Tag Archives: public health

For Everything there is a Time and Season… COVID 19 and a Time to Mourn

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

When I was growing up the Rock group The Byrds released a song written by Pete Seeger entitled Turn! Turn! Turn! (For Everything There is a Season.)  The Song hit number one on the U.S. Pop Chart in 1965 and I still can remember it being played on the AM music radio stations that my mother would listen to when my dad, a Navy Chief was away. It is still one of my favorite songs.

I don’t know about you, but music can get a message into my head much more than simply reading the words, or especially hearing it from an uninspiring speaker, especially boring pastors who couldn’t could preach their way out of a wet paper bag or melt an ice cube with a blow torch.

I was five years old at the time the song was released and living in Oak Harbor, Washington, where my dad was serving with a squadron at the Naval Air Station. Back then I didn’t know that the song’s lyrics were adapted from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, verses 1-8, just in case you want to look them up. Seeger rearranged the words to better work with the rhyme and meter of his music, he composed it in 15 minutes and sent it to his agent who loved it, far more than Seeger’s protest songs, which he couldn’t sell.

But Seeger was  ahead of this time when he wrote and recorded the song as a folk tune in 1962. But it  really didn’t break through until the Byrds recorded it as a follow up to their number one hit Mr. Tambourine Man.

The lyrics to the song are catchy, especially in the version recorded by the Byrds. Over the years other artists and groups have recorded it, but it is the Byrds adaptation that even now still gets airplay, and still resonates in my head, even when that section of Ecclesiastes Chapter Three are part of the lectionary readings.

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

The words of the song, and the scripture it is drawn from remind me of our human need to live in the moment and cherish all the times and activities of life. One of those that stood out to me a couple days ago after the death toll from the novel Coronavirus 19 topped 100,000 people in this country. Many of us know people, including family members and friends, who have either come down with the virus or died from it and its complications. Sadly, because COVID 19 is so infectious we are unable to mourn in the ways we normally would when we lose someone we know or love.

That occurred to me Wednesday night when I read yet another article on how COVID 19 is interrupting the normal grieving process, and a second article that discussed who easy it can be to become numb to the deaths, simply because of the numbers. Joseph Stalin said something that to human beings is all too true when confronted with massive numbers of deaths: “The death of one man is tragic, but the death of thousands is statistic.” What the psychopathic dictator was true then and true now. There is something in the human psyche that can accept vast numbers of dead human beings more than they can a single human being. After all, of a hundred thousand people die and you don’t know them they are only a statistic, a mass of numbers who are only that. They are just numbers, and even when we are confronted by their faces or bodies, especially if they happen out of our sight, even across town. However, if one of the dead is a friend, a lover, or even a devoted pet, the loss can be catastrophic.

In a way I kind of know how that goes. When I did my hospital chaplain residency in 1993-1994 at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas there were times that I was nearly overwhelmed by the numbers of deaths where I stood by grieving families and friends, and occasionally over the body of people who went un-mourned, at least at their time of death. I counted myself lucky when I only had to deal with two deaths on any given shift, most of the time it was more. The highest was on a summer night where on an 11 PM to 7 AM shift I dealt with eight deaths in eight hours. Two from gunshot wounds, one from a motor vehicle crash, three AIDS victims, one heart attack, and one newborn baby who was born too early to save, but who was precious to his mother and father in his all too brief life. I walked out into the sunshine of that morning and felt numb. I saw people laughing, and couldn’t laugh. In the eight years as a civilian and military hospital chaplain I have probably dealt with about 700-800 deaths, I lost count along the way. Many simply blended together, but there are quite a few others where I remember them like they were yesterday, even with the dead or their loved ones I remember details that are forever burned in my memory. I can understand what the EMTs, paramedics, doctors, nurses and technicians in overwhelmed hospitals are going through, although with HIV or H1N1 infected people, or maybe a violent family member, friend, or enemy of the victim, most of the time I didn’t have much concern about being infected by a patient in the ER or ICU compared with today’s ER and ICU staffs are dealing.  Likewise, to some extent what the families of the victims are going through, not being able to be with loved ones when they died, because of time, distance, and military considerations.

