Month: April 2020

Active or Ruminant When It Comes to Issues?

In 2015, Bill Gates was featured on an episode of the popular TED Talks series. Dr. Shaun Peck, a well-remembered public health official in BC, reminded me of the event a few days ago when we exchanged emails about our current battle with COVID-19. He suggested I take a look and listen, which I did, and now I suggest you do the same.

Go to:  https://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates_the_next_outbreak_we_re_not_ready

If you heard Gates’ warning of pending pandemic danger and his plan for global preparedness, you might recall he subsequently donated multi-millions of dollars for research to try and find a vaccination for a disease getting ready to pounce. And, after all this, you may be wondering why it has taken so long to wake the rest of us up to the threat.

It’s easy for pundits, like me, to shrug and point out the failure of governments to listen to Gates while carefully removing ourselves from any possible shadow of blame or hint of responsibility.

What could we have done if we had taken heed of the warnings of Gates and others five years ago and possibly before that?

When such events come in the shape of fire and flood, humans do a pretty good job of organizing help and providing care and support. Fires, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves – we have seen them all, and up to now, we have fought back and survived.

We could have joined a then-small chorus of concern to let our politicians know we expected them to lead and protect. We have had ample opportunity in the past five years. Locally, provincially, regionally and nationally, we have chosen teams of men and women to run our affairs and safeguard us – sometimes from ourselves and human intransigence, and always when what we call “nature” throws an ugly and deadly curve our way.

We don’t do so well when the natural disaster involves the unknown, but even there our men and women of medicine over the years have won a few and will win more. However, they can only do that if our political leaders “listen to the science” and “we the people” make sure they are listening to the science not the politics. Unfortunately, we the people are not as alert as we might be or as anxious we should be to take action.

In most countries in the world governments have been listening to doctors and scientists and rational politicians. But not in the United States of America where political power ranks with great personal wealth as the height of ambition. In the US of A we see one of the greatest nations in the world for advanced thinking and scientific research, fearful in the face of pandemic and with a President seemingly incapable of rational decisions.

His first major was a few months back when China announced the shutdown of an entire city and the immediate area surrounding it in and attempt to control the outbreak of Covid-19, President Trump immediately ordered closure of land, sea and air travel connections between China and the USA — and has since praised himself many times for his travel ban decision.

His critics have not been so kind. They have pointed out that Covid-19 was already established in New York, brought to that US city from China via Italy and/or German. The Governor of New York State welcomed the China travel ban but put it in timetable with this blunt comment: “He closed the front door – but left the back door wide open.” And Covid-19 got settled in with all the current irritation and dangers before, too late, the world tried to shut all the doors.

My voice of conscience on public health, Dr. Peck, suggested I catch up with the several books by Laurie Garrett, paying particular attention to Betrayal of Trust – The Collapse of Global Public Health and an article by the same author published recently in the international medical journal The Lancet, to be found at : http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIISO140’-6736(20)30600-0/fulltext

This following final item, stumbled across while looking for other things, is too good to let slip by unnoticed. It is from President Donald Trump’s 1987 book “The Art of the Deal” – which should have had a sub-heading “How to Manipulate the Press.”

In one chapter this imitation pearl of dubious honesty shines through: “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to peoples’ fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration – and a very effective form of promotion.”

Whatever you say, Donald.

Epidemics of a Tragic Kind

“Epidemics are endings of a tragic kind, and they are neither rare nor lamentably, foreseeably eradicable. Viruses – bacilli, fungi and parasites – are as integral a part of the earth’s ecosystem as the plants, animals, and people they destroy. And, the microorganisms have seniority; their ancestors were the first forms of life on the planet. And, their descendants may well be the last.”

The quote is from Charles Panati’s “Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody,” published by Harper and Row in 1989. It talks about “Plagues – one of nature’s most treacherous endings, taking more lives than all the wars in history …” It reads like the pages of yesterday’s newspapers, and today’s and tomorrow’s.

Panati deals with many historic plagues with considerable focus on the three great Bubonic Plagues that brought death and societal destruction to the known world in three waves over more than a thousand years between the 6th and 17th centuries. The death toll from those three encounters with what became known as The Black Death has been estimated at 137 million.

