Tag Archives: medicine

100,000 Dead and Still a Circus

“When the final bulb pops alight, and the smoke and sparks dissipate, it is finally legible, this elaborate incandescent sign. Leaning to your left to gain a better view, you can see that it reads: Le Cirque des Rêves. Now the circus is open. Now you may enter.”

– “The Night Circus”, Erin Morgenstern, © 2011

On Wednesday, May 27, the COVID-19 death toll here in the United States achieved a brutal milestone: 100,000Globally, some 5.6 million infections have been confirmed, with more than 353,000 fatalities.  Bearing only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has roughly one-third of deaths directly related to the COVID-19 scourge and about 1.7 million infections.  Sometimes being first isn’t such a good thing.

About 300 municipalities in the U.S. boast populations of about 100,000.  We have sports arenas that can seat 100,000 people.  Despite the viral carnage, many cities across the U.S. are moving towards a re-opening; albeit with a few restrictions.  The limitations appear subjective.  Some restaurants, for example, remain delivery or curbside pick-up only, while others allow a small number of patrons indoors, with tables kept at least six feet apart.  Most demand employees wear masks and latex gloves at all times, but don’t require the same of guests.  Then again, it’s sort of difficult to imbibe in food and beverages with one’s mouth ensconced in a piece of cloth – no matter how fashionable it might be.

Is this the new normal?  And who designates what is or is not normal?

For me social distancing and frequent hand-washing have been normal since color television was still a novelty.  Yes, I am that…mature and I was that precocious!  But, for some people, washing their hands after they pick up dirty laundry or take out the trash is a catastrophic lifestyle change.  Hence, my social distancing predilection.

Such habitual alterations aside, I can only shake my head at the blatant disregard some people have for their neighbors – what I also call downright stupidity.  Am I sadistic in chuckling at the thought of moronic infidels perishing in the morass of their viral incompetence?  I view it merely as being practical – in a Darwinian frame of mind.  Among lower mammals, those that cannot maintain pace with the herd are sacrificed to the course of nature.  Among humans – at least in democratic societies – even the stupid are afforded some level of sympathy.

However, it’s tough for me to sympathize with many of our elected leaders, including the psychotic, discombobulated clown the United States calls its president – Donald J. Trump.  The alleged liberal media has noted the president’s distortion of facts regarding the COVID-19 pandemic – from his pronouncement that April heat will kill off the virus to his suggestion that injecting basic household cleaning chemicals into one’s corpus is good preventative medicine.

One hundred thousand is not just a number – it represents human beings; lives lost to a disease that, oddly enough, has a low fatality rate.  The U.S. death toll to COVID-19 is equal to the number of fatalities in this country to the 1968 Hong Kong flu, which killed roughly 1 million people globally.  One would think a nation as developed and affluent as the United States would be able to confront any scourge as influenza.  But looks are often deceiving.  The U.S. has been good at developing weapons of destruction.  Our military is the most highly-trained and well-prepared fighting force in the world.  Yet health care issues always seem to be relegated to a Neanderthal-style the fittest shall survive type of mentality.

And it goes back to what political structure is in place at the time of the crisis.  Forty years ago, when AIDS arrived on the world stage, the U.S. was beset by the ultra-conservative Ronald Reagan – a half-ass actor cum political assailant.  While contemporary conservatives deify Reagan and tumble into near-orgasmic frenzies at the mere mention of his name, the rest of us clear-headed folks understand what an incompetent dolt he was.  And not just because he turned his back on the working folks of America!  As a social conservative, he and his minions felt justified in categorizing people into those who deserve to live and those who don’t.  With his banshee of a wife beside his feeble body and mind and an attorney general who thought waging war on the adult film industry was a noble cause, the Reagan Administration ignored the very real calamities of a growing crack-cocaine epidemic and the burgeoning AIDS crisis.  Thus, thousands died, while Reagan uttered a few quaint phrases that cemented his aw-shucks persona as adorable to his legions of blind disciples.

I see much of the same happening now with COVID-19.  As thousands fall ill and the economy sinks, Donald Trump is more engaged with his Twitter account and continues propagating the myth of rampant voter fraud.  Now we have 100,000 dead from this novel coronavirus – and growing – with more than 1 million infected.  And despite that low morbidity rate, just recovering from the ailment seems to be a slow ride through the fires of Hell wearing tissue paper-thin clothing soaked in lighter fluid.  Moreover, scientists still aren’t certain of the long-term effects of COVID-19.  Most people recover, yes, but at what cost?  How will the disease impact their health years from now?  What of their cardiovascular system?  Respiratory system, metabolism, digestive tract, immunity?  Like AIDS forty years ago, COVID-19 is fresh off the virological boat.  We just don’t know.

