus. Some of those patients are also coming down with iatrogenic illnesses and hospital acquired infections that they wouldn’t have otherwise had if they’d been able to stay out of the hospital.
Staying at home is boring. It’s bad for business. People are worried about how they’re going to pay their bills. But if you get sick from coronavirus and need hospital care, your money problems are bound to be much worse, especially if you’re an American who doesn’t have health insurance. If you die from your illness, you may be leaving behind people who will suffer and struggle because you’re no longer around. Conversely, if you are pretty healthy, but you spread germs to someone who isn’t, you will negatively affect other people. Someone might lose their spouse or child because of your need to see a movie or drink beer in your favorite watering hole. A nurse might have to work a double shift because his or her colleague finally succumbed to the virus and you needed to be admitted to the hospital. Patient number 23 might not get a ventilator because there are only 20 ventilators available. See where I’m going with this?
So please… I know it sounds like an overreaction… but please just stay the hell away from other people. It’s not just about YOUR risk of getting sick. You may be quite willing and physically able to gamble with your own health. But what about other people? What about the doctors and nurses who have to take care of the sick and wind up making heartbreaking decisions about who gets to use that 20th ventilator? What about the guy who had a car accident, because he couldn’t live without his daily Big Mac, then getting coronavirus on top of a fractured skull? What about the diabetic and pregnant mother of three, sick in the hospital, getting exposed to coronavirus, dying, and leaving her children without a mother?
Fulfilling the need to mingle with your friends and spend your money at bars and brothels is just not worth the risk right now. This is a temporary situation, and the sooner we get the virus under control, the sooner you can get back to your favorite watering hole, porn theater, church pew, or cruise ship. Think of this time as a gift… use it to do things that need doing, bond with people in your household, try out new recipes, read a book, or catch up on your sleep. Have sex, but be sure to use birth control if you’re not wanting to expand your family. Find ways to adapt to this situation. Who knows? If you put your mind to it, you might even come up with the next million dollar idea!
Bite the bullet; break out the board games; turn on the Netflix; and stay home. Let’s give the mighty plague warriors a fighting chance at battling this novel public health issue. And, as my friend Lori says…