We all know what we're supposed to do if we should accidentally catch on fire: "Stop, Drop, & Roll." That's how you put out the fire.
But have you ever actually seen a person on fire? Did they stop, drop, and roll? No, they didn't. A person on fire will panic and run screaming in fear every single time. They may have been taught that running will only fan the flames and make it worse; no doubt they believed that with all their heart. But when that terrifying experience actually happens to a person, they'll do what every sane person knows not to do: They'll panic and run screaming into the night. If you hope to save that person's life you are going to have to tackle him to the ground and put that fire out yourself.
Few things can induce fear and panic as much as finding yourself on fire. Fear shuts off the ability to reason, and now your intellect won't function. You can't think straight. You don't act rationally. It doesn't even occur to you there is something you can immediately do to put that fire out.
Earlier this month I blogged in this space about how fear not only blocks your ability to reason, it also blocks God from getting through to you to help. And if you're panicking so badly that God himself can't reach you, how do you expect to put out that fire on your own?
Something I learned since writing that last piece: people who have set their own hair on fire tend to get very angry with those who don't think the setting of hair on fire is the proper response to the coronavirus. Some of the responses I've gotten on Facebook would really surprise you. I've had people curse me and tell me they hope I get the virus "and see how you like it."
What have I done to attract the ire of dozens of Facebook "friends"? I have advocated for a calm, reasoned, scientific approach when discussing the controversies behind COVID-19. But the mere suggestion that we ought to have a rational discussion tends to offend those who believe the more appropriate response is to run screaming into the night. Believe me when I tell you, these people will get upset with you if you offer to tackle them and put their hair out. They'll accuse you of being blind to reality, of being in denial, and of not taking the coronavirus seriously. So allow me to explain how seriously I do take this thing.
Let's Get This Part Over With
The humorous selfie on the right was taken by my daughter, Amy, just two weeks ago at Bonner General Hospital here in Sandpoint, Idaho. That's me in the background lying on a bed in the emergency room. I look like I'm in discomfort because I am. I was in extreme discomfort.
If you've seen me in person you'd think I was a big, strapping tough guy, but looks are deceiving. There were a lot of haoles in the elementary school I attended in Hawaii, but I was the palest haole of them all. A haole among haoles. Skinniest kid in the whole school, too. And frail.
I've had chronic asthma all my life, and over time my lungs have only gotten worse. My body is quite susceptible to bronchial infections and pneumonia, either one of which I come down with two or more times every year. The last time I was hospitalized for pneumonia was in Sacramento four or five years ago and my discharge papers indicated I now permanently have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. That's a significant step up from asthma. My wife Connie and I knew it was only a matter of time before things advanced to that stage, and now here it was.
The night Amy drove me to the emergency room I had been engaged in my usual nebulizer treatment. That consists of a small machine with a canister that I fill with a mixture of two liquid medicines. The machine atomizes the medicine into a fine mist which I hold up to my mouth for 20 to 40 minutes and breathe in. What that mist does is it opens up the bronchial tubes in my lungs until I can breathe somewhat normally. I have to do this every three hours, night and day. Yup, every night I wake up after three hours' sleep struggling to breathe, at which point I come sit here at my desk and start that treatment all over again. One night I slept for five hours straight without my lungs waking me up. Connie remembers that time fondly as "that night you slept five hours straight."
People have asked me why an entire year went by where I never wrote a blog post here. The reason is I was just too tired from lack of sleep.
So, to wrap this up. (I warned you it would get tedious.) One night a couple of weeks ago I was doing a nebulizer treatment, and when I finished, instead of my bronchial tubes relaxing and opening up, they began to immediately close and constrict. It was getting extremely difficult to breath by the minute.
This is the part where I took this thing seriously. Nothing remotely like this is supposed to happen at the end of a treatment that is intended to make things better. I know the statistics: ten Americans die every day from asthma, often due to weird anomalies like this one. When we lived in Sacramento my cousin's family lived nearby and one day she and her kids went to the store and when they got home Donna's husband Martin was in the bedroom sitting up against the door, dead. From asthma.
And his asthma had never been anywhere near as severe as mine.
Asthma is an affliction I live with every day; I think of it mostly as an inconvenience, but I am keenly aware it can turn deadly.
So when something weird happens like what happened the other night, I perk up up and take notice. Connie called Amy to drive me to the ER and I went willingly, partly because I wanted to live, and partly because I found this little adventure baffling. I was curious and wanted to find out why a nebulizer treatment made me worse.