I do know, however, that a conservative ideology is bad for health care.  Like the schematics for the Titanic, everything looks great on paper – until it slams into something, and we see what happens.  No one knows what the hell to do!  Except pass judgment and make light of the matter.

That’s what Reagan and his ilk did during the AIDS mess: toss around cruel jokes and tap-dance on the graves of the fallen.  And it’s pretty much what Trump is doing now.  He’s not exactly making jokes – his presidency and leadership have taken the top awards on that.  But he’s not providing any true direction.  He did order some manufacturers to being producing much-needed medical supplies.  But even that came with some arm-twisting!

Think about that number, however: 100,000.  What number of dead do we have to see before everyone takes it seriously?  When is it no longer just a very bad day?  What price is a life?

Images: Alejandro De La Garza

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Best Quote of the Week – April 24, 2020

“We live in a country where skin color is hazardous to one’s health and mortality is not determined by one’s genetic code but instead by one’s ZIP code.  We appeal to you to channel treatment and resources to those areas in our body politic that have suffered the most from this national infection that has allowed this virus to spread disproportionately.”

Rev. Frederick Douglass Haynes III, pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas.

Haynes signed a letter calling on the Trump Administration to address the racial and economic inequality that is making non-White communities more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Worst Quote of the Week – April 10, 2020

“It is being used in Germany as a mist.  Health care workers go through a misting tent going into the hospital and it kills the coronavirus completely dead not only right then, but any time in the next 14 days that the virus touches anything that’s been sprayed it is killed.”

– U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, (R-TX), claiming that German scientists had developed a powder that – mixed with water – will kill the COVID-19 virus on contact.

In response, Dr. Jörn Wegner, a spokesman for Deutsche Krankenhausgesellschaft, the German Hospital Association, stated, “What your congressman said is absolute nonsense.  There are no such tents and there’s no powder or magical cure.”

Gohmert continues to embarrass both my home state of Texas and the United States in general by spouting out such idiotic and ridiculous statements as this “misting” cure.  Why the people of his district continue to let Gohmert stay in office is mind-boggling.  Then again, if you knew East Texas, like I do, you’d understand – somewhat.

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Best Quote of the Week – March 20, 2020

“We’ll be thankful that we’re overreacting.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

I’ve been listening to Dr. Anthony Fauci for several years now and know that he tells it like it is and doesn’t care about political ideology or shy away from controversy.  Nearly four decades ago, he warned the burgeoning AIDS crisis posed a serious threat to the American health care system.  But the right-wing idiots in the Reagan Administration still perpetuated the myth that only “Those People” could get sick with HIV.  Now, we have another pack of right-wing dumbasses in the White House, and the same bullshit is spewing out.  As far as I’m concerned, Fauci should be the most trust person in America right now.

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Ah, 2020…What Could Have Been

“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

Malcolm X

As we continue moving forward into this third decade of the 21st century, I can’t help but ponder the many things both we and our forebears thought society would have realized by now.  I’m considering all of this in the midst of the growing COVID-19 scourge; which now has been officially declared a pandemic.  Just imagine…by the year 2020, we thought we’d have:

Flying cars

A cure for cancer

A colony on Mars

Contact with extraterrestrials

Found Bigfoot

Achieved teleportation

Bullet trains in every major city

Life expectancy exceeding 90

Instead, what are we doing? Teaching people how to sneeze into their sleeves and wash their hands.  What the fuck happened?!

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Inoculate This!

Another week of the latest reality TV show to torture the masses, ‘The Harlequins of Washington’, has thankfully ended.  The histrionic personality of Faux-President Donald Trump has yet to abate and find its happy place.  Trump is the “Typhoid Mary” of the current political arena: infected, contagious, absurdly disgusting and in obvious denial.  Where’s Louis Pasteur when you need him?!  Or maybe Jeffrey Dahmer.  Oh, Great Candelabra!  I guess I shouldn’t be so brutally honest.  But the unbridled scribe in me often takes over my brain faster than Germans at a beer festival.

Yet, every day of the week – including weekends and holidays – the U.S. and the world are treated to regular puny-worded rants from the American Putin.  Trump is quicker to name-slur his adversaries – “Crooked Hillary”, “Lying Ted”, “Little Marco” – than he is to produce his tax records.  Which, by the way, have yet to be removed from whatever subterranean vault they’re being housed in at Trump Tower.

The schizophrenic weather and temperature fluctuations that have traumatized Northeast Texas in recent months have left the Chief and many other locals swaddled in a morass of mucus, madness and melancholia.  I dragged my carcass into visit my doctor this morning, hoping for a shot of some life-altering tonic: cortisone, Vitamin B12, hydrocodone, Don Julio tequila.