The outbreak in the 1300s was one of unprecedented fury. Panati’s description: “Like a tidal wave it struck in England in the summer of 1347 prostrating the city of London … by the following year, it had washed over Sweden, France, Spain, Italy, Russia, Ireland, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

Panati quotes Italian writer Agniola di Tura writing about burying “five of my children in a single grave. No bells. No tears. This is the end of the world.” It still feels that way in 2020 for those who live through but suffer most in a pandemic rampage.

It all happened a long time ago, you say, when medicine was primitive compared with today, when cures were unknown, when prevention was only just beginning to be considered better than a cure.

Even 1918 – 19 seems too far back in time to be seriously considered an advisory warning when infectious disease threatened. “Spanish ‘flu” they called it, although it is believed by many its origin was U.S. soldiers who had been serving in WW1 in Europe. For sure, 20 million cases had been reported in the USA, with close to one million deaths by the time it was all over.

And it is worth remembering we still do not have “a cure” for the “flu”.

There have been a few “alerts” of pending and possible disaster since, 1918 but they approached, were faced, flashed and faded. Then, late last year, rumbles out of China warned something unhealthy was casting threatening shadows. The world shrugged, “just the regular ‘flu,” and celebrated Christmas.

Early in 2020, concern was growing that maybe, just maybe, “the ‘flu could be a little worse this year.”

And then, what now seems like overnight, it was worse. Much worse. We went to bed one night, warm, safe and feeling cared for and awakened the next day to find the world under lockdown. Law-abiding citizens on holiday or travelling were told to return home as quickly as they could – and if they had difficulty finding a flight, the government would charter planes to get them home.

People feeling unwell were told to stay home; to stay two arm lengths away from anyone they were conversing with; to wash their hands repeatedly. And, we began to hear or read or see on television stories from round the world  of hospitals short of care beds; of minor but important surgeries being postponed; of frontline paramedic first responders, nurses and doctors short of the weapons needed to fight an uncaring monster with a name – Coronavirus-19.

And, every day we got a tally of those newly infected, those infected but mildly and recovering; those more seriously infected, the number hospitalized; the number in intensive care; the number requiring assistance from machinery to breathe; the severe shortage of that equipment; and daily, the number of dead. Each day the totals grew.

In mid-April it was announced that the death rate in the USA had reached 35,000, surpassing Italy with 22,000 plus Pandemic plague fatalities.

And each day we chafed a little over travel restrictions, wondering when we would be able to again shop and wander through stores at will, converse with friends face to face, not six feet apart; and go out for a special occasion dinner.

And, I got to wondering how we would all be making out if we were recovering from the major earthquake we are assured will hit my part of the world – the west coast of Canada and the USA one day.

Just think for a minute before you answer. We have been told it could be huge and up to six or seven days before aid could get to us through ruined streets. We have been well-schooled over the years to have a food supply for at least seven days stashed away, a water supply handy, a basic first aid kit, battery-operated flashlights, somewhere close designated for basic sanitation and, of course, our all-important medications.

COVID-19 has shut us down and is inconveniently upsetting our comfortable pew living. The latest news from international Epidemiologists tells us to get used to the new normal – that COVID-19 is on course to peak in waves until 2022 – unless science can find a shield for us.

While waiting it might might be wise to revive those old advisories on the Big One.

(Readers not familiar with the works of Charles Panati should seek him out for reading guaranteed to move the mind to new challenges, maybe even new conclusions. He’s been writing since at least 1974 with (Supersenses.)

Remembering

It was cold and damp on the streets of Victoria shortly after midnight on Thursday, April 10, 1995. In the car, a 12-year-old boy, Nicholas, listened quietly as his father explained why they were making a sudden return to the Hospice they had left little more than an hour earlier after a long evening visit with his mother, Candide.

We had just returned home, and I was sitting on his bed before tucking him in when the phone rang. The Hospice: If we wanted to say goodbye, the time was now. He dressed quickly. I explained that earlier in the day when we were visiting, his mother was very tired, had been sleeping in a “coma.”

And may still be asleep. “I’m going to drop you at the main entrance. You know which room Mum is in. I’ll catch up with you as soon as I park the car. You just sit and talk to Mum. She may not answer, but she will know you are there.”

He was talking about school when I got there a few minutes later. I think she knew.

This is the first time I have written about Candide’s final struggle since it happened. I don’t know why, other than the grief as we passed through that time that strengthened all of us – five sons from my first marriage and Nic, who inherited many of his mother’s attributes. Oldest son Stephen delivered Candide’s funeral oration. In it, he mentioned his youngest brother’s inheritance of strength and courage from his mother.