Too many people are grieving without being able to really mourn, while others are becoming numb to the number of deaths, be they on the front lines, or just bombarded by the news. The way the numbers are shown often reminds me of the “body counts” put out by DOD during the Vietnam War, which were featured on every nightly newscast of the era, like baseball box scores.

In Star Trek Deep Space Nine there is an episode where crew members of DS9 are reading the daily casualty count: Captain Benjamin Sisko noted: “Every Friday morning, for the past three months, I’ve posted the official list of Starfleet personnel killed, wounded or missing in the war. It’s become something of a grim ritual around here. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t find the name of a loved one, a friend or an acquaintance on that damned list. I’ve grown to hate Fridays.”

I have begun to hate the numbers of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths brought about by the Coronavirus 19. But, at the same I cannot forget that behind every number there is a life cut short, loved ones and friends left behind, struggling to mourn, with no end in sight. But we must find a way to mourn those who we have loved and lost. I hope that we can do that. I am trying to figure out a way at the Naval Shipyard where I serve that we can make that happen, while taking every precaution to ensure that no one else is infected. I hope that others are trying to do what I am trying to do for people who have had their chance to mourn their losses as they should.

All that being said, with the President and his cult of followers, mostly conservative “pro-life” Christians, or those that say they are pretend to be for political purposes, continue to act in a a uniquely disturbing and murderous behaviors. They shun Protective masks and call it government tyranny. The same is true for social distancing rules designed to protect the lives of all, in order to conduct public worship services, crowd around bars, and send poor people back to work where they have little protection from the virus due to the intentional negligence and concern that those workers might become infected or die.

I cannot understand such convoluted reasoning. I actually wrote much more pointedly about them in this post bust decided that those words, which present unpleasant facts and truth would have completely destroyed what I want to say in the article.

We cannot allow such longstanding selfishness, race hatred, suspicion of Americans who come from different cultural or religious backgrounds. Nor can we allow the lives of the Americans infirm, elderly, or disabled to be sacrificed just to get the economy moving faster and hotter. That is not pro-life, but it is pro death.

While such beliefs remain intrenched among Trump’s shills and supporters, I believe that they are not beyond redemption. It will be hard for them, but when the next wave of the virus hits and kills their loved ones and friends, they might finally see the light. Of course I could be wrong and find them to be like the most fanatical ideologues, religious or unreligious to have their leader be the President of the United States.

Somehow we will get through this together, unless Trump and his cultists destroy us first, and to die so we will have to mourn the dead, as we fight to save the living and prevent the spread of this deadly virus. Sadly it will have to be an us thing because the President has determined it to be yesterday’s news, declared victory and deserted the battlefield with the enemy’s counter offensive just beginning.

Peace and blessings, Until tomorrow,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ER's and Trauma, ethics, faith, healthcare, leadership, ministry, music, Political Commentary

Playing With Fire in a House Filled With Gas: Trump Places Stock Markets and Profits above People

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Bottom Line Up Front: As of this moment there have been 381,699 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with a total of 16,558 deaths. 262,657 of the cases are still active, of the closed cases 102,489 have recovered and as mentioned 16,558 have died for a 14% death rate.

I know that I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but the response of the Trump Administration to it has been abysmal, despite the warnings of U.S. Intelligence Agencies that the pandemic was coming, the administration did nothing. The President made light of it, said that it would have little impact, and played the part of Denier in Chief for two months, but then the stock markets crashed, and all of a sudden the President decided it was no longer fake news and ordered Vice President Pence to head up the effort to contain the virus and its effects. To his credit Pence did. try, and some policy changes began to occur, but to tell the truth, it was too little too late. The Virus had been spreading in the United States for weeks before Pence even received the mission. As a result the virus spread to tens of thousands of people, many who didn’t or don’t know that they are even infected, who in turn spread the virus without realizing they are doing so.

