COVID-19 Narratives (3): A Physician’s View of the Front Lines

[An anonymous submission by a physician at a New York City-area hospital.]

If you wanted to concoct a story of a cruel, vengeful god who plotted to induce madness upon all of humanity, you could not do better than the COVID-19 pandemic. Under normal circumstances, all it takes is a few sensible, simple, commonsense hygiene practices to prevent infectious illness from becoming a major public health problem. As diseases go, the usual suspects are pathogens we know well (influenza, rhinovirus, etc.), whose disease courses tend to follow a familiar and predictable narrative: prodrome, syndrome, convalescence, immunity. Serious illness is an exception to the rule with these players, and it clusters predictably in familiar groups of outlier hosts: the very old, those with severe medical problems, the very young. These individuals are at risk roughly as to how old, close to being newborns, or medically complicated they are. Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (27): COVID-19 and the Banality of Evil

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Coronavirus Diary (26): New Jersey Under Siege

Most of the national media reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic has focused, understandably, on the catastrophe taking place in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic. A student in one of my classes, with friends and family in Queens, told me that he knew personally of fifteen COVID-19 deaths in Queens alone (Elmhurst). New York City essentially leads the world right now in COVID-19 cases.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle as it always is, is the second-place case of New Jersey, where, apart from graduate school, I’ve lived all my life. You can turn on the TV to see what things are like in New York, but whether you see it there or not, things aren’t much different in Jersey: like New York, New Jersey is under siege. And “siege” is no metaphor. COVID-19 is an invading army–much more so than the Japanese, the Nazis, the Soviets, Al Qaeda, Saddam, or ISIS ever were–and we’re losing the battle to it. Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (19): This Isn’t John Galt Speaking

The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies…

–Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics”

Imagine a version of Atlas Shrugged in which the Taggart Tunnel disaster involves a causal process driven primarily by Mother Nature, and what goes off the rails is not a train but a health care system. Now imagine that the hero of the piece is not a shadowy figure like John Galt but the functional (not moral) equivalent of Dr. Robert Stadler. Now imagine that a retreat to Galt’s Gulch is a physical impossibility. If, for some readers, this requires a re-conceptualization of how the world works, maybe a lot of other things do, too. Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (15): What to Do When You’re “Locked Down”

Apologies for deluging you all with posts; I’ll try to keep these to a maximum of two a day. But the situation here in the New York/New Jersey metro area is getting increasingly critical. As I said in my very first post in this series, our situation is closer to Italy’s right now than most people realize. That outcome isn’t inevitable, but it can only be averted if we act. There’s no need to be sitting at home “bored” with the lockdown. There’s more than enough to be done even within its constraints. (If Gazans can do it, so can you.) I can’t publicize every plea for assistance I see, no matter how legitimate; I can only ask concerned readers to be on the lookout for them, and please consider responding to some. Continue reading