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OPED: Straight talk about how we can help one another get through the pandemic

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LETTER: A letterbox with the inscription Letter to the editor

I have practiced pulmonary medicine in this community for almost 25 years and can see that there are pockets of ignorance out there regarding the proper way to deal with the pandemic that we are all struggling through at the moment.

I have tried to use some of these points with my patients over the last two years or so, but quite frankly, I and many of my colleagues just don’t have the time or the patience to try and debunk all of the misinformation out there. It is like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole and neither party feels any better for it most of the time.

I will try and make several points—consider this one last try for my community.

Ask your physician whether to get the vaccine, wear a mask or receive proper treatments. Do not consider this a chance to start a debate. Just ask the question and listen to the answer. Does it make more sense to adhere to what a trusted local physician who has likely cared for you for many years tells you, or a huckster carpetbagger selling snake oil?

I have been practicing medicine in Fauquier County for more than 30 years and, as far as I know, I have not seen a case of measles, mumps, smallpox, or active polio. Why do you suppose that is?

Imagine we had Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc. in the 1950s and ‘60s. We would still be dealing with those medical scourges to this day.

Looking forward into a very possible future, imagine that a more lethal form of COVID, or a different virus, were to come along. If our current societal attitude were to persist, we would all be doomed.

The odds are not in our favor moving forward, and the more copies of the virus that are out there, the greater number of chances another such variant will pop up. We need to stamp out those extra copies before this happens.

If there were an institution, or institutions, that had the highest chance of being correct regarding how to successfully deal with a pandemic, doesn’t it make sense to listen to what they say? Not that any organization is infallible, but this truly is a numbers game. If you play the odds, it seems logical that you would go with those folks who had spent decades of their lives to understanding and treating just such a problem, not journalists with an axe to grind or a tribe to appease.

And for those who suggest conspiracy or monetary gain as the motivation for Centers for Disease Control or Virginia Health Department guidelines, then shame on you for smearing the thousands of hard-working souls in this community – doctors, hospital staff, first responders and the public health experts in our local health department -- who have dedicated their lives to helping us through this crisis.

If the moon landing was faked in your world, then I cannot help you.

Also, there is a bit of logical inconsistency with some of the most common arguments I have heard -- in my office and on the opinion pages of our local newspaper. If you want to trot out some obscure study that purports to support your position of giving an unapproved treatment to desperate patients, yet completely ignore the recommendations of thousands of data points for mask wearing, vaccines, viable treatments, etc., then you are not really thinking it through, are you?

Dr. Swift

Richard Swift, M.D.

Snake oil salesmen have been around for thousands of years. There is a customer for them born every minute.

Stay in your lane. While I have not done any research on this, anecdotally I have noticed that some of the most vehement opponents of legitimate scientific knowledge are those who tend to have the least amount of exposure, training or prior interest in the field to which they now espouse their “expertise.”

Reading some Wikipedia articles and quoting Tucker Carlson, et al. do not an expert make. Please have a little humility when trying to opine about that which you have only recently started exploring. It is like telling a pilot how to land the plane while the other passengers cringe. Most of the researchers dealing with this crisis have 5 to 15 years of formal education beyond high school under their belt. What was your interest or involvement in science classes in high school and beyond? Be honest with yourself on this one.

Know your sources. This applies to anything you research online. There are two questions you should always ask when you come across a “fact” on the internet: Who is telling me this—what is their expertise regarding the topic at hand, or, why should I listen to them? A mechanical engineer with a PhD opining about medical treatments or vaccine effectiveness would seem to have less weight regarding those matters than an infectious disease physician or an epidemiologist.

The second question is why are they telling me this—what is their motivation, what will they gain by spreading this information? Clickbait and “Likes” are powerful forces online.

Lastly, some people object to vaccines or mask mandates because they don’t want the government “telling [them] what to do.” If you stop at a stop sign, pay your taxes or registered for the draft when the time came, you are doing what the government tells you. If you lived on a mountain and off the grid away from everyone, then not getting vaxxed or not wearing a mask would likely be irrelevant.

But most of us don’t; we live in neighborhoods and interact with other Fauquier residents every day. We don’t get to be selfish and think only for ourselves.

Remember World War II and the Greatest Generation? Imagine how your neighbors would feel about you if the government told everyone to adhere to a blackout because bombers were coming to destroy Warrenton and you decided to be selfish: “I want to read and watch TV, and I have that right since it is my house.”

Once your neighbors, or those that survived, finished cleaning up, I suspect their tolerance of you would be quite low. That is exactly how the vast majority of doctors and nurses, respiratory therapists and X-ray technicians, dietary staff and cleaning crews think about those patients who show up at our local hospital or doctor’s offices, having ignored the pleas of the medical community, and expect to be treated, all the while spouting arrogance that somehow the patient knows how to best deal with the intricacies of this pandemic.

We really are at war, just not with a human enemy. Please turn off your lights.

Get vaccinated, wear a mask when you are supposed to, and help the rest of us help you and our community.

Richard Swift, M.D. is board certified in pulmonary and critical care medicine. He is on staff at Pulmonary & Critical Care Specialists of Northern Virginia, P.C. The practice has an office in Warrenton.

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(2) comments


Just a friendly reminder that this is just an opinion piece


Are the readers around here so unsophisticated they wouldn't know that?

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