Long story short, I was X-rayed to see if I had pneumonia. Nope. Blood drawn to check for a clot. No again. The dyspnea continued through the night with no improvement, and the all-night doctors at the ER still didn't know why it was happening.
For twenty-nine years back in Sacramento I had been under the care of Dr. Bradley Chipps, one of California's leading pulmonary specialists, and now and then when things got really bad his nurse would inject me in the arm with a shot of epinephrine. That's a shot that burns like you wouldn't believe for a very long time. The pain of the shot itself is almost impossible to bear, so I was rarely keen on getting one. But it always gave my lungs immediate relief.
These guys in the ER refused to give me epinephrine because I was dumb enough to tell them I had lately been diagnosed with an enlarged heart. Apparently that turns epinephrine shots into a pretty clear risk of death. I honestly have no fear of dying (I find discomfort far more of a bother) so I was willing to take that risk but these doctors were not. (I was pretty much the only patient in the ER of this small-town hospital, so the entire emergency staff came around to me at one time or another throughout the night to observe the big hairy freak who was having trouble breathing.)
Eventually one doctor suggested epinephrine in a nebulizer machine and I readily agreed to it. That's what you see me sucking on in the photo, and afterwards I was fifty percent improved. When I went home I got back on my nebulizer and this time it worked out okay. I got my first three hours' sleep of the day immediately after.
I'm throwing all that up on the board here mainly for the benefit of those who have been quarreling with me online over the coronavirus, wishing me ill and hoping I might one day know what it feels like to be desperate to breathe. Believe me, I know. Because of my respiratory problems and high susceptibility to pneumonia, I'm in the high-risk group for COVID-19. If I were to contract that virus there would be a decent chance it could do me in.
All the more reason for my interest in what the actual science has to say about this current strain of SARS, rather than blindly accepting the news as filtered through the corporate news media. When I suggest to some of these "friends" (all of whom I don't even know) that it is preferable to engage in calm, rational discussions of the evidence rather than joining in with the keening chorus of doomsayers, they tend to want to take my head off.
That is what fear does to people. It makes them deranged.
So, Who Should You Be Looking To?
Better to ask "who should you not be looking to?"
First up in the category of those you should definitely be avoiding: so-called "journalists."
I went to school with journalism students in the 1970s, and believe me when I tell you that Journalism Majors were among the dumbest people on the planet -second only to Theater Majors, a category I belonged to and from which many Journalism Majors were culled.
About half of those Happy-Talk news anchors you see on television started out wanting to be actors. The other half signed up for Journalism class after seeing the movie All The President's Men, which instilled an entire generation with a desire to make heroes of themselves as investigative journalists. Both those categories within higher learning -journalism and theater- attract a large share of narcissists, which should tell you they are motivated by something other than societal improvement. I, too was a narcissist in my college days, so I chose to major in Musical Theater. It was a waste of time as far as being able to make a living in the real world, but at least that dumb decision didn't harm anyone other than myself.
You can't say that about today's journalists. Look at the biggest names in TV news today: Chris Cuomo, Don Lemon, Brian Stelter, Rachel Maddow -all intellectual pygmies, and none of them so much as pretending to be involved in real journalism in the tradition of thinking liberals like Glenn Greenwald, Greg Palast, and Matt Taibbi. These media "stars" haven't a clue about science, yet you're depending on them to explain the science of the coronavirus pandemic to you so you can understand it? What the hell are you people thinking?
Reporters, by their very nature, are invested in sensationalizing the story, so if you want to hear the wildest, craziest, least-likely-to-happen outcome regarding the coronavirus, go ahead and tune in to these wackos and get your daily dose of anxiety. Just be aware that they are not in the truth-telling business. They are in the scare-the-shit-out-of-you business. Even when they seem to be repeating statistics they received directly from the scientists, they put their own spin on it so in the end their reports turn out to be unreliable.
Back in the seventies I dated a very good reporter for KSL News who actually was a competent investigator. But because she was intelligent, she wisely left TV news to become a lawyer where she could actually do some good. I know it sounds oxymoronic to hear about a lawyer actually doing good, but she was one of that rare breed.
Try Looking To The Science
If you shut out the reportorial noise machine and go after the scientific studies on the virus, you will find yourself less susceptible to politicians and newsreaders trying to persuade you to light your hair on fire. Science is a calm and rational endeavor. When done properly it will always provide you with the truth. I happen to be pretty good at medical research (it's actually quite easy now that the Internet Age is upon us), and you can be good at it, too. You just have to want to know, as opposed to having someone else tell you what they want you to know.
