Why “You Do You” Doesn’t Work During The COVID-19 Pandemic

My favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla.  My wife prefers caramel swirl.  Although I feel that caramel swirl is inferior to vanilla, I accept her preference, and I find no reason to quarrel with her about her choice.  I can like my flavor, and she can like hers.

There are other areas in my life where I am more passionate about my feelings.  Some have views that are different from mine.  Yet, I accept this as I believe that the best practice is live and let live.

I can stretch this thought further into areas where I may feel that someone else’s belief is downright outrageous.  Perhaps they believe that some over-the-counter supplement will cure their medical illness, or they are convinced that we never landed on the moon.  Maybe they think that the newspaper horoscope offers direct guidance for their life. “You do you and me do me,” I think. I’ll accept you for who you are. Others don’t need to lockstep behind me.  I may not agree with what they believe in, but they have the right to believe it.  That is a good thing, right? In many cases, the answer is yes.  

Differences come in many forms that go well beyond opinions.  Different races, genders, religions, sexual orientations, socioeconomic classes, education levels, and so on.  When we accept our differences, we can also recognize our similarities. In most instances, we are more alike than we are different. 

“It’s your thing, do what you want to do!” isn’t just the tagline from an Isley Brother’s song, it is an anthem of acceptance of others.  But can this concept foster the opposite effect? Unfortunately, I believe that the answer is yes.

We have laws that are designed to establish acceptable norms. Rules are necessary to allow our society to function. It is against the law to discriminate based on many determinators such as race or religion.  It is against the law to willfully kill another person. It is against the law to exploit children, and the list goes on. 

It is possible to draw some conclusions using the above examples.  When differences in actions or opinions are relatively inconsequential, the best practice is acceptance.  When activities or ideas break established norms, the best practice is a correction. These points are almost universally accepted, but there is a grey zone where it becomes more challenging to determine or categorize harmless differences vs. dangerous ideologies. 

In my last post, I attempted to answer common questions concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. I based my responses on established information obtained from primary sources, reliable publications, and governmental information streams.  I felt good about my attempt to provide this information. I made a concerted effort to write the piece at a level understandable to non-medical readers. Beyond posting on my blog site, I also linked the article in several other forums, including a local Naperville Facebook page.  The post got mostly positive responses, but I was surprised at the adverse reactions that I received. One person felt that I wasn’t qualified to write the article because I was a psychiatrist.  She didn’t realize that psychiatrists are trained as medical doctors. Another person simply said, “So many untruths” without further explanation.  Still, others responded to my informational post by registering an angry icon.  The negative comments were reinforced by some readers who signified their agreement with the commentator with “thumbs-up” clicks.

The next day I scanned a different post in the same forum that noted that a person’s loved one was being called back to work as a bartender.  The writer was seeking opinions if others thought that he would be safe.  One responded (edited):

“All you people are sheep. I’ve worked everyday through quarantine. I’ve been in peoples homes. I’ve hosted parties and I’d say I’ve shooken a minimum of 3 new peoples hand daily. …You guys need to realize the person funding this vaccine same person. Funding  micro chip same person owns Amazon. Social distance is an ordinance for the fact that when everyone can take these masks off they will still have to be distant for no other reason but satellite imagery and recognition…”

In another post, a person asked if anyone knew when Illinois was going to cancel shelter-in-place.  She received this reply from someone upset with Illinois’ stay-at-home restriction:

“Looking at non shithole states to move to.” 

Newspapers report that some protestors believe that the country’s head of infectious diseases, Anthony Fauci,  is lying to us about the coronavirus and that he is trying to profit from this pandemic. 

Protesters are carrying rifles when marching on state capitals. Photos of unmasked protestors co-mingled with unmasked children and infants splash across the news media. They claim that they are defending their civil rights. 

Fringe religious fundamentalists say that this pandemic has been predicted in Revelations and that the cure (a vaccine) is a ploy to inject microchips into the greater population as the “Mark of the Beast.” 

Despite 100,000 deaths in the US, some people believe that COVID-19 is a made-up hoax.

Some business owners have opened their shops in direct opposition to state laws saying that they are exercising their civil rights.

The federal government tells us to socially distance and wear a mask, while at the same time encouraging protest groups and demonstrating a lack of concern with social-distancing.

Despite dire warnings of a second wave of infection, people crowded beaches, parks, and pools over the Memorial Day weekend. When asked why they parrot, “I have to live.  Depression and anxiety are dangerous too.” 

Despite countless authoritative sources that have documented the infectiousness and lethality of this novel coronavirus individuals justify their irresponsible actions by noting that it is no worse than the flu. 

People minimize the impact of this illness by claiming that it only kills the elderly. And they imply that this population is expendable. 

As a physician, scientist, and psychiatrist, I have been trying to make sense of these illogical and dangerous thoughts and actions.  I accept that there will always be individuals who have alternative beliefs and that some of those beliefs will be “out there.” However, it appears that these reckless behaviors have gained a foothold in portions of mainstream society.  Why are individuals reacting so strongly during this time of crisis? A time when there is clear evidence that their actions are dangerous not only to themselves but to the greater population?  We value individual rights and accept differing opinions in this country, but when is the “Me do me,” philosophy exploited to the detriment of the greater good?  And how do we, as rational human beings, justify these dangerous actions?

I think there are many reasons why individuals are ignoring clear facts and placing both themselves and the greater population in danger.  Here are some of my thoughts: 

The rejection of science and medicine

The mistrust of science and scientists is a long-standing tradition for some, as is the incorrect assumption that science and religion oppose each other.  We have all read stories of “mad scientists” whose evil ambitions cause pain and destruction. We have also had real-life examples of how science has damaged our world with nuclear waste and chemical dumping.  Many individuals would disagree with the old DuPont tagline, “Better living through chemistry.” 