Some years ago, after two years of travelling the world, Nic returned to earn a postponed degree from the University of Victoria. He then joined BC’s Emergency Health Services and its well-trained army of paramedics in which he serves as a Primary Care Paramedic with other front line first responders – where courage is a standard requirement. For good measure, he also serves with St. John Ambulance as a Provincial Staff Officer attached to 176 Division, Victoria.

And, on Friday, April 10, barring unforeseen circumstances, he would be visiting his mother’s grave at Royal Oak to make sure everything is tidy, in good shape, and the flowers are fresh. Normally, I would be with him, but lock-downs and other restrictions have confined me to barracks. But I’ll be with him, in moral support, doing the little things that keep family strong.

Readers wondering how Nicholas felt and what he remembers about April 1995 will find a remarkable recollection on his Facebook page. I mean – remarkable.

Do We Really Care?

The experts are determined to impress on us, in their oft-repeated warnings, that things are going to get worse before they get better. History and the recorded observations of those who have lived through similar world upheavals and disruptions of what was once “normal” living, convince us to accept their forecasts and nod in agreement.

Not that any of us have lived and survived a pandemic as vast and uncaring as COVID-19. But, there are more than a few of us who survived the cataclysms of the Great Depression of the 1930s and a worldwide war in the 1940s that ended with two man-made thunderclaps over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

They say more than 200,000 died in such a fearful way in just two air raids and we started to believe mankind would never again embark on such a mass suicidal end to life on earth. Some of us still hold to that belief, although our faith has been sorely tested over the years.

Nervous though our journey was, I don’t think anyone ever thought there would come a day when the world would be turned upside down by an invisible virus capable of defying man’s greatest scientists. Powerful enough to circle the world unseen and unknown. Powerful enough to force people into virtual isolation; to stop aircraft from flying and ships from sailing; to force the closure of stores and suspend what for centuries had been the natural and essential course of commerce.

And to kill at will. The medical experts and the frontline warriors standing between the virus and its victims assure us they will eventually find an answer, but stress that we must help by avoiding personal contact by maintaining six to 10 feet of separation when we meet to talk.

Over and over again, they tell us we cannot, must not give up these disciplines, and that things are going to get worse before they get better. And they, the doctors and the political leaders faced with a problem they maybe should have recognized sooner, tell us the virus will claim 200,000-plus before we can begin to guess where the end may lie.

Citizens of my generation remember the courage and self-sacrifice we were asked to make during the Second World War to preserve our democratic freedoms. And, some of us remember the cold, uncaring, merciless behaviour of so many who looted and stole from neighbours and government aid programs.

When announcing his programs of financial relief for workers losing jobs or small businesses losing everything, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned would-be con artists not to scam the relief benefits. When caught, he promised swift justice.

Maybe someone had acquainted him with the case of Englishman Walter Handy, who claimed government compensation for being bombed out 19 times in five months during WWII. He got three years in jail for betraying what should have been loyalty to fellow country pledged in common cause.

A major player in the UK looting and black-market game was Billy Hill, who spent a few short terms in jail. He hired a ghostwriter to tell his life story, “Boss of Britain’s Underworld” (1955). He once boasted he didn’t just make use of the black market, “I fed it.” He became quite a wealthy man.

There were not many Billy Hills, but there were thousands of God-fearing, law-respecting Britishers who gave every appearance of total loyalty to a nation’s call for sacrifice but didn’t mind a bit of profit from breaking the rules here and there.

It is not fondly remembered that by wars end in 1945 there were more than 114,000 prosecutions for black-market trading and looting. Some for minor offences, many for major crimes, a few for murder. Some from stripping rings and other jewelry from corpses to emptying homes of anything that could be easily moved while a family took shelter during an air aid.

The crimes became so prevalent that the UK government made a few punishment revisions to various laws as wartime expedients. For example, a guilty party could be sentenced to death or life in prison for looting.

No one ever was. It was deemed unwise to let those faithfully embracing Winston Churchill’s challenge of living with “blood, sweat, toil and tears” know all their brothers and sisters were not like-minded.

Which leaves me wondering how we are going to do overall as we are asked to make relatively small sacrifices today? We are told they will make a difference in the fight to slow down, even halt COVID-19 until we can find a cure.

Do we care, enough? Or would it better to ask: Do we care at all?