Tuesday night, March 29 into March 30, I started to feel that sensation I associate with the start of a cold. It was a feeling in the back of my throat that’s almost hard to describe. I haven’t had that sensation in years. Because I have been wearing an N95 mask every time I come into contact with people outside of my inner circle, I hadn’t had any sort of illness since before COVID began.
By Wednesday morning (National Doctor’s Day, ironically), there were additional symptoms, very mild congestion and the slightest achiness. I alerted the staff, and as a precaution, as soon as I got to the office, Tonya swabbed my nose. Fifteen minutes later, the test came back positive. We were all shocked but not shocked. I went home.
It is likely that I have the Omicron BA.2 COVID variant, which has become the dominant strain in the U.S. The BA.2 variant is extremely infectious, but the current mRNA vaccines continue to protect against serious illness and death. It can be very dangerous for high-risk individuals who are not vaccinated, however.
I’m fully vaccinated, so I wasn’t too worried about how things would go for me. The biggest concern was to try not to infect anyone else. While the current CDC guidelines specify that I can end my isolation after five days (wearing a mask for another five days), I am going to continue to isolate for a full ten days, as specified in the previous version of the guidelines. I can’t see putting patients at risk from seeing their doctor. I’ll do telehealth appointments this week through Friday.
By Friday, I was starting to feel better. I did telehealth appointments from home. I went running Saturday and today (alone, on a remote trail where I haven’t seen anyone else for months). I think I’m going to make it. Once again, my life insurance policy goes to waste.
It seems like a good time to tackle some of the broader issues concerning COVID and the U.S.
As a physician, the last two years have been the most difficult of my career emotionally. The U.S. health care system was already terrible prior to the pandemic. The evil geniuses that control these things continue to work overtime to come up with ways to prevent my staff and me from taking care of our patients.
By my last count, we have lost eight patients to COVID. Many of our patients become friends and family to us, so each death really hurts. In addition, we take care of a lot of older patients, to many of whom we get very close. We fight like hell to keep them healthy, but reality wins from time to time, and that hurts even more.
But the last two years have also been some of the most rewarding of my career. Against bad odds and with little outside help, we figured out how to keep our small practice going and even thriving.
I have witnessed incredible strength and valor in our staff, who are the absolute greatest team I could imagine being with throughout all of this. When the health care system conspires to kill our patients, our staff kicks its ass. Their bravery and badassery in the face of uncertain and dangerous times have kept me going. And we still have more fun treating patients than we should be allowed to have.
We have treated hundreds of COVID patients, most of whom are alive and healthy, in part because of our efforts. Our staff organized the only COVID vaccination effort in an individual medical practice that I am aware of in our region. They have given thousands of COVID shots without a mishap. Many lives have been saved because of their efforts. And on top of that, we continue to take care of everything else that comes with the kitchen sink that is family medicine.
But the thing that has made the COVID era so much more difficult is what is happening in American society. At a time when unity and cooperation are so very badly needed, we are divided and angry. It is heartbreaking and soul-crushing. It is destroying us.
Division in the U.S. is an infection that is far more serious than the virus that causes COVID-19. While it is horrifying that nearly one million Americans are dead from COVID, there is a much more serious casualty. We no longer have trustworthy information.
What we once relied upon as objective, accurate news and information, an absolute necessity for a healthy society, has been replaced with spin, misinformation, and outright lies. Truth gets twisted in any direction that suits the storyteller.
We now live in two separate realities. In one version of this reality, masks, vaccines, and new medicines are the answer to the problem, but in the other version, they are the cause. This makes it all but impossible for us to talk to one another, much less solve pressing issues.
Rest assured, this has all taken place for a reason. There are not suddenly two distinct realities. But there is tons and tons of money to be made from making us think there is.
The answer begins with this. Until we again have reliable, accurate sources of information, turn off the news, stop reading the paper, get off the internet, and get off social media. Go meet your friends, family and neighbors and talk to them. You will almost certainly discover that they are the same as they once were, for better and for worse. Without the media and politicians telling us we are on two sides that hate one another, we won’t be.
But be careful when you do this, so you don’t get COVID like me.
Matthew Hahn is a family physician author of Distracted: How Regulations Are Destroying the Practice of Medicine and Preventing True Health-Care Reform.
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