There are many examples where errors in scientific judgment have had significant consequences.  However, there are many more examples where the knowledge and implementation of science have dramatically improved our quality of life.  If you lack an understanding of the fundamentals of science, it is easy to demonize this area of knowledge and dismiss any conclusions that scientific examination affords.  Also, some people feel that science and religion are oppositional forces.  There could be many reasons for this belief that range from the false impression that all scientists are atheists to the interpretation of sacred works.

Physicians used to be revered in communities.   As a practicing doctor for over 30 years, I have witnessed a decline. This is partially due to the changing roles of doctors.  As medicine has become more complicated, the need for multiple physician experts (specialists)  has weakened the doctor/patient relationship.  Also, most doctors in the US earn their living via a production model.  The faster they work, the more they make. Working as quickly as possible is counter to establishing a meaningful relationship with patients.  

The internet has provided an explosion of both good and bad medical information.  Patients can come to an appointment with a preconceived idea of their problem and a treatment expectation.  I can recall patients who misinterpreted information from medical websites. Because of this, they would refuse to accept my medical advice.  Dr. Google can seem a lot more credible than the doctor sitting across from you.  

Science vs. religion

As a practicing Christian, I believe that God gave us our minds and free will to explore the world. I think that religion and science coexist quite nicely.  

I was at a function where I talked to someone I would regard as educated and intelligent.  I was shocked when this person told me that they rejected that humans were contributing to climate change. There was a religious connection to her belief, and honestly, her comments took me aback.  Later that day, I asked my wife how it was possible to reject something accepted by the world community, and has been demonstrated time and time again in real-life examples. My wife was raised in the same religious tradition as this person, and so I thought she might have more insight.  She noted that some fundamentalist religions view science as the enemy because its conclusions can be contrary to the literal translation of the Bible.

When the Bible says that the world was created in 7 days, I interpret it using a week to symbolize that it didn’t happen instantly.  That is compatible with what we know scientifically.  Others believe that the world was created in 7 actual days. I’m not trying to get into a me vs. you argument. Still, I can see how this different interpretation could lead to the belief that science is anti-Bible.  That is not the case.

Conspiracy theorist.

There is a world out there where everything has a sinister and secret meaning.  It is a world run by influential people who sometimes practice magical rituals.  It is the world of conspiracy. Conspiracy theories abound and seem to explain just about any event or problem.  911?  There are conspiracy theories to explain it.  Sandy Hook?  There are conspiracy theories to explain it.  Pandemic?  There are conspiracy theories to explain it.  

Most conspiracy theories have some basis in facts.  However, those facts are misinterpreted or manipulated to make the argument more plausible.  They offer the believer the inside scoop and explain to them the whys of the world.

Promoters of conspiracy theories can gain a cult-like following. With it, they can achieve a certain amount of power.  Some will also use their influence to sell things that range from herbal supplements to magical toothpaste.

I find it interesting that there are quite a few real arrangements that are both secret and unsavory.  They are often more interesting than fictional conspiracy theories. Deals do get made behind the scenes; the privacy of individuals is compromised without their permission. Plots happen in real life.  For some reason, these actual events don’t seem as appealing as alien-human hybrids, or Masonic conspiracies to overtake the world. This is likely because the uncovering of real plots requires quite a bit of time and research.  Also, there may be little payoff.  A conspiracy theory only needs a seed of truth. Still, that seed can be grown into anything that the theorist wishes. Random information can be added; non-confirming information can be subtracted.  

Beyond hucksters, governments also use this technique.  I just watched a news clip that described how Russian and Chinese Arabic outlets are promoting the idea that a  US lab created this novel coronavirus.  Conversely, we have implied that this coronavirus was either created or released from a Chinese lab.  Why would governments get involved with conspiracy theories?  To manipulate a naive group, and to serve as a method of distraction.

The Mark of the Beast

As long as I have been listening to late-night radio, I remember stories of hidden organizations that had plots to label humans with the “Mark of the Beast.” Over time the “Mark” has changed from social security numbers to credit cards to UPCs and more recently “chip” tagging devices like you use to ID your dog and cat.

I’m a practicing Christian, but I’m not a Bible scholar.  However, I did do some research.  Most well regarded Bible scholars say that the “Mark of the Beast” from Revelations doesn’t refer to a mark that someone places on you. Rather it symbolizes a person embracing the Devil. Could this involve an actual mark?  That is unclear, but not relevant to my point. The Mark of the Beast is about a person’s conversion rather than someone being branded.  

Some anti-vaccers and other fringe groups say that the world is developing a coronavirus vaccine because the entire population will be secretly injected with a microchip… serving as the “Mark of the Beast.” Here we see a blending of conspiracy, religion, and manipulation.

When opinions are as important as facts

There has been an increasing tendency to accept opinions as facts, mainly when an influencer of power expresses the idea.  Do you watch YouTube?  Have you ever seen a popular host talk ecstatically about a boring product?  In many cases, that person is being paid to gush by the advertiser of that product.  Yes, it is a commercial, except it is being sold as an honest opinion.

“1 + 1 = 2,” that is a fact. “Chocolate cake is the best cake,” that is an opinion.  An opinion can sometimes become a fact with research and fact-finding.  However, in most cases, this is neither done; nore is it desired. Vetting an opinion runs the risk of disproving it.

As humans, we like to have opinions as they give us a sense of mastery and knowledge.  As in most of these examples, opinions can be used to manipulate others.  Remember, facts can be verified by multiple credible sources.  If this can’t be done, it is an opinion.

When powerful agencies or people lie to us

There are many examples where influential individuals or groups used their influence to manipulate us.  A classic example is the case of the tobacco executives who testified under oath to Congress that smoking was not hazardous to your health… when they knew otherwise.  People in power are caught in lies and break their promises.  Add to this reality, their seemingly enchanted lifestyles of privilege, and it is easy for the mainstream to reject the establishment.