Because I have worked in ICUs and ERs in major civilian and military hospitals in two past pandemics; AIDS during its most deadly period the early to mid-1990s before effective drugs were developed to help infected people live somewhat normal lives. The in 2009 I was in a different Medical Center dealing with H1N1. As such I have been following the COVID-19 infection numbers and death rates with interest since it first came on the scene, but much more so when the first case appeared in Washington in mid-January. Now for the last month I have been watching the progress of the virus by following the data supplied by the CDC, Johns Hopkins, WHO, and this website https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ .  It tends to be updated more frequently than the other sites, mostly because it is relying on updates as they are released by countries, and in the case of the United States, the states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territories.  It is one of the sites mentioned in DOD and Navy message traffic to use in getting solid data and updates about COVID 19.

In the United States  https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/ there have 46,145 total reported infections with deaths. Currently 40,185 of these cases are active. 670 cases are closed and of that number 295 have recovered and been discharged, but 582 have died, giving us a 72% mortality rate. The biggest issue has been the delay in testing and unavailability of test kits. Likewise we are now facing an acute shortage of ICU beds and ventilators, as well as severe shortages of PPE for health workers and first responders, which would include police, fire, and EMS. Likewise there is a critical shortage regular hospital beds and places to put them because our system of managed care does not deem surge capacity important.

These numbers change multiple times a day depending on when countries, or in the case of the U.S. our states and territories report their daily data. The disturbing item to me is that with the exception of China, South Korea, and Japan and a few other Asian countries that instituted draconian measures to flatten the infection curve, the virus is showing exponential growth in the United States and western Europe. The reason it hasn’t exploded in many underdeveloped Second and Third World countries is that it was most likely late getting there because they are out of the way and do not get the kind of visitor, tourist, and business traffic that Western Europe and the United States have. Likewise they do not have the test kits or adequate medical care to document the spread. However, once it takes hold it will become a killing machine, wiping out millions in those unfortunate countries, and probably leading to more refugees, infections, and deaths.

Two weeks (March 8th)  ago the United States reported 541 infections and 22 deaths. By March 18th there were 9,259 cases and 150 deaths. Four days later we are at 46,182 cases and 582 deaths, a death rate of 66%, well over the worldwide percentage. But expect this to fall to somewhat  closer to the world average. However, that being said, statistics at the beginning of a season do not necessarily reflect those at the end of the season.

Since the virus is often spread through people who are asymptomatic, and many people refuse to self-isolate or in public violate the six foot buffer zone, I recommend that any person who reads this article practices an abundance of caution for two reason; first two protect themselves, and then, just in case they are infected but are asymptotic, protect themselves and others from getting the virus. This should be the case anytime they leave their homes to do necessary shopping, or go to a medical appointment. Anyone who goes out should not only observe the measures issued by the CDC, but go further. Personnel and their families should wear some kind of surgical, or other mask to reduce the possibility of transmission protecting them, and in case they are asymptomatic anyone they come in contact. These can be hard to find but there are a number of groups or individuals making relatively effective face masks, which though not to the N-95 standard would give them a modicum of protection. Some of the designs and patterns are online. Likewise I recommend that when leaving home that personnel wear vinyl disposable gloves, carry some kind of hand sanitizer (if you can get it) , wash your hands after every physical contact with a probably contaminated surface, and care antiseptic wipes in your car to wipe down the steering wheel, door handles, and gas pumps.

Call this an abundance of caution on my part, but the virus knows no borders, races, religions, rank or status.

However, yesterday and today, after occasionally acting the part of a real President, Trump went back to his baseline. He blamed everyone but himself, and 8 days into a 15 day campaign to try to stop the virus by social distancing and shutting down businesses, he threatened to revere a key public health decision because the “economic costs might be higher than the virus itself.”  In his news conference comments he tried to make his threat sound a little more humane by suggesting that isolated people were more prone to suicide, would outnumber the people infected and killed by the virus. While I know that social isolation can be a killer, its effects can be mitigated by people that care. However, if people go back to work, stores and restaurants are opened just as the virus is hitting stride the infection and death rate will make those of the past few days look like peanuts. Millions will be infected, and many of them will die, and the the economy will collapse like a house of cards. Not just because of the effects of the virus, but because the business leaders, stock holders, and even his cult followers will abandon him because they will finally realize that they mean nothing to him.

