A Mixed Bag of Medical Results

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Part of my personal myth is that I was a “miracle baby,” spared from a very early demise by the medical intervention of nurses and physicians, including my uncle Elam, a pediatrician, who hand pumped air into my lungs while being transported to Geisinger Medical Center.  

I had been born premature, suffered from a condition called Hyaline Membrane Disease due to my underdeveloped lungs, suffered a collapsed lung due to my hard breathing, and likely would have died without the advanced care that I received.  I was a fighter, for sure, but my survival would depend on the skilled intervention of medical professionals.

My mother would tell me that story and also use it to remind me that God had a special purpose for my life.  But what she didn’t tell me, until much later, is that my early trauma was actually caused by her doctor who (maybe wanting the weekend off?) had decided to induce labor.  Oopsies.  I believe he learned something from the whole affair and was less caviler in the future.

My Medical Family

My mother had aspired to be a nurse.  Even worked in a nursing home prior to marrying my dad.  But life, including my sister and your’s truly, changed her plans. 

However, as often is the case, these dreams of parents are sometimes fulfilled by the next generation and sometimes double.  Both of my sisters are employed in the medical field and eventually even my mom found her way into a doctor’s office before eventually playing an instrumental role in the opening of Compassion Parochial Clinic.

My own role in all of this was to be my eldest sister Olivia’s first patient.  Using her Fisher Price Medical Bag, she would check and treat my various imaginary ailments, and had her mind set on being a pediatrician like her well-respected uncle.  And, after graduating high school, then acquiring a biology degree, she continued her education at Albert Einstein College of Medicine on Bronx, NY.

In fact, l feel that I may deserve a partial credit for having attended a lecture on the heart.  Although, I may have missed the second half due to a terrible bout of drowsiness and was not the only one sleeping.  Although, as a courtesy, I will not say whether or not my sister had succumbed.

Anyhow, my younger sister Lilian also picked a medical career, eventually became an RN, continued her education, and is now working on her licensing as a midwife.  Her passion is welcoming babies into the world and is someone with a personality well suited for the job.

All of that to say that this exposure causes me to have deep respect those in this profession.  One way to get on my bad list very quickly is to suggest that those in the medical field are only in it for the money and would deliberately keep people sick to cash in.  Sure, there are bad eggs in every profession, some terrible doctors, but my sisters (like many of their colleagues) are there to help people get well.

That said, having family in medicine also removes some of the aura.  My sisters are far more qualified to give opinions on medical issues than I am and yet they also are still human. 

Doctors make mistakes, they’re fallible like the rest of us, with blindspots and bias.  Plus they’re used to having totally ignorant people, who “did their own research,” challenge them on things they’ve spent years of their life studying, and can become tired of answering these inane statements—appear arrogant.

Physician: “Heal Thyself…”

People have very high expectations in regards to modern medicine.  We’re supposed to go to the doctor and be completely healed. 

But the reality is quite different from that.  Once you get past the buzzing technology and laboratory developed chemical cures, the sterile well lit halls of institutions, our actual abilities are still quite primitive.  Science may have given us better bandaid solutions than were available to our ancestors, yet there really aren’t that many miracles to be had.

My own expectations have lowered considerably after two injuries requiring expert examinations.  

The first, diagnosed as Degenerative Disc Disease, brought me to the office of the renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. Rajjoub.  I had terrible pain, loss of strength and feeling on my right side, my neck was really bad from what my family doctor saw on the MRI.  My parents, after we waited what seemed hours, finally were escorted into the examination room and were full of anticipation.

Having done our own research, knowing the seriousness of my injury, it was quite certain that I would be under the knife soon.  They would open things up, remove the bad, and fix me up better than new!  

The physician strode into the room.  He looked over the charts and images with intensity and then, without hesitation, “physical therapy” and started to turn towards the door.  Stunned, my mom, speaking for the three of us, our mouths agape, “Wait, what?!?”  It was as if he just told a blind man to rub mud in his eyes and was simply going to leave.  He explained further, telling us about the risks of the procedures, how my neck movement would be limited after, and restated his recommendation.

Dr. Rajjoub was right.  After weeks of therapy and further exercise at home, I was able to regain feeling and the use of my right arm.  Sure, I occasionally have painful flare ups and may need the surgery some day, but the doctor had given me the right answer even if it was not the one that I wanted to hear at the time.  Modern medicine has advanced, yet it is our body that still does most of the healing.