The “N” word

No, not THAT word.  The “N” that I’m referring to is an “n,” and it stands for a number.  We love testimonials, and they sometimes can be useful in our decision making.  A friend tells us about a good and honest mechanic… score!  However, these benefits don’t apply in all situations.  

As an example, a person receives an experiment drug and survives a COVID-19 infection.  It must have been that drug that they took, right?  Wrong, that is why we have research protocols.  Early on in the pandemic, I recall reading about a person who was convinced that hydroxychloroquine saved their life.  Was this a fact or just a coincidence?  A larger sample pool has suggested coincidence.  Researchers have the tools and techniques needed to explore the benefits of a treatment, and even they sometimes get it wrong. Correlation does not imply causation.  “One swallow doesn’t make a summer.”

Smart people should not be trusted

There seems to be a general distrust of smart or highly educated individuals.  I have heard people refer to them in negative ways, “They live in an ivory tower,” They think that their sh** doesn’t stink,” etc.  Presidential pundits talk about the importance of likability when it comes to choosing a viable presidential candidate.  It has been said that citizens vote for someone based on how relatable they are. In other words, someone they would enjoy having lunch with. I’m not sure why there is a bias against smart people, but I am confident that their opinions shouldn’t be discounted.

Individual rights, the battle cry 

We are a country of individuals.  We pride ourselves on our rights and our freedom of choice. However, we live in a diverse society. What happens when individual rights negatively impact human rights?  What if your freedom to express yourself has a direct negative impact on my rights?  What if your desire for self-determination harms your dependents?  

Real news as opposed to drama TV

I have to confess that I don’t watch a lot of TV news, as I get most of my information in other ways.  However, I have deliberately watched shows from all of the major networks as well as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox.  Most networks try to present real facts during an actual news show (although those facts can be skewed depending on the network’s bias).  However, the “fun” begins when the commentators take over.  They have their agenda, which seems to consist of promoting a specific ideology (often right or left).  Their shows appear to carry even more weight than the network’s actual newscasts.  It is easy to confuse their editorial interpretations as trustworthy, unbiased facts. “This group is always good; the other group is always bad.” If you see this pattern when listening to a commentator, consider turning off the TV.

Everyone’s an expert

My friend Tom has worked in the construction industry for over 25 years.  As a general contractor, he is one of the most knowledgeable experts that I know when it comes to home repair and remodeling.  I often go with him to initial appointments (I’m retired, you know). It amazes me how often potential customers try to show their “superior” knowledge when it comes to a construction job.  By association, I have picked up some facts about construction. Even with my limited experience, I can tell you that many of these consumers have no idea what they are talking about.  However, in the age of the internet, it is possible to glean information on just about any topic. With that little bit of information, it appears to be easy to assume that you know more than someone who has dedicated their life to learning a skill set.  

I have seen this same phenomenon with some patients.  I recall a lady who I had seen for some time.  She was doing well on her current medication and had made excellent progress overall. One day she came into a session angry at me.  She demanded to know why she wasn’t on a particular medicine.  She said she had done research on that medicine, and it seemed perfect for her.  I reminded her that she was doing well, but she was not satisfied with my comment.  I let her rant for a few minutes and then reached for her chart.  I located what I was looking for and said to her, “Do you remember that medicine that you tried about six months ago?”  “Yes, it was terrible.  It had so many side effects.  Why in the world did you put me on that terrible medicine,” she said. “I put you on that medicine because we were trying to improve your mood, but it wasn’t the right medicine.  People react to medicines differently, which is why an expert prescribes them.  That medicine is the one that you want me to put you on today.”  “Oh,” was her only reply.  She had seen a glossy commercial about the medicine on TV and felt that she had expert knowledge of psychopharmacology based on 60 seconds of information.

Do as I say, not as I do

If you are a person of few resources, you can expect to receive the maximum punishment if you break the law.  However, it seems that the rules are different if you are a person with power or money. Worse yet is when influential people criticize others for the very things that they are doing themselves.  This leads to an us vs. them separation, and the hypocrisy breeds mistrust.

Overdosing on outrage porn

It is exciting to be excited.  It is even more appealing to be excited around others who are excited.  A typical example of this is watching a sporting event with friends.  However, there is another side to this phenomenon. It can be exhilarating to be outraged about something, and this is more exciting when done with others.  Of course, there are times when we should be outraged as our anger causes us to elicit change.  However, outrage porn is also a technique that many partisan news outlets use.  They beat their version of a story over and over until the viewer is hopping mad.  It is exciting, but (in my opinion) it rarely results in a change.  Why do they do it?  The longer you watch, the more money they make.   

The art of the scapegoat

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world where you were always right and never wrong?  For most of us, this is a fantasy, but for some, it is a reality.  What is the secret?  Blame someone or some group. “I didn’t do a poor job; I did a great job… someone else did a terrible job… It’s their fault,” and so it goes.  If someone says that they are always doing a good job and that someone else is always to blame, they are either lying or delusional (or both). 

One note philosophies

We live in a time of sound bites and bullet points.  We identify with celebrities and leaders based on minimal information, such as their stance on universal healthcare,  immigration rights, or abortion positions.  Once strongly allied by a single doctrine, it becomes easy to accept or ignore other attributes of that individual that might usually offend our sensibilities.  To make those abhorrent ideas acceptable, we rationalize them or adopt them.  In this way, it becomes possible to accept or ignore behaviors and ideologies that we would normally reject.

Dehumanization

The more a person is different from us, the easier it is for us to distance ourselves from their needs or plights.  Propaganda effectively makes enemies appear different.  Think of posters of Japanese from WWII; they were drawn to appear subhuman.  Likewise, Japanese propaganda of Americans made us look like monsters.  This effect can occur subtly and, more recently, has been used to marginalize Hispanics, Muslims, and the elderly.  Once dehumanized, it is easy to ignore a group’s plight. “Isn’t it OK for a few elderly people to die if that makes America great again?” This sounds a lot better than, “Isn’t it OK for my grandmother to die if that makes America great again?” 