The opinions you want to seek out are those of credible virologists, immunologists, epidemiologists, molecular biologists, and others who understand and conduct the actual scientific research on viral infections. M.D.s are also well qualified to speak about what they are seeing on the ground, but remember that many of the doctors on the front lines in the hospitals are too busy saving lives right now to engage in scientific research. The real information is in medical journals like The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine. Those studies may not exactly be page-turners, but unlike the reports you'll find in the media, they tend to avoid speculation and hyperbole.
Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, considered by many to be America's defacto top doctor of the moment (he's the one you see at the podium at those daily White House briefings) has been known to engage in unscientific speculation before the cameras, but he doesn't dare let his imagine run wild when writing in a medical journal. If he did, his peers would be all over him for not sticking to the science. If there's anything a scientist doesn't want, it's to be told by his peers he's being unscientific. It's like being relegated to nerd purgatory.
Here is what Dr. Fauci recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine regarding the potential dangers of COVID-19:
"If one assumes that the number of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic cases is several times as high as the number of reported cases, the case fatality rate may be considerably less than 1%. This suggests that the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%) or a pandemic influenza (similar to those in 1957 and 1968) rather than a disease similar to SARS or MERS, which have had case fatality rates of 9 to 10% and 36%, respectively." -Covid-19: Navigating the Uncharted; Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., H. Clifford Lane, M.D., and Robert R. Redfield, M.D. (Emphasis added.)That seems pretty straightforward, but I'll translate it if you need me to. First, understand that COVID-19 has been classified as a SARS virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). It was originally called SARS-CoV, which means it is one of a family of coronaviruses that can result in some pretty nasty respiratory afflictions in people predisposed to asthma or lung disease. The name was later changed from SARS-CoV to COVID-19 in order to indicate that it is a version of a severe and acute respiratory virus that was discovered near the end of the year 2019.
Both these SARS viruses are similar to MERS, which is the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome discovered in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Think of MERS as the SARS you might catch if you're in the Middle East. Just like SARS and COVID-19, MERS also belongs to the family of coronaviruses.
What Dr. Fauci is telling us in this article is that although those first two respiratory syndromes (SARS and MERS) resulted in a very high mortality rate -between 9 and 36% respectively- the evidence doesn't show that COVID-19 deaths will ever get anywhere near that high. Instead, he says, the "clinical consequences" (the results we're seeing in clinics or hospitals) will be closer to the number of deaths normally seen during a severe flu season, or similar to the Asian flu pandemic experienced in 1957 or the Hong Kong flu of 1968.
But wait! Haven't we been told we can't compare the coronavirus with the flu?
Of course you can compare a coronavirus with the flu! You can compare any of the seven known coronaviruses with the flu. Research scientists compare them to each other all the time. They're all viruses, aren't they? Isn't that one of the purposes of viral research -to compare infections to one another and see how they stack up? Influenzas and coronaviruses do share quite a number of similarities as well as a few differences. Johns Hopkins University (that's a prestigious medical school) compared the similarities and the differences some time ago on its website in a piece titled Coronavirus Disease 2019 vs. the Flu.
Of course, that's not the same as saying the coronavirus is the same thing as the flu. The hint there is they have different names. But who says you can't compare them?
Oh yeah, now I remember. It was a reporter.
Tune In Next Time For More Fun With Science
Because of the interest I have in respiratory diseases, I've spent many hours every day for the past several weeks studying up about COVID-19 and America's reaction to it. What else do I have to do while I'm sitting here sucking on this nebulizer? (Yes, I have that that damn thing hanging from my mouth even now.)
There's a lot more I'd like to share here, including an explanation from Dr. Fauci why the death estimates predicted by the computer models are all but worthless. Plus a cornucopia of statements from an endless number of medical professionals whose expertise runs counter to many of the reports coming from the media and politicians. I think I'll post some of those professional's challenges in this space every day or two for the next little while, so I hope you'll check back. One of the most interesting aspects of this whole controversy is that we don't really know the numbers of people who are dying from COVID-19 because according to at least one research scientist, the test kits currently available are not able to isolate that particular strain. If you have been "confirmed" as having the virus, essentially you have been tested positive for having tiny viral shreds within your DNA, which nearly everyone carries inside them all the time. The test isn't able to recognize COVID-19 specifically, so with these tests there is no way of pinpointing whether you have that particular member of the coronavirus family, or if it's something else.
See you tomorrow then. If you have comments, please share them in the comment section below rather than on Facebook so others can follow the conversation. Meanwhile, enjoy this elegant musical number by Dr. Zubin Damania. (Yes, he's a real doctor.)
Next: The Virus Is Real But The Test Is A Fraud
Fear Is A Virus