Killing the patient to save a finger: The Coronavirus Epidemic- a metaphor for our time

Martin J Stransky MD

Assistant Clinical professor of Neurology, Yale School of Medicine

 

In the coming months, the current CoV19 epidemic will be increasingly viewed from a social, political, and economic perspective.  Though the epidemic isn’t over yet, some telling conclusions can already be drawn regarding laws of human nature and our current society.

First, not all human life is equal.  The CoV19 epidemic is unique in history – never have such far-reaching restrictions been imposed because of a single disease.  Thus far, around 250,000 people have died from CoV19 worldwide, over 66,000 of them in the US.  According to the WHO, last year 650.000 people worldwide died from the flu and respiratory-linked illness, 770.000 from HIV, and 3 million from hepatitis and TB.  If life-threatening infections are to be measured on the same scale, why don’t we enact the same measures to combat, say the flu, which in last year in the US caused 490.000 hospitalizations and 34.200 deaths?) The answer is: CoV19 is an unknown entity, and since our brains prioritize unknown threats over those we know, giving CoV19 our full attention, with gut feelings first, reasoning second.

Taken from another perspective, dividing the CoV19 deaths in the US into the US population results in a death rate of one person out of 5.300.  Every life is precious. But compare that to the media bombardment and sanctions devoted to CoV19 and ask the question: Is there true parity?  In 2019, cancer claimed the lives of 606,880 Americans, 1.663 per day, 69 per hour.  Imagine constant media updates, reporting 69 new deaths from cancer every hour.

The media and resultant social mind-set have jumped on the CoV19 epidemic to create culture of hyperbole, with deaths being reported blow by blow.  As a physician, I am not alone in observing how medical care and practice has become subservient to sensationalist headlines and hyperbolic tales of tragedy.

CoV remains a danger, and restrictions have been put in place to stop its spread, the aim being to flatten out the curve to save lives and protect hospitals from being overwhelmed.  Yet, hospitals are now so overcrowded with CoV19 patients, that care for other patients has been drastically reduced, with other medical personnel actually being laid off.  How many lives have been hurt or lost in the process?  Either way, the epidemic has confirmed the lack of preparedness of the US healthcare system in dealing with a rapidly evolving healthcare crisis.

With uneven restrictions and changing dictates, the sense of balance between individual freedom and societal inclusion has become blurred, strengthening our modern identity crisis of who we are and where we are going.  The masks we wear to protect ourselves have become a metaphor for the new age.

 

At the same time, the epidemic is showing us what our planet should really look like – air quality has dramatically improved, smog has disappeared in large cities, our lakes and rivers are cleaner. And we’ve stopped pumping oil.  Will this newfound ecological awareness remain, once capitalism revs up to full speed?

 

Over the past two generations, we have been seduced by a period of unprecedented growth and bliss.  Our humility as being part of something larger, of a world with cycles including those of life and death, has been replaced by pride, by the illusion of wealth and immortality, and by a culture of entitlement.

The CoV19 epidemic is a perfect metaphor of our time.  We are willing to destroy our entire body at the cost of saving one finger.  Yet the social, psychological, economic and political instability from imposed restrictions will cause more instability, than the disease itself.

The epidemic will abate, but the difficult questions should not. Where is the line between restrictions and good health?  Shouldn’t our policy be based on prioritizing work and freedom for the majority, while fully sequestering and caring for those most at risk?  Shouldn’t we have a nationalized strategic plan for healthcare emergencies? And finally, shouldn’t we open up the discussion of the cost-benefit of saving lives to include all lives, and not just those from a single illness?

 

published: 14. 5. 2020

Martin Jan Stránský

Martin Jan Stránský

vydavatel Přítomnosti / Martin Jan Stránský se narodil v New Yorku, do České republiky se vrátil po revoluci v roce 1989. Přednáší na LF UK a je aktivním primářem na Yale School of Medicine. Je také spoluzakladatelem a přednostou Polikliniky na Národní v Praze. Založil a vede Kancelář Ombudsmana pro zdraví. Kromě toho obnovil časopis Přítomnost a je jeho vydavatelem. Martin Jan Stránský pochází z významné české rodiny. Adolf Stránský, jeho praděd, byl ministrem v první československé vládě a také založil Lidové noviny. Děda Jaroslav by ministrem spravedlnosti a školství a vydával Přítomnost. Jeho otec Jan byl poslancem.