Snake oil and pseudo-experts

We all have to make a living, but some individuals do this at others’ expense.  Usually, vulnerabilities are exploited.  Hair tonics for the balding, weight loss “miracles” for the fat, get rich quick programs for the financially unstable… the list goes on. Fear can be a powerful motivator during a crisis.  At times it is used to hawk benign products, like dehydrated shelf-stable foods.  However, at other times it exploits the vulnerable by promising them magical protection from the offending agent (like a coronavirus).  These types of exploitations can not only be financially draining, but they can also be life-threatening. Moreover, these salespeople will often use the tactic of “You can only trust me.” This places the customer in further danger as they are isolated and no longer accept more objective advice.

Partisanship

Partisanship is defined as blind adherence to a particular cause or party.  Partisanship has exploded over the last decade and has slowed the government to a near halt. The enemies are clearly defined. They consist of anyone who opposes the leaders of that party or any group that threatens the power of the party.  Both Democrats and Republicans practice extreme partisanship, and this attitude has had a detrimental impact on battling COVID-19.


The purpose of this post was to ask the question, “Are there times when individual rights need to be adjusted so that others’ rights are also respected?  I am a firm believer in individual rights, but they cannot exclude the rights of others.  However, there seems to be a societal trend to champion individual rights above all else.  This pattern of behavior has many roots, some of which I listed above.  

The unbridled expression of individual rights can only exist in a situation where there is no impact on others’ rights.  However, in societies, individuals’ rights have to be balanced by the rights of the group.  Actions that promote the rights of an individual at the expense of the group’s rights will invariably negate both.  

To state this more eloquently, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 

We are always stronger when we work together.  When we adopt patterns of behavior that are contrary to this, we can initially feel more powerful.  However, in the long run, we become weaker and more vulnerable.

Explore some of the constructs that I have listed above and see how they apply to your beliefs or actions.  As always, Peace.

Honest Answers Concerning the COVID-19 Pandemic.

As far as I’m aware the following post provides accurate information as of 5/19/20. I have heard so much bad, inaccurate, and dangerous false information on this topic that I felt it necessary to address this topic. If you read all of the questions you will have a good and reasonable understanding of this pandemic as of this date… Dr. Mike.

What is a virus?

A virus is a microscopic parasite that consists of an outer protein coat that houses genetic material. Think of genetic material as a set of instructions. Some viruses also have a lipid (fatty) outer coating. For instance, the coronavirus has a lipid outer coating. A virus is very different from living organisms as it does not have the internal machinery to build those things necessary for life and to create useable energy molecules that are needed to live. Also, a virus cannot reproduce/replicate on its own. 

A virus is simple in its structure. Many viruses have projections on their outer surface that allow them to connect to the host’s cells. Once connected, the virus injects its genetic material into the host cell and tricks the host cell into making more viruses. It hijacks the cell to do its bidding. Once the host cell fills up with newly manufactured virus, it bursts (and dies), releasing many new copies of the virus. These copies infect other cells, and the process repeats.

Is a virus a living organism?

Many scientists would say that all living things have specific characteristics in common:

  1. All living things are made up of cells.
  2. All living things have the machinery needed to metabolize. In other words, they can make things that they need, like proteins. They can also create energy molecules needed to power their internal machinery.  
  3. All living things can reproduce/replicate themselves.

Viruses do not have any of these characteristics, so most scientists would say that they are not living. However, some may argue that they are living, but very different from all other forms of life on this planet.  

Are bacteria and viruses the same thing?

No. A bacteria is a single-cell organism that has the internal machinery to metabolize and reproduce. Bacteria are considered living. Also, bacteria are usually much larger than viruses. 

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a crown of spikes on them. Corona means crown. These spikes allow the virus to connect with the host cells and infect them. There are many different types of coronaviruses, and some have infected humans for millennia. The most common human coronaviruses cause mild upper respiratory symptoms (they are one of several virus groups that can give you a common cold).

Different types of coronaviruses infect different organisms. Most are species-specific. In other words, a virus that can infect your dog won’t infect you. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes a specific virus can mutate, which allows it to infect other species. When this happens, it can be dire to the new organism as it may not recognize the virus, which allows it to spread further and cause more damage. This is the case with the coronavirus that is currently causing global problems. It has never infected humans before, so its impact is severe.  

What is immunity?

When we are exposed to a dangerous agent like a virus, our bodies launch a defense against that agent. If we survive the infection, our bodies can remember the virus. If we are reinfected again with the same virus strain, we quickly recognize the agent and launch a counter-attack to neutralize it. This ability to neutralize a formally dangerous agent is called immunity.

How do vaccines work?

In most cases, a vaccine contains unique parts of the virus, but not those parts that can cause disease. When injected with a vaccine, our bodies recognize those parts as foreign and launch an attack to eliminate the invader. Once exposed, our body remembers these parts as dangerous—exposure to the real virus at a later date now results in the rapid elimination of the virus.

Do vaccines cause autism?

NO, NO, NO… this has been researched many times. Don’t believe bull**t.

Can vaccines cause illness or death?

Vaccines are generally very safe. A tiny percentage of people receiving a vaccine may experience an adverse reaction, and some of these reactions could be serious. Overall, vaccines have saved millions of lives and have reduced or eliminated many terrible diseases.

What is herd immunity? 

Everyone in the group has resistance to a virus. This is often done by immunization. When done effectively, herd immunity can eliminate a virus. A virus needs a host to reproduce. If there are no hosts, it will disappear.

What is the official name for this coronavirus?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 

(SARS-CoV-2)

What is COVID-19

This is the name for the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2.

How do you catch this virus?

This is a respiratory virus. A sick person will shed the virus in respiratory droplets when they cough, sneeze, sing, or even talk. The particles infect the next person by entering that person’s body through their eyes, nose, or mouth (not the skin). If you have a high concentration of the virus on your hands, you can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose, or mouth by touching your face. This is why handwashing is important.  