A Comical Contradiction

After tearing my ACL I met with an orthopedic surgeon to discuss the options available.  Still active, I expressed my desire to get back in the game and he responded by recommending surgery.  They grafted a part of my hamstring tendon in where the ACL had been and I spent the next few months becoming good friends with Rob and Bob at Keystone Care Physical Therapy and impressing the old folks there with my vertical leap.

Unfortunately, after a year of intense rehab, I was playing basketball and reinjured the repaired knee.  So I went back to the orthopedic surgeon for a consultation and his advice?  He suggested that maybe I slow down a bit, that I was no spring chicken anymore (a paraphrase) and should probably avoid strenuous activities.  Excuse me?!?  I had thought I went through the surgery and physical therapy so that I could actually use the limb, right???

But that’s typical of a doctor’s advice.  He was trying to minimize the risk of my reinjuring my knee, to cover his own butt, and could I really expect him to say anything otherwise?  To tell me to go full throttle again?  I can understand why he would urge my caution.  And still I can’t deny being disappointed.  My thought had been that this surgery would allow me to pick up where I had left off and instead I got a cease and desist notice.

The Undiagnosed Nightmare

I’ve reconnected with an old school friend.  I rode the bus with him for many years and we shared a first name. 

It is quite astounding, actually, how we got reconnected.  That being a story for another time.  But one thing memorable about this old classmate is how he was always complaining about pain in his feet.  At a younger age I had thought of him as being weak or a whiner.  He had been diagnosed as being flat-footed.  

However, it was a little clearer that there was something more seriously wrong when, in middle school, a fall, after a playful shove in the hall, resulted in a broken hip.

Anyhow, at our one-on-one reunion he would let me in on his the true source of his suffering and something that the medical professionals had missed.  Something that doctors had initially told him was all in his head, that the genetic department of an area research hospital refused to even test,  turned out to be Fabry’s Disease, a rare genetic disorder where the body is unable to produce a particular enzyme, which means the body is unable digest certain proteins, and is a death sentence if not properly treated.

He had gone through hell.  A breeze on his skin felt like torture.  They had treated him with addictive painkillers that basically turned him into a junkie.  And his proper diagnosis came from an uncle who read a story about someone with similar symptoms, a revelation that prompted my friend to demand the diagnostic tests for the genetic disorder and only then did he finally receive the necessary treatment.  The medical system had both failed and saved him.

The Miracle Hoped For…

Then there’s my cousin Uriah.  Nothing, not the most advanced treatment in the world, could save him.  The prognosis was never good, Synovial Sarcoma, but I held on to the hope that some new cure might come along, some miracle might happen, and he would survive.

It was hard to watch.  First after one round of him taking poison, called chemotherapy and the only thing that will keep the corrupted human cells called cancer from growing, they decided that he would need to sacrifice his leg.  This Uriah and his family did everything they could, he received top notch medical care at Walter Reed and elsewhere.  But there was not much that could be done for him.

The limitations of modern medicine is a bitter pill.  And those seeking ‘alternatives’ do not fare any better if diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.  I know many strong-willed individuals, in partial denial of the graveness of their condition, who traveled to places like Mexico for some kind of breakthrough treatment and suffered the same fate.  Better technology may come along soon and yet disease and death is as natural as health and life.

There is a myth, popular in some circles, that if a person eats right and exercises they will be rewarded with long life.  Uriah was one of the most fit and disciplined people I know, there was nothing he could have done better, he was dealt a bad card.

Having Correct Expectations

We see the headlines, “The third-leading cause of death most doctors don’t want you to know about,” discussing medical mistakes, like this one:

“In 2002 James lost his 19-year-old son after he collapsed while running. He had been diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia by a cardiologist a few weeks prior and was released from the hospital with instructions not to drive for 24 hours.

“His death certificate said he died of a heart arrhythmia,” he said, but my son really died as a result of “uninformed, careless, and unethical care by cardiologists.” He explained: “If you have a patient with heart arrhythmias of a certain level and low potassium, you need to replace the potassium, and they did not. And they didn’t tell him he shouldn’t go back to running.” Communication errors, he said, are “unfortunately very common.”

What is left out of this story is that a century ago he would have simply died from the arrhythmia. 

In fact, only half a century ago my great-grandfather died, a middle-aged man, of a heart attack because there were no surgeries widely available. 

So, truly, modern medicine is a victim of it’s own success, things have improved so much from the time when many people died of many diseases, even at a young age, that we now expect perfection.  Our ancestors, not too long ago, would have no treatment options, whereas we demand answers when the treatment fails.

