A man is sitting on his porch in a rainstorm. The river is cresting, and floodwaters begin to rise. A guy comes by in a rowboat, and says, “Get in, and I will take you to safety.”
The guy on the porch says, “No, thanks. The Lord will save me.” The water gets higher, so he moves to his second-floor balcony. Another guy comes by in a motorboat. He says, “Get in, and I will take you to safety.” Again, the man on the balcony says, “No, thanks. The Lord will save me.” The waters get higher. The man gets on the roof. A man in a helicopter shows up, drops a line, and says, “Get in, and we will transport you to safety.” The guy says once more, “No, thanks. The Lord will save me.” The man drowns, and goes to heaven. He says, “Lord, I was faithful and waited on you. You let me down.” God replies, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter!”
Some would have us believe technology and God are mutually exclusive. I'm not going to get into a religious debate, but after 29 years in the ED, I think the miracle of life and the mystery of death will always be in God's wheelhouse. I don't see us figuring those out any time soon. I cannot explain what happens to your consciousness when you leave your protoplasm.
I think the greatest commandments are to love God and your neighbor as yourself, which seems pretty universal. Rather than using religious beliefs to draw lines in the sand, why not use this love principle and blend it with technology?
What if the two boats and a helicopter are masks, quarantining, and vaccines? What if the act of love is not to demand your individual rights and instead think of your neighbor over yourself? I know these are not popular thoughts today in our social media-driven culture. The pure selfishness promoted by the “you be you” world is the antithesis of putting someone else first.
Forget the Silo
Some say that mandates are religious persecution, preventing them from gathering for worship. Mandates are certainly a hindrance and maybe inconvenient, but true religious persecution is going on all over the world. Watching a sermon online or meeting outdoors and socially distancing is not persecution. The far-right views about freedom don't hold water either. Public health laws have been in place for decades. Ever heard of reportable diseases? If you aren't compliant with your tuberculosis treatment, a public health nurse and a sheriff will show up at your door and watch you take your meds.
I get the hesitation about new technology. I actually waited for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But the days of emergency use authorization are gone; millions of doses later, the vaccines are vetted. All are safe and have done what they were designed to do: keep people from getting sick enough to be hospitalized. Let's not forget that this was always about not overwhelming the health care system.
The antivaxxers say it's genetic engineering. They don't want to put strange things in their bodies, citing side effects and quoting disgruntled researchers and doctors with bizarre theories. The same folks believe dewormers and antiparasitic drugs used off-label are a good idea or that some special vitamin or “natural organic” brew endorsed by some influencer is the way to boost your immune system to fight off COVID. They have no problem buying a product on the internet and putting that in their bodies. I like to ask them, “How does your immune system work?” “Do you think Native Americans were living off the land and eating natural and organic foods? If so, why didn't their immune systems fight off the measles and smallpox brought over by Europeans?” I think the novel part of the novel coronavirus somehow gets lost in why we are in our current predicament.
We are doomed as long as everybody is in his own little silo defending his position at all costs despite emerging facts. Science has always had a time stamp; it's the best information at the time. Just because things change as we get more information doesn't mean someone previously lied to you; it's what's supposed to happen. It's designed to change constantly as more facts are derived from research. We used to think the world was flat and that the Earth was the center of the universe. We used to hunt witches and bleed patients to let out evil humors.
EPs encounter all walks of life, all kinds of people, often at the worst times of their lives. We try to bring calm and reason and support. We put their best interests above our own. We are always there, always ready. We often must overcome enormous obstacles to give them what they need. We not only have medicine to think about but politics, religion, conspiracy theories, and just plain fear and ignorance. Sometimes, people are their own worst enemies. As we come by with the two boats and a helicopter, we need to make sure gently but firmly that they get in. We can talk later, but first, let's get out of this flood.
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Dr. Harmonis an emergency physician at Marian Region Medical Center in Santa Maria, CA. Read his past columns athttp://bit.ly/EMN-SameShift.