Does wearing a mask protect me?

It’s complicated. Special masks (N95) can filter the air that you breathe and prevent the virus from entering your nose or mouth. However, these are in short supply and are reserved for people who are working on the “front-line,” like doctors and nurses.

Other types of masks have only a limited ability to block the virus from entering. However, they do reduce the travel distance of an aerosol (spray) when someone coughs. Less spray means a safer environment for those around you. If I wear a mask, I protect you, and if you wear a mask, you protect me. If we are all wearing masks, we are protecting each other.

What is an ACE2 receptor?

This is a particular part of the surface of a human cell that is involved with blood pressure regulation. This receptor is found in abundance on lung cells, but it is also present in many other parts of the body. The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 binds to this receptor, which is the first step to cause an infection.

What is zoonoses?

This is when a disease in an animal infects a human.

Where did this virus come from?

All scientific indications point to a bat as the original host for this coronavirus. It is likely that the virus mutated and then infected another type of animal and that a human caught the virus from this secondary host.

There is NO evidence that this virus was created or modified in a lab.  

Do all pandemic viruses come from China?

Not at all. For instance, the Spanish Flu of 1918 likely originated in the US, and the MERS pandemic of 2012 started in the Middle East. 

Are coronaviruses common?

This is a large class of viruses. Most of this class of virus doesn’t infect humans, but several do cause the common cold. However, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is new to humans, making it much more dangerous.

Why are health officials concerned about this novel coronavirus?

No humans had ever been exposed to this virus before 2019. This allowed the virus to run rampant and allowed it to cause life-threatening problems in those who were infected. This virus also seems to be very infectious. There are people who can contract the virus who are symptom-free, but they can still spread the virus to others. 

What does the term pandemic mean?

A widely spread epidemic. In this case, worldwide.

Is COVID-19 just another flu?

NO! Strains of the influenza virus cause flu or Influenza. COVID-19 has respiratory symptoms that are similar to the flu, but a coronavirus causes it. It is more dangerous and appears to be more infectious than the flu. However, the flu is also pretty dangerous in its own right. Remember that the “stomach flu” is just a generic slang term for GI distress and has nothing to do with respiratory flu. 

Why is COVID-19 more dangerous than the flu?

For many reasons, it is likely more infectious, more lethal, and impacts more organ systems than the flu. The respiratory flu is a severe illness, but COVID-19 is worse.

Was the Spanish flu of 1918 caused by a coronavirus?

No, it was caused by a mutated influenza virus that initially came from birds.

Is this the first time that humans have been infected with a novel coronavirus?

No, the SARS outbreak happened in 2003, and the MERS outbreak happened in 2012. Different members of the coronavirus family caused these. MERS killed about 40% of those infected, but it was harder to spread than the virus that causes COVID-19. As of the time that I’m writing this post, over 3 million people have been infected, and over 300,000 have died. The highest number of deaths have occurred in the US, with (at the time of this writing) over 90,000 deaths.

Do viruses mutate, and how does that change them?

All viruses mutate. Many mutations result in an inactive virus. However, some mutations can make a virus more infectious or deadly. 

What are the symptoms that COVID-19 cause?

The classic symptoms of this virus are fever, shortness of breath, and dry cough. However, many other symptoms can occur, including mental fogginess, pink eye, sore throat, loss of smell, blood clots, strokes, heart attack, skin conditions, GI distress, and more. 

Some of these symptoms happen directly due to the virus, others due to overactivation of our body’s defense systems, and others due to unknown reasons.

What is a cytokine storm?

This term is used when the body launches such an aggressive attack against a virus that it also starts to destroy parts of itself. Think of this as “friendly fire.”

Is it dangerous to take ibuprofen (Motrin) if I’m ill with COVID-19?

There is NO credible evidence that taking ibuprofen will worsen a COVID-19 infection.

What increases my chance of getting sick with this virus?

The only way to catch COVID-19 is to be exposed to the virus. The higher the concentration of the virus and the longer the length of exposure to the virus, the higher the chance of infection. If a sick person coughs in your face, that is a load of virus! If you spend time in a confined space with a moderate concentration of virus (church service, crowded bar, airplane), that’s a lot of exposure. Either scenario increases your chances of getting the illness. 

The virus has been found on everything, from cardboard boxes to the soles of shoes. However, these are unlikely to cause an infection due to the above reasons. 

However, if someone with an active infection coughed on a hard surface (like a keypad) and you touched that device shortly after that, you could transfer the virus from your hands to your face and infect yourself. Bottom line, wash your hands!

What is the kill rate?

Deaths divided by the rate of infection. 

Other viruses have higher kill rates, so why are we so worried about this virus?

Because this virus is so infectious. The more individuals infected, the higher the actual death rate!

Many people die from the flu, so why are we so worried about this virus?

Is this a serious argument? Really? We already have 90,000 deaths in the US, and the number will probably approach 120,000 by summers end. These are not just numbers; these are human beings. Are you willing to sacrifice your mother, or father, or favorite teacher, or great co-worker, or best friend unnecessarily? 

Do I have to have symptoms to spread this virus?

NO, this fact makes this virus very dangerous for obvious reasons.

Did China withhold information about this coronavirus, and why?

It appears that they did. I don’t know why, but it was likely for economic reasons, and also to stockpile equipment (like PPE and respirators) needed to treat the illness. 

Did China’s delay in telling the world about this coronavirus worsen the epidemic?

Yes.

Why is the outbreak so much worse in the United States than in other countries?

I am despondent to say this, but the US response to this pandemic has been shameful. We had all sorts of data from past pandemics. We also had data from this current pandemic. Yet much of this information was ignored. We never had a cohesive strategy and never used the full power of the federal government to direct us. Experts were ignored, rumors were deemed as important as facts. The list goes on. History will look at this time very unfavorably. It is so sad to me.