Those who expect too much will be the most sorely disappointed.  Those who expect to be saved from suffering by science will some day be faced with a harsh reality and, likewise, those who believe that there’s a cure for cancer being withheld are equally delusional.  This idea that we have complete control, that there should somehow be a cure for everything, is a product of our success in medicine and also ignorance of what this success actually means.  

Sure, some of us, like my grandpa, may have died on multiple occasions had it not been for medical advancements like Penicillin, prostrate surgery and pacemakers.  But, even now, with the great progress we’ve made, we’re still all eventually going to wear out.  Our bodies have a shelf life and all the intervention in the world isn’t going to do much to change that.  Eat healthy, exercise enough, avoid getting hit by a truck, and you might see eighty years, maybe more if you have good genetics.  But we won’t live forever.

So, before we become too critical, rather than only dwell on the failures, we should look at the advancement and appreciate the success.  Results will always be a mixed bag, even those who have received the very best care, men like Steve Jobs, do not live forever nor will you.  Even Lazarus, brought back to life by Jesus, eventually died.  And my friend, the one with the missed diagnosis, would long ago have joined Lazarus had it not been for modern medicine.

Politics of Pandemic–Breaking Down the Fauci Emails

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Recently, through the Freedom of Information Act, by request of Washington Post and BuzzFeed News, a trove of Dr. Fauci’s emails have been released and the revelations therein causing a great uproar online.  On one side there’s the “I told you so” crowd doing their victory lap. While, on the other side, is the supposedly unbiased ‘fact-checkers’ and corporate media denial professionals trying to argue that there’s nothing to see here. 

So, is Dr. Fauci a national hero, a seasoned expert who helped the nation navigate a crisis, or should his head be on a pike?  

Let’s start with who Dr. Fauci is and why he is the focus of national attention…

Doctor in the Spotlight

Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., was born in Brooklyn, NY, on December 24, 1940, to parents who operated a pharmacy in the city, his grandparents were immigrants, he was raised Catholic and now considers himself to be a humanist.  He was a standout basketball player in the private Jesuit high school he attended, went to Holy Cross University for pre-med, and then attended Cornell University’s Medical School.  He married Christine Grady, in 1985, who is described as “an American nurse and bioethicist” in Wikipedia, and they have three daughters.

Dr. Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, a role he has served since 1984, through seven presidencies and, while a respected figure in his field of immunology, had not garnered much public attention prior to the emergence of Covid-19.

In early 2020 Fauci was selected to be part of the Trump administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force (now serves as Biden’s chief medical advisor) and very quickly was singled out by the corporate media for his sometimes seemingly contrarian positions with the President.  If anything, his elevated role and becoming the face of the pandemic response has more to do with partisan politics of those desirous use him as a foil against President Trump than it does with anything else.  Even Fauci himself, in the emails, seemed confused about his new celebrity status. 

There were many stories lauding Fauci.  There is no indication that he wanted to become the public figure he has become.  He did not have the power to tell states what to do.  But now, because he was portrayed as this unquestionable expert, he has become symbolic of the shutdowns and mask mandates to many Americans.  Fame, even if unasked for, is a two-edged sword.  One can quickly transition from hero to heel once the spotlight begins to reveal their blemishes.  By putting Fauci front and center of the Covid response, the partisans have given us ample reason to scrutinize just who he is.

I personally, as someone with a sister who is a medical doctor and another who is a nurse, I am also not comfortable with many of those trashing Fauci’s reputation.  I’m equally opposed to demonizing him or trying him in the court of public opinion.  That said, as one who has some life experience, I also understand the value of second opinions when it comes to medical interventions.  Fauci’s opinion should have been considered one of many, as part of a task force, and should never have been positioned as a rival to the President.  That was dirty politics, completely a media creation, and likely hurt the pandemic response. 

The Politics of Pandemic 

Ideally, in times of national crisis, where many lives are at risk, partisan politics would’ve been put aside and the nation would rally behind the leaders elected no matter their party affiliation.  In that world, the President, informed by various economic and medical advisors, would make the executive decisions and government agencies would do their best to put these decisions to practice.  However, in the current polarized hyper-partisan environment, and with a Presidential election looming in 2020, the pandemic was treated by many as simply another divisive political tool.

No world leader’s response to Covid-19 was perfect.  For example, had European governments followed Trump’s lead and shut down travel from China early on in the pandemic we might have had more time to prepare.  It is easy to forget, but before social distancing and shutdowns became vogue, many social elites were minimizing the threat and calling Trump a racist for warning the world about the virus.  In Italy, for example, they were urging people to give hugs to Chinese people to prove their own virtue.  Our Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, urged her constituents to visit the crowded streets of Chinatown in San Fransico.