Afterwards, I realized our ‘Dear Clown Leader’ could use much of the same; just inject a slew of medications into his fat ass – a process that could last for days – in a concerted effort to nourish his pickling cerebral cortex into some semblance of normality and subsequently (hopefully) save the world.

Alas, dreams are always a good thing.  Never give up on them!  Now, I’ll steer my haggard self from national news broadcasts, partake of some Don Julio, and embed myself into another reality TV show; one with considerably more plausibility – “Ancient Aliens”.

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Viral Vitriol

fearappeal

By the time the President of the United States made a public statement about the epidemic, several people had died and an untold number were already infected. But, when he stepped to the podium to address the media, his words weren’t anything some in the audience had hoped he’d say. His brief speech wasn’t about funding or education directed towards stemming the scourge and ultimately finding a cure; it was about policy. A cacophony of jeers slammed into his geriatric face, and he merely lifted an eyebrow, as if saying, ‘Well, that’s all I need to say about it.’ Indeed, that’s all anyone should have expected Ronald Reagan to say about AIDS.

On June 5, 1981, the “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” a publication from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, presented data about the peculiar cases of 5 young men, “all active homosexuals,” who had developed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles. Two of them were dead by the time the report came out. PCP is a very rare form of pneumonia, occurring only in people with depressed immune systems. That seemingly healthy young men in large urban areas around the country were coming down with it seemed to contradict medical scripture about the ailment. Because the patients were all “active homosexuals,” however, the CDC labeled the new disease “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency” (GRID). Within months, however, the CDC realized that “active homosexuals” weren’t the only victims. Intravenous drug users were also coming down with the mysterious new disease; then prostitutes, but also other people who didn’t fit into any of those groups. They quickly renamed it Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). But the damage was already done by those 2 words: “active homosexuals.”

When Reagan addressed the press on September 17, 1985, he mentioned AIDS only to declare a travel ban for all HIV-positive and AIDS-afflicted people. By then, scientists had identified the AIDS virus, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved usage of the first test to detect it, the ELISA test. Scientists had already confirmed one critical fact about the new scourge: it was a blood-borne pathogen; infectious, but not contagious. Still, panic had set into the nation. Gay men were being targeted with more violence than they ever had been in the nation’s history. Even as the gay-rights movement gained momentum in the 1970s, gay men didn’t face the sort of vitriolic backlash as they did with the rise of AIDS.

In 1983, Pat Buchanan, a former speech writer for President Richard Nixon, published a column about the AIDS epidemic, in which he claimed, “The poor homosexuals – they have declared war on nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution.”

In 1986, Libertarian Lyndon LaRouche proposed legal discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS as a matter of public interest. He wanted federal and state governments to protect people from AIDS in the same way it protects the citizenry against other diseases by quarantining them in concentration camp-like structures.

Reagan’s lack of concern for the burgeoning epidemic has always been a sore point for human rights activists. The former actor, however, repeatedly extolled the virtues of personal responsibility, even with health matters, and bemoaned government involvement. During his 1966 run for governor of California, Reagan denounced President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Medicare program as “socialized medicine.”

But, previously, the U.S. government did respond quickly to health scares. When several people attending the annual legionnaire’s convention in Philadelphia in September of 1976 came down with a vicious flu-like ailment, health care workers jumped into action and almost immediately identified the source: a water-borne bacteria later called Legionella.

That same year U.S. health officials warned the public about a pending influenza epidemic, swine flu, and urged people to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Panic set into the American psyche and several individuals rushed to their doctors. The resulting hysteria now stands as one of the worst debacles in U.S. healthcare history.

When 7 Chicago-area residents died from ingesting cyanide embedded in Tylenol capsules in the fall of 1982, the federal government jumped into action to help Tylenol maker Johnson & Johnson manage the crisis. The company pulled every single one of its products off store shelves, resulting in a multi-million dollar loss, and then reintroduced them with tamper-resistant packaging. It’s difficult for younger folks to imagine now, but there was a time when you could open a bottle of something and not have to peel away a layer of plastic or foil. The crime spawned only one known copycat incident – in Auburn, Washington in 1986 – but it remains unsolved.