Can I get this virus from touching packages or the mail?

This is very unlikely, and there have been no reported cases of transmission by these routes.

Can I get this virus from having sex?

There have been reports of infected men expressing virus in their semen. Is this a problem? The answer is unknown, but it is MUCH more likely that you will catch the virus from an infected person by all of the other things related to having sex—proximity, deep kissing, etc. 

What are the best practices to avoid becoming infected with the virus?

  1. Stay away from sick people and from places where you can have long exposures to lower concentrations of viruses (large assemblies, bars, planes, etc) when at all possible.
  2. Socially distance. The virus only travels a few feet when someone coughs before it falls to the ground.
  3. Wash your hands thoroughly. Soap inactivates the virus.
  4. When you can’t wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer at the right concentration (many DIY sanitizers on YouTube won’t work).
  5. Wear a mask when you can’t socially distance (for instance, when grocery shopping).
  6. Limit trips to places like the grocery store. Shop deliberately and quickly.
  7. Use on-line services if possible.

Should I wear gloves?

I have seen so many people misuse gloves that it is hard to recommend using them. If you know how to use them, gloves can help protect you in some situations. However, misusing them could potentially increase your chances of infection.

What kind of soap should I use to wash my hands?

Any type of soap will work well. Just wash for at least 20 seconds and try to rub all parts of your hands as this increases the chance of breaking down the virus.

What kind of hand sanitizer should I use?

The hand sanitizer must have (by volume) 70% isopropyl alcohol or 60% ethyl alcohol. Commercial sanitizers that are alcohol-free won’t kill this virus. DIY sanitizers that don’t have this concentration of alcohol (by volume) won’t be effective. Rub your hands for 20 seconds to help destroy the virus.

I hear that the virus can survive on surfaces for a long time, should I worry about this?

In most cases, this is not an issue. However, it can be a problem if the viral concentration is high and the “seeding” is recent. An example would be an infected person coughing on a touch screen that you touch and then rub your eyes. In this case, you would be infecting yourself with a high concentration of fresh virus. Always us sanitizer when you get to your car, and then wash your hands when you get home.

People are telling me to take certain supplements or remedies, should I do this?

People are making money off of this tragedy. No remedy or supplement is helpful.  

Is it important to eat well, get enough sleep, and try to do those things that generally keep us healthy?

Yes, a healthy lifestyle, along with good practices, can increase your chances of staying well.

Why did states need so many ventilators? Was this a scam?

No, there was no scam. Many of the early deaths from COVID-19 were due to respiratory failure. In these cases, a respirator would be the only option. However, we are now learning that some individuals with low oxygen in their blood do well with more conservative treatments, like CPAP or O2.

Why did states want us to shelter-in-place?

This is a tried and true (Think Spanish Flu of 1918) way of reducing the rate of infection. If everyone got sick at once, the health care system would become overwhelmed, and more people would die due to reduced access.

Why are we supposed to stay 6 feet away from others when we are out and about?

The virus spreads by respiratory droplets, which typically don’t travel farther than this. When out in public, keep your distance. The 6-foot rule doesn’t work when you are in a confined space, like a church. There have been reports of many people who were more than 6 feet away from an infected person getting sick and dying in such situations. Although they were exposed to a lower concentration of virus (likely expelled in smaller droplets when the parishioner sang), they were exposed for a longer time.

Do I need to sanitize everything?

Use common sense. Clean things as you usually would, wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer when you are out and about. Higher precautions are needed when people work in highly contaminated areas (for instance, a doctor working with COVID-19 patients in the hospital). 

What should I do when I go to a grocery store?

Wear a mask, keep as socially distant as reasonable, shop quickly and deliberately, wash/sanitize your hands as soon as possible when you leave the store. Consider using on-line services, “senior store hours,” or other ways to keep those most at risk safe.

Is it safe to go to church, bars, concerts, or other enclosed experiences?

I answered this above. At this time, I would avoid these places. Remember, it is not all about you. You may get sick and recover, but are you willing to kill your spouse, child, or friend as an expression of your independence?

Does the time that I’m in a risky place matter?

Yes. More time equals more exposure.

What is more important, the virus or the economy?

This is not an either/or choice. Both have to be addressed concomitantly. 

I don’t like the government telling me what to do; they are not the boss of me!

Really? If you can’t move to a deserted island, suck it up and grow up. It not just about you and your wants. This virus is a big deal. I could go on, but I would just get progressively more pissed off.  

I’m young; I don’t care if I get COVID-19 because it won’t kill me.

First, it could kill you. Second, it could kill someone you love. Third, it could kill someone who could help you in the future (like a doctor). We live in societies for a reason.

If I’m older and get COVID-19, will I wind up on a ventilator?

Older people are more at risk for respiratory failure, but we are now learning that some of these patients can do well with less invasive treatments, like CPAP.  

What is happy hypoxia?

Some patients with oxygen levels so low that would typically be in a coma have been alert and appear almost normal. The reasons for this are unclear. However, it may mean that some individuals who would usually be placed on a ventilator may do well with more conservative treatment.

Are there treatments for COVID-19?

At this time, the only known treatment is supportive care. However, new treatments are being explored, and some appear promising. This history of medicine is full of examples of things that were thought to help particular problems. However, when put to rigorous study, they either didn’t help or caused more harm. PLEASE, let health care professionals do what they have been trained to do. A video on YouTube or an endorsement from a celebrity means little and could potentially harm you.

Can I catch this coronavirus a second time?

Despite some reports, this seems unlikely. Successful exposure to a virus typically leads to immunity that can last for years or longer.  

Will there be a vaccine for this coronavirus soon?

In the past, it would take many years to create a vaccine. New biochemical methods have reduced this development time. Remember that a vaccine has to be developed, tested to see if it works, tested to see if it is tolerated, and then it has to be made in high quantity. A vaccine in 12-18 months could happen if all goes well. 