So, because I am tired I wish you a good night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, economics and financial policy, History, laws and legislation, leadership, life, Military, News and current events, Photo Montages

Thumbs Down: McCain, Collins, and Murkowski send ACA Repeal to the Dust Bin 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It was an eventful week. In addition to the President’s tweet about baring transgender persons from the military, an action which blindsided the Pentagon leadership and caused a lot of consternation in the military and the GOP, a hyper-political address to the Boy Scouts, another North Korean ballistic missile test, a Congressional vote in favor of more sanctions against Russia, and the end of the attempt by Trump and the GOP leadership the scuttle the Affordable Care Act, more popularity known as Obamacare. 


The end of the GOP Congress’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Health Care came to an appropriate end last night at the hands of Senators John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski who joined with ever Democrat in the Senate to place the repeal attempts in the dustbin of fail legislation. 

After seven years of ranting and raving, failed votes and shear legislative incompetence the efforts of Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and President Trump demonstrated that hubris, coupled with incompetence is no way to go through life. Ignoring polls which said less than 20% of Americans were in favor of their various legislative proposals; against the advice every major medical association, the insurance industry, the AARP, and even veterans organizations the GOP leadership goaded by President Trump who blatantly ignored his own campaign promises to make healthcare more affordable and available, pressed ahead. 

A good number of GOP Senators voiced concern, but only McCain, Murkowski, and Collins held the line. A number of Senators voted for the doomed act hoping that if it passed the House would do nothing with it, reject it, or send it back. 

McCain stole the show by coming back from Arizona after surgery which revealed that he is suffering from a deadly form of brain cancer, the same type that ended the life of Teddy Kennedy, to cast the final and deciding vote Thursday night. His action, which followed an ovation to welcome him back was dramatic. As the last Senator to vote he walked up to the clerk of the Senate under the glowering face and folded arms of majority leader McConnell, voted no and for dramatic effect turned his thumb down. It was possibly the crowning moment of McCain’s Senate career. I think that he must have relished it. He came back and voted to allow the GOP repeal efforts to come to the floor, and then voted against every one of them. He could have ended things by voting not to allow the vote to go forward, but it seemed that he savored the opportunity to torpedo Trump who had on numerous occasions during the campaign disparaged McCain’s military service, including his years in a North Vietnamese prison camp at a time the President was using ever deferment and excuse that he could to avoid serving in the military. 

In light of his cancer diagnosis this may be one of his last acts in the Senate, I hope not because I think we still need him, but I am a realist and know how devastating this cancer can be. 

But McCain’s dramatic comeback would have been impossible had not Senators Collins and Murkowski held the line, braving physical and political threats from various Republicans and Trump supporters and not wavering in the face of tremendous opposition. 

So the ill-advised, moronic, and badly botched GOP effort to destroy the ACA failed. President Trump appears not to be deterred and will probably do whatever he can to destroy the ACA even as the GOP Senate leadership begins to work with Democrats on a more bipartisan attempt to improve the ACA. 

It was a humiliating end to seven years of bluster to repeal the ACA without any serious effort to come up with something better, especially since the ACA had its origins in the Heritage Foundation and its trial run in Romneycare. It was a Republican proposal put into place by Demcrats alone because Mitch McConnell and othe GOP leaders decided on the day that President Obama was inaugurated to do all they could to make his presidency a failure and him a one-term president. 

Now, no-matter what President Trump says or does, the GOP needs to decided to work with Democrats. This is not about the President’s ego and need to win at all costs. It is about so much more. Healthcare is one of the largest sectors of the economy, public health is a strategic concern that impacts national security. The health and well-being of people impacts every part of our economy and the future of our country. It cannot be left to ideologues bent on destroying our health care system for next quarter’s profits and tax write offs. 

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, Political Commentary