Trump was criticized for urging calm and being a cheerleader once the danger of Covid was finally realized.  And, before that, was criticized for shutting down travel from China and accused of fear-mongering for speaking out.  He could not win. He was resisted at every turn while trying to take steps to prepare and then accused of literal murder for the deaths in this country as if the world was somehow doing better.  Few here would know that the US death rate is actually lower than that of Europe, per capita, but the stories here would focus on death totals to build the image of Trump’s failure.

Fauci, on the other hand, was not allowed to be criticized.  He was praised endlessly as a representative of science, as bold and unbiased, a source of all truth and wisdom.  His word was to be treated as irrefutable, god-like, his perspectives treated as the only one that mattered, and Trump asked over and over again, “will you follow Dr. Fauci’s recommendations?”  It was presented as this horrendous thing that Trump may not take this one man’s advice on how to respond, as if there weren’t teams of other advisors to be heard and other concerns to be considered.  

Every smart patient knows to get a second opinion on serious matters.  Even the best physicians, experts in their fields, can misdiagnose or prescribe the wrong treatment.  And this idea that “following the science” means worshipping or never questioning, men like Fauci is pure ignorance. It is dangerous ignorance.

But, as ignorant, is holding Fauci to an impossible standard because others put him on a pedestal.   

On one hand, I completely understand the resentment that some hold towards this man that has come to symbolize the economic destruction brought on by state governors following Federal guidelines.  However, much of what is being said now, in wake of the released emails, is as unfair as the coverage of the previous administration.  Those against mask mandates and economic shutdowns are doing the same thing to Fauci as the corporate media propagandists did to Trump.  His comments, like Trump’s comments, are being ripped out of context by many commentators, without explanation, and that’s a problem.

Yes, some of the emails show that Fauci withheld certain ideas about the origin of the virus and was initially dismissive of masking, yet nothing I’ve seen so far is smoking-gun evidence of his wrongdoing.   Of particular interest is his involvement in funding the Wuhan lab, during the Obama administration, and whether or not this may have been a conflict of interest.  And then there is the ethical issue issue with “gain of function” research that must be explored.  My goal is to give fair treatment to the man and offer my own perspective as far as the content of the emails.

To Mask or Not To Mask?

One of the most contentious issues of the pandemic was the mask mandates.  These state level policies, following the recommendations of the Federal government, were viewed either as life saving and scientifically proven or as terrible infringements on liberty and pretty much totally ineffective. 

My own leanings, as someone who purchased a box of N95 masks in January of 2020, is that masks offer a marginal protection, if the correct type and properly used, and yet the mandates were basically useless.  First cloth masks don’t offer the level of filtration that is necessary to trap the water droplets carrying the virus.  Second, some countries required both a face shield and mask because they determined that masks alone weren’t effective.

Dr. Fauci seems to have come out against mask mandates before coming out in favor:

The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through the material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit in keep[ing] out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you. I do not recommend that you wear a mask, particularly since you are going to a very low risk location.

And also saying this:

Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection to people who are not infected rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring infection…

Now, I believe he’s right in both cases.  Masks only offer minimal protection.  Covid spread through factories where everyone wore masks and states with mask mandates really didn’t fare better than those that did not.  I understand that urge people have to “do something” and there are several flawed studies that back up the idea that masking is beneficial.  However, I really do not see evidence that it makes a significant difference.  Real life doesn’t match up with laboratory conditions.  And thus that was likely behind Fauci’s pragmatic first take.

What is a bit unfair about the criticism about this apparent reversal in opinion on masks is that we all change our minds all the time.  Sometimes I may disagree with some of my colleagues on something, state my own perspective, and then later amend as new evidence comes in.  However, what is disturbing is where Dr Fauci explains this flipflop as being protection of mask supply for medical professionals.  In other words, he is basically admitting to having lied to the American people about the effectiveness of masks.  If that is the case then he should not be given a free pass.

The ‘Debunked’ Lab Leak Theory

One of those banned topics on social media was the theory that Covid-19 may have come from the lab in Wuhan, China.  It made sense, a deadly virus emerges at a market within walking distance of Wuhan Institute of Virology, why not put that laboratory on the list of suspects?  But for some reason discussion of this possibility was forbidden until very recently when it was revealed, through US intelligence, that researchers at this lab had become ill shortly before the virus turned the surrounding city into a warzone.