Why are some countries that seemed to stop the virus now seeing a re-emergence of the virus?

This is expected as countries start to open up. The goal of social isolation is to reduce the rate of infection, so there is available medical care and to give time for vaccine development. However, foolish openings will result in unnecessary deaths. We need to look towards those countries that have had the most success and follow their lead. 

Are containing the virus and reopening the economy two separate things?

Both have to be considered. They are interconnected in every way.

Isn’t it worth having a few old people die to save the American economy?

As we now know, COVID-19 affects every age. However, it does seem to be that older individuals are at higher risk. As an older person, I can say that I’m still relevant to the people who love me, and I’m contributing to the world at large. Stop using the term “people” instead substitute the name of a real person. “Isn’t it worth having my mother die to save the American economy?” That little substitution makes a big difference, doesn’t it?

Will this virus go away?

The virus will not go away. It may fade for a bit during the summer (or not, depending on how states reopen). It is likely to return during the flu season. This will be rough as hospitals will already be taxed at that time. However, treatments will be developed, and a vaccine will become available. Over time COVID-19 will become a preventable disease.

Will we ever have another pandemic?

Yes, with 100% certainly. It is critical to learn from our successes and failures in treating this pandemic. I can’t emphasize enough that we will need a strong and clear direction from our experts and leaders. Without this, we will have a repeat of our current disaster. 


Dear readers, we will get through this crisis. We need to be sensible, and we need to look at the entire situation. The economy does need to open up, but it needs to open reasonably and rationally. Individual rights are important, but so are the rights of those impacted by others. This is not our first pandemic rodeo The playbook is already available; we need to look at it.

Peace

Mike

A COVID-19 Mother’s Day

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, COVID style.  My daughter Anne was 8 when I re-married, so Julie started to celebrate Mother’s Day the very first year that we were husband and wife.  Initially, our celebrations varied, but after a few years, we were in an established routine. This was especially the case when we started to have our children 23 years ago.

A typical Mother’s Day would include some sort of breakfast in bed. At the same time, the kids would sing “Happy Mother’s Day To You,” using the familiar birthday melody.  Church followed, and then we headed off to my niece Karen’s house for a fabulous brunch. Karen would make everything from scratch and did not want guests to bring dishes. Instead, she wanted the moms to feel special and pampered.  Note that Karen has three kids of her own. 

After several hours of partying, we would head home.  Julie would request a special dinner, and we would make it for her that evening.  It was a pretty standard celebratory day, and it has become a family tradition.

COVID-19 has put a few obstacles in our Mother’s Day program this year, but our efforts were not deterred.  Our main obstacles included limitations in grocery availability, difficulty in getting gifts, and the cancellation of both in-person church and my niece’s brunch.  We have already navigated a COVID Easter. It seemed appropriate to follow a similar course for a COVID Mother’s Day.  The plan was to do what we could to maintain our traditions while adding new “fillers” to round out the experience.

The morning started with breakfast in bed.  My kids are now young adults and value their sleep, so I stepped in and prepared this simple meal.  I couldn’t get our usual yeast cinnamon rolls, but I did find some ready-to-bake ones that were pretty good. I cut up some fruit and made strong coffee.  I woke up the kids, who were happy to join in.  I sent one of them on a mission to find our “breakfast in bed” tray.  It was missing, and we decided to make do with a red cafeteria-style plastic tray. I tried to glam the tray up by using other red items on it.  The idea being, “Look, we did this on purpose.” As we have for decades, we marched up the stairs loudly singing, “Happy Mother’s Day To You.” As Julie has done for decades, she gasped with excitement and surprise. Score!

Breakfast in bed on a cafeteria tray.

Later that morning, our oldest daughter, Anne, phoned to wish “Step-Mom” a Happy Mother’s Day.  Julie was delighted to take her call, which was terminated early due to the needs of Anne’s small children.

Our church attendance has been a streaming event for the last two months, and we fired up a MacBook to Chromecast the Mother’s Day service to our family room TV. I passed out Ritz crackers for communion, but something was wrong with them. Although the package was new, it appeared that some of the crackers had peanut butter on them.  After the service, we solved the mystery by visiting the Nabisco website.  What appeared as peanut butter was just some remains from the baking process.  Whew… our crackers will survive another day.

Much of the afternoon was spend individually and peacefully; until it was time for dinner. At 5 PM, I sent out a group text and was happy to see three smiling faces.  Julie had found a recipe for a Mediterranean shrimp dish in the “Tribune,” but it called for odd (for us) ingredients.  Will and I had gone to “Fresh Thyme” on Saturday. We were able to find Fetta cheese and Kalamata olives without difficulty. Still, we were at a complete loss when it came to the elusive fennel bulbs. A helpful produce man pointed us in the right direction.  

The recipe writer waxed something like, “Easy weekday shrimp and fennel bake.” It was not so easy when you had never made it before.  I took the director’s role and set the kids on various tasks.  Grace sliced the fennel bulbs, Kathryn peeled potatoes, and Will had the job of shelling and deveining the shrimp. I’m a big believer in cleaning as you go when cooking, so I washed as the prep dishes piled up.

The cooking crew at work. Note the newspaper with the recipe on the right.
Grace cutting up fennel bulbs.
Kathryn peeling potatoes.
Will shelling shrimp.
I was slicing and dicing too.

The only asparagus that I could find was pre-wrapped and was slightly past its prime.  I  processed what I could into short spears.  I also tossed together a chopped salad loaded with sunflower seeds and pistachio nuts. Lastly, Grace placed “bake and go” baguettes into our toaster oven for a quick crisping.  While our concoction was baking, we set the table using some of our “better” dishes.  By better, I mean that they matched each other. We were ready.

Freshly “baked” bread from the toaster oven.