For those of us who recall the hysteria over the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the current reaction to the Ebola fiasco is painfully similar. Like HIV, Ebola is a blood-borne virus; spread only by close contact with the body fluids of an infected person. They both originated in Africa. HIV has been traced to green monkeys, where it started out as simian immunodeficiency virus, or SIV. How or when it metamorphosed is still being investigated, but researchers believe it made its first appearance in humans in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as Zaire) in the 1920s. Scientists still don’t know the host source of Ebola, but they believe it comes from fruit bats. That’s pretty much where the direct comparisons end. Ebola is far deadlier; it induces a severe hemorrhagic fever, in which the internal organs not only collapse, but literally begin to disintegrate. Once an infected patient reaches the stage where they’re bleeding incessantly, it’s too late to save them. There are now drugs that can slow the advance of HIV and even full-blown AIDS. But, there’s not even a vaccine for Ebola. Agents like ZMapp haven’t gone beyond the experimental stage yet. Now some have the audacity to wonder why there isn’t enough of it.

It’s ironic that the world learned of Ebola before it learned of HIV and AIDS; yet more people have died from the latter. That the developed world never contemplated (outside of scientific circles) that Ebola could spread beyond remote Central African villages signals a certain degree of naiveté, if not stupidity. In this increasingly interconnected global economy, there’s no reason to suspect otherwise.

But, the attitude of ‘them-vs-us’ is what allowed the AIDS epidemic to get so out of hand. The “active homosexuals” comment – something the CDC regrets to this day – burned into the minds of socially conservative activists who saw the scourge merely from the viewpoint of a moral lens. Conservatives warned Reagan not to mention AIDS or HIV during his speech at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, lest he lose the party faithful. Those in control of the U.S. blood industry, such as the Red Cross, didn’t want to believe their products and patients were at risk from HIV; literally asking some hemophiliacs and organ transplant recipients if they wanted to be placed in the same group as “them” – meaning the gay male / drug user / prostitute gallery.

If the U.S. had taken AIDS seriously from the start, we might have developed protease inhibitors by the end of the 1980s, instead of a decade later. By now, we might even have a vaccine, if not a cure. (If you read my 2012 essay, “I Almost Hope They Don’t Find a Cure for AIDS,” you might understand my sense of trepidation about this particular matter.)

The perception of ‘it’s their problem’ has impacted countless issues of various types: economic, medical, political, religious and social. Some health officials saw the need to work towards a cure, or at least a treatment for Ebola long ago. Dr. Kent Brantly, a U.S. medical missionary, contracted Ebola this past July while working with patients in Liberia. When he was brought to Atlanta’s Emory University, looking like an extreme beekeeper, he became the first person with the disease to step foot on American soil, or anywhere in the Western Hemisphere for that matter. Some people have wondered aloud why he would have spent so much of his time and energy in the first place to work with Ebola patients in Africa, when we have people dying of obesity and drug addiction here in the U.S. Those are fair questions. Yet Brantly sees his purpose in life as more than just a dispenser of medicine and sage advice. His Christian outlook on life (and I don’t want to bring religion into this debate) prompted him to be concerned about everyone around him – not just his immediate circle of family and friends. More than just a few people have used their religious ideology to narrow their view of ‘Others.’ I’ve worked with plenty of them. Just look at the AIDS epidemic. Even now, more than three decades after the epidemic was given a name, several individuals still look at AIDS from a moralistic perspective. They still don’t understand that morality really has no place in health and medicine.

Right-wing extremists have proposed simple solutions to the Ebola epidemic. Sen. Ted Cruz called for a complete ban of people traveling from Ebola-ravaged nations in West Africa. “Common sense dictates that we should impose a travel ban on commercial airline flights from nations afflicted by Ebola,” he said. “There’s no reason to allow ongoing commercial air traffic out of those countries.”

He’s just one of many who have made such idiotic proclamations. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, an early proponent of AIDS research and current head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), literally scoffed at the notion; dubbing it “counterproductive.” “[W]hen people come in from a country, it’s much easier to track them if you know where they’re coming from,” he noted. “But what you do, if you then completely ban travel, there’s the feasibility of going to other countries where we don’t have a travel ban and have people come in.”

There are no direct flights from anywhere in Africa to the U.S. Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who developed Ebola shortly after arriving in Dallas last month and who died on October 8, had initially flown from Monrovia to Brussels; then from Brussels to New York City.

Reductions in the CDC’s budget also may have played a part in the Ebola mess. As usual, conservative Republicans were quick to demand cuts in health care; rampaging through the CDC’s financial allotments like a drunk rabbi in a Catholic boys’ school. Even President Obama bought into the philosophy that this was a wise move, slashing $72 million from the CDC’s public health emergency preparedness program for fiscal year 2012. I’ve noticed social conservatives are never so eager to cut military spending or funding for more prisons.

I don’t know what’s next in the Ebola scourge. It shows no signs of abating in West Africa, and there’s a good chance more people are going to contract the virus outside of that region. I shudder at the thought of it reaching India or China. Politics and religion don’t have places in health and medical care. Whenever they’re factored into the mix, people get hurt and die. In this modern world, we can no longer afford it.

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