The Fauci emails also reveal that this possibility, even that Covid showed signs of being engineered for “gain of function” research, were discussed.  Now, frankly, this is just good forensic science.  It would be more shocking had this never been considered at all.  And the batting this idea around alone is not proof that this is what had actually happened. 

However, that so many literally conspired, with a foreign entity, to suppress this hypothesis (Big Tech censorship stifling the online conversation, corporate media fact-checkers claiming it had been debunked, etc) should be a cause for global outrage. 

Of course, the most laughable claim of media propagandists, at the time, was that it was racist to link the virus to the Chinese Communist Party.  Nevermind this was from the same people who had no problem with taking aim at wet markets and bat soup.  But somehow that criticism of Chinese eating habits wasn’t a problem while taking a closer look at a laboratory that was studying coronavirus and bats was inappropriate. 

Uh-huh.

Anyhow, given that Fauci had come out in full support of gain of function research and also been a force behind funding the Wuhan lab.  Could it be this history explains the private discussion, in emails, and simultaneous public denial? Possibly, yes.  It is very clear there’s a conflict of interest.  Of course there’s a reason for him to keep a lid on what could be proof of his culpability for millions of deaths worldwide. 

The result of Fauci’s silence, and corporate media stupidity and bias, is that something that should have been thoroughly explored months ago is only now being openly discussed.  This has given a totalitarian regime, known for deception, more than enough time to cover up the truth and their role.  Precious time has been wasted on what could be the biggest crime against humanity in the history of humankind.  We have experienced a death toll and economic damages greater than twenty nuclear bombs, countless innocent lives destroyed, and the likely culprit was protected by a web of denial, collusion between Big Tech, the corporate media and high ranking government officials—like Dr. Fauci.

If the January 6th fracas is worthy of consideration for a Congressional Commission, then we really should dig deeper and investigate the true cause of a global pandemic that killed millions.  No, there’s no smoking gun in the Fauci emails, or least none that I could see, and yet there is more than enough reason to suspect that one of our leading experts had tried to keep a lid on the Wuhan lab theory because of his own ties to the research.  And still our corporate media speaks glowingly of him, as if he could do no wrong, the fact-checkers scurrying to tell us there is no bombshell revelation in the emails.

Dr. Fauci: Authority or Arrogant?

One thing that the pandemic has revealed and the emails only further confirmed, is the complete arrogance of our institutions.  For whatever reason Fauci and others felt it was okay to mislead the American people, to tell the so-called “noble lie,” and then they wonder why trust is waning amongst the people they’ve deliberately deceived? Meanwhile, those who should be holding their feet to the fire, our ‘journalists’ (who now also see themselves worthy to pick winners for us rather than simply report), embarrass themselves with their fauning praise.

Is Fauci the sole source of all real science and truth?

No, absolutely not!

Is he a total fraud unworthy of his position?  

Well, that is something worthy of investigation and yet to be determined. Innocent until proven guilty is still the law of the land. And I do not believe in trials in the court of public opinion. Again, while there are questions of ethics and culpability to be answered, that our corporate media should be asking rather than singing his praises, nothing in the emails implicates him of a crime.

My own thought, knowing what is known, is that making Fauci the fall guy would be letting too many others off the hook.  Sure, he represents an accountability problem with the political establishment and elites who are protected by their own interests at the expense of the American people.  No, they don’t simply “follow the science” nor are they invulnerable to group think or free from all bias.  They’re human, like us, they make mistakes, they have political agendas and hidden motivations too.  It isn’t about secret conspiracies so much as it is a matter of human fallibility, in general, and arrogance.

Over the course of the past year Fauci’s name has become synonymous with authority and science. But much of that is smoke and mirrors. He is truly only one qualified voice of many and was only made the face of the pandemic as a way to undermine Trump. This is pretty much the only reason why he is loved by one side and loathed by the other. Politics. The politics of the pandemic cloud good judgment. And those caught in this political fray deserve better than to be torn up by the mob or raised up like saints.

Fauci, given the voting patterns of NYC and government lifers, is probably as Democrat as one could be. That could explain some of the looks of tension, and tedious corrections, when Trump used his layman’s terms during press conferences. But, unlike the media narrative that constantly pitted him against the President, the emails showed this conflict between the men was massively overblown.

In the end, Dr. Fauci has the swagger of a Brooklynite, cocky or confident depending on who you ask, and amazing stamina for a man his age. But he should have never been made a celebrity, never turned into this unquestioned authority on matters of science or used as a tool of partisan politics.

Fair enough?