The unreported heartbreak of the Wuhan virus*

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A middle-aged man with diabetes and high blood pressure begins to experience chest pain at home. He thinks it might be his heart but he does not call 911 for fear that he will be taken to the local hospital and exposed to the Wuhan virus. When he finally makes the call, he has had a massive heart attack and does not survive.

A late-middle-age woman with chronic lung disease begins to experience shortness of breath from one of her many asthma attacks. She is terrified of going to the hospital. This time, the attack worsens and she dies before help can arrive.

A young man struggling with depression has sheltered-in-place for weeks. He grows more despondent by the day as he sees no end to this isolation. He has been laid off and is unsure if there will be a job for him when this is over. His meager savings are nearly exhausted. He takes the only path he sees and kills himself.

These people are real. A couple I know personally. The others are composites that reflect what is going on all over the U.S., in every community. We don’t hear about them in the news. Why? Because they all have one thing in common: None had the Wuhan virus. If you do not have the illness de jour, you don’t count. Never mind that there are thousands like you out there. Your numbers don’t matter. What matters is doing anything and everything, no matter how unjustified, inhumane, medically indefensible, or economically devastating, to prevent the loss of single life to the Wuhan virus. As New York governor Andrew Cuomo said so clearly, “No measure, no matter how drastic or Draconian should be deemed unjustified if it saves even a single life.” The statement is so absurd, that it is hard to argue against it. It is like trying to discuss Shakespeare to someone who is illiterate.  

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Since when did mere survival become the measure of all things? How is it that we have reached a level of fear of a virus that most people shrug off, where we are willing to suspend our freedoms, throw out perhaps the most valuable thing we own as citizens- our Constitution, destroy businesses we have worked a lifetime to make successful, and ignore one of the most basic of all needs of people: connection, e.g. face-to-face social interaction (I mean real interaction, not online, via cell phone, or on social media) and physical contact?

As a doctor, I know the power of human touch or a familiar, encouraging voice. In some cases, it can do more to heal than all the surgery and medicines ever devised. We know people die from lack of touch, connection, affirmation, and love. To deny families access to their loved ones, especially in circumstances of impending death or potentially life-threatening illnesses other than the Wuhan virus is beyond heartless and inhumane. It is shameful and inexcusable.

The hospitals that employ such Draconian policies have a steady stream of personnel traipsing in and out of the hospital on a daily basis. Are ridiculous screening methods such as taking everyone’s temperature supposed to provide some unknown measure of assurance or are they simply a way of demonstrating how careful and correct they are? Testing for the Wuhan virus has been a sad failure with countless test results delayed beyond the arbitrary 2 week period of validity (has someone told the virus it should not infect someone during that window of presumed safety?) or lost altogether.

Don’t tell me family members cannot be sufficiently shielded in order to protect them from their loved ones and vice versa, as well as others in the hospital, while visiting. This is inexcusable laziness. I know family members that would gladly wear a hazmat suit if it would give them access to hold their family member’s hand, touch them, or simply have a real conversation that is not modulated by microphones and speakers. A hospital chaplain once told me that there is a very real ministry of presence, just being there physically, no words needed.

Death is inevitable. To ignore this is foolish because knowing this, we should live our lives as if every day counts for more than just marking time on this earth. Knowing death is possible, not just in some nebulous time in the future, but this very day, makes life all the sweeter and more meaningful. There are things we should fear much more than death. One of those is dying alone. Shame on us for forgetting this. Shame on those who deny families access to their sick or dying loved ones for the sake of saving a single, hypothetical life.

*I use the name Wuhan virus in place of Covid-19 intentionally because we must never forget where this virus came from, the intentional failure of the Chinese communist government to stop the virus at its source, and its web of lies to hide its perfidy. The tens of thousands of dead stand in mute testimony to this genocidal behavior.

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