With COVID-19, Health Care Workers are Learning From Experience. Why Can’t Politicians and the Press Do the Same?

Some personal testimony from a COVID-19 case.

By Jay Richards Published on November 20, 2020

My co-authors and I had to write The Price of Panic from the third person perspective. We knew people who contracted COVID-19. But none of us knew the bug first-hand. Throughout the spring and summer, we stayed well. Which was a good thing — since we had a book to write.

Almost two weeks ago, though, I came down with mild cold symptoms — a stuffy head, a slight fever, and fatigue. No big deal. But when my fingers started tingling, I thought I might have the ‘rona. So, on November 12th, I went to a local drive-through testing clinic and got the rapid (antigen) test. It was positive.

That means I’m a genuine case — not just a positive test which the press calls “cases.” (We’re doing over a million tests a day, so of course we see a lot of positive tests.) I now get calls and text messages from the Maryland Department of Health. 

Higher Risk

Although I don’t have health problems that would put me at a higher risk — such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or obesity — I have a history of respiratory problems. I’ve had sinus surgery twice. And twice I’ve had pneumonia that started from a cold or flu. The second time, in 2016, I ended up with pleural effusion, with fluid in my chest cavity that drastically impaired my breathing. This almost killed me, and sent me to the hospital for two weeks for major surgery. I was healthy and in my forties. Just think what the flu can do to old people in poor health!

Because of this risk, I have a pulse oximeter at home and have been testing myself daily. I’d read that some people with COVID-19 get (viral) pneumonia, but don’t feel short of breath or have chest pain. As a result, they wait until things get pretty bad before going to the hospital. So, my wife has been making me test my levels several times a day.

More Oxygen Please

A couple of days ago, I finally felt the fog of fatigue lifting, and wasn’t registering a fever. I figured I was out of the woods. But my fingers were still tingling. My oxygen reading was lower — in the mid-80s, and dropping. (You want it to be in the 95-100 range.) I thought the oximeter might be defective, so my wife went to the drug store to get another one. It also said my oxygen was low but didn’t quite agree with the other one. Weird. I wasn’t short of breath. I wasn’t coughing. And I had no chest pain. Still, our doctor friend thought we should go to the emergency room. We took her advice.

The nearby hospital where we went, Holy Cross, had just reopened its temporary screening ER for COVID-patients. It’s a modular structure built over part of the parking lot. They put it up last spring but never used it. It has one big tent-like room, ventilated with a giant HEPA filter and separated into different areas with six-foot dividers. One area is for blood tests and EKGs, one for chest x-rays, and one big area for patients to wait for results, sitting six feet apart.

It wasn’t busy when I arrived but there were four other people waiting for test results. My oxygen numbers were perfect on their oximeter, and the nurse thought he might be dealing with a false alarm. But then he had me walk around, and my oxygen levels dropped a lot. So, they did a chest x-ray, and determined I have walking viral pneumonia. Darn.

We caught it early, but I still had to stay overnight in the “COVID wing” of the hospital. On the bright side, it did give me a chance to see what’s being done.

The Front Lines

COVID-19 is a huge pain for folks on the front lines. They have to wear forbidding, tightly-fitted respirators, gloves, gowns, sometimes even goggles and face shields. They have to change gowns and gloves early and often. This slows everything down and makes communication a chore. Still, they seem to take it in stride.

Indeed, these health care workers have lots of experience that they lacked back in March — and it shows. They’re much less likely to use respirators and are more likely to prescribe benign treatments that might help. They gave me two IV antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory steroid dexamethasone. But they also gave me some vitamins and minerals (C, D, Zinc), Pepcid, a baby aspirin, and an anticoagulant.

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If I’d been in worse shape, and didn’t mind staying for five days, I could have opted for the experimental anti-viral Remdesivir and plasma with antibodies. Fortunately, the steroid (and the prayers of many friends and family members) seemed to help, my oxygen levels rose, and my blood work was good. So, I was able to come home yesterday evening, after just one sleepless and super-needley night in the hospital.

I’m taking the steroid dexamethasone orally for nine days, plus baby aspirin as an anti-coagulant, and Pepcid (the anti-acid medicine), which may or may not help. And lots of vitamins and zinc. Oh, and I’m trying to rest.

Learning from Experience?

Here’s the take-home lesson: Health care workers are doing their jobs and learning from experience. Yes, there are more people showing up at hospitals. Summer’s over. It’s cold, flu, and (now) COVID season. This happens every year. There’s little reason to think hospitals can’t handle it, especially since the flu seems to have disappeared. In fact, the average stay in hospitals for COVID-19 has gone down over time. Again, that’s what we should expect.

I wish we could say the same thing about politicians and the press. Maryland, like many other states, is seeing a spike in cases and so is in a full-scale panic. Governor Hogan is looking for businesses and schools and restaurants and churches to close down and restrict, as he did before.

Hospitals and ERs do sometimes get crowded, from the flu and other things. I’ve seen this firsthand. When I ruptured my quad tendon almost two years ago, it took a while to find a hospital that would take me. The first two hospitals turned my ambulance away because they had no space. In the third hospital, half an hour from our house, I had to lie on a stretcher in a hallway for hours, milking a “one-time only Fentanyl.”

The ER looked like a MASH unit set up behind the front lines of a war zone. But there was no war. The EMT in the ambulance had explained the problem to me a few hours earlier. “You don’t want to get injured on the first Friday night of the month,” he said. “Lots of people cash their paychecks, get drunk, and end up in the ER.”

We’ve seen scores of breathless stories of hospitals stretched to capacity because of COVID-19. How many stories have you seen about the first Friday?

We’ve seen scores of breathless stories of hospitals stretched to capacity because of COVID-19. How many reports have you seen about the first Friday of every month? Have Governor Hogan and DC Mayor Bowser considered closing bars and liquor stores? Maybe they should order lockdowns and prevent people from cashing their paychecks on this deadlier than average day. After all, if it saves just one life. …

Fool Me Twice …

Of course, they would never do that. But they’ll now close churches and small businesses at the first sign of trouble. This is insane. Why do we put up with it? We know far more about the coronavirus than we did in March. It’s not nearly as deadly as was predicted. We know who is most at risk, and who is not.

And the good people on the front lines know a lot more about how to treat it.

We also know that lockdowns don’t work and have devastating costs on human life and well-being. But politicians, with a few exceptions (such as Governors Kristi Noem and Ron DeSantis), seem determined not to learn anything from recent experience. The question is, Will citizens in lockdown states comply? Or will their bitter experience with the first round of lockdowns incline them to resist?

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

 

Jay W. Richards is executive editor of The Stream, and co-author, with Douglas Axe and William Briggs, of The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe.

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