Although we couldn’t go gift shopping, I found a few things on Amazon, which I had (thankfully) ordered weeks before, as the pandemic has slowed down deliveries. I quickly wrapped them using some of our pre-COVID-19 wrapping paper stashes.

With dinner on the table, it was time to call down our honored guest.  We had all made the main course, but we had no idea what it was going to taste like.  Shrimp, fennel bulbs, oregano, olives… it was a mystery meal. Thankfully, it tasted pretty good, and Julie was happy with our efforts.

The shrimp dish out of the oven.
Our best job at setting a pleasant table.

Julie often requests an ice cream cake for her special days, and I have traditionally ordered them from our local Dairy Queen.  However, I found one at the grocer and grabbed it as a quick substitute.  I did my best to decorate the small, quarter sheet cake.  It was pretty good, but I still shudder at its $40 price tag.  Price checking has become a casualty of racing in and out of the grocery store.

I poorly decorated the ice cream cake.
The cake was pretty good, but I was stunned at its $40 pricetag.
A new Hydroflask as a gift.
Everyone post-meal.

I don’t particularly appreciate playing games, which, for some reason, makes my participation all the more desired by my kids.  I submitted to card games and dominos and tried to be a good citizen. The evening ended with a group watch of “Alone,” an Amazon reality show that chronicles the adventures of people who are dropped into the wilderness. That ended our day. We did our best to create a special Mother’s Day, and in the end, our celebrant felt special.

A card game with some cards that my daughter brought back from Russia.
Playing dominos.

As I go on my daily walks, I am noticing more Happy Birthday banners in the front yards of houses.  I think that they are taking the place of birthday parties. Others are finding alternative ways to recognize events in their families. 

A neighbor celebrating someone’s birthday.

We celebrate special events for a reason, and it is crucial to attempt to continue traditions during these challenging times. Don’t abandon cherished family activities; modify them instead.

Peace!

Mike   

Dr. Mike, Day Laborer

Shelter-in-place and social isolation are two terms that were new to me but have become familiar phrases in the last few weeks. I’m a person who feels that every event can be a learning opportunity, including our current viral crisis.

In an earlier post, I explored my continued awareness that despite being an introvert, I need people in my life. The first few weeks of shelter-in-place were tough as the only real contacts that I had were with my immediate family, and they had their activities and interests.  Julie was working, Kathryn was adjusting to life back in the USA, and Will and Grace were attending classes online. 

I didn’t feel like doing much of anything, and I spent most of my energy trying to put together a survival plan for the family.  Where could we get toilet paper?  Did we have enough soap? How could I make DIY hand sanitizer and disinfectants?  Emergency planning was all that I could do.

I was prevented from doing things that I loved as I was isolating indoors.  I couldn’t go on a camping adventure with Violet, the campervan.  I couldn’t take myself on a photography safari, and there wasn’t much to write about as my daily life had been reduced to the mundane.  

One of my favorite retirement activities before the pandemic was hanging out with my friend, Tom.  We have always gotten along well, and we saw each other often. We were keeping up with each other electronically, but for whatever reason, that wasn’t cutting it for me.  I mentioned to Tom that I was feeling frustrated and bored, and he suggested that I stop by his backyard for a socially distant barbecue, which I did.  I was surprised by how much better I felt with the addition of a little bit of normalcy. 

Tom recently purchased an older townhome close to downtown Naperville that had never been updated.  He planned to gut the place entirely and to reconfigure the interior into a more modern and efficient space.  He was going to demolish the interior on his own to save funds for the actual remodel. Tom is an experienced contractor who knows the protocols for such a task; however, he is only one person. I was concerned that he would injure himself by tackling all aspects of this enormous job alone. I was determined to help, but my efforts were met by family concerns for my safety due to the coronavirus.  I felt that their worries were unfounded as I would be wearing a respirator and gloves during the demolition process.  Besides, I would take other precautions, like bringing my homemade hand sanitizer to the job site.

I knew that one of my primary functions would be as a photographer to document the process.  We write a weekly construction blog, and photos always make the posts better.  However, this would not reduce Tom’s chance of injury. Multitasking presented the most significant injury risk to my friend. He would be inherently safer if he could concentrate on a single task rather than trying to do everything by himself.  

I have been hanging around construction sites for some time, and I am starting to get an understanding of the construction process. However, knowledge isn’t the same thing as skill.  

During most of my life, I have been thrust into leadership positions. This is likely because I’m responsible, organized, and I have good problem-solving skills.  As a physician, I was a chief resident, co-founder of a successful psychiatric practice, and served as a medical director in several positions. I am comfortable in leadership roles, but leadership was not needed here. I needed to be a follower, a gofer, a grunt. The most helpful thing that I could do for my friend was to become a day laborer.

Some of you may think that it is beneath a physician to do such things, but I disagree with this idea completely. I am many things beyond a doctor, and I feel that all honest work is honorable.  

Tom’s townhouse is an easy walk from my home, and I have been going there in the mornings to do whatever was needed.  I have pried tacking strips off of floors, taken countless loads of refuse to the dumpster, and even sawed through a pipe or two.  My actions have allowed Tom to concentrate on methodically stripping the interior down to the studs.

My stated goal was to help my friend and to increase his safety. However, I also have benefited from my actions. I’m getting a little exercise, I have social contact, and I am continuing to learn by observation.  Hosts on DIY TV shows often state how much fun it is to deconstruct before they construct something.  Frankly, I think their statements are total crap.  The process is physically challenging, filthy, and potentially dangerous.  However, the method also serves as a classroom for an uninformed person, such as myself.  Each layer of the interior has to be removed and properly disposed of.  Appliances have to be recycled, ceilings and walls have to be cut away, insulation discarded, plumbing fixtures removed, and electrical connections isolated. Deconstructing a house is another way of learning how to construct a house, and I find that process very fascinating. By participating in the process, I have gotten a master’s class in home construction.

Soon tradespeople will descend on the property.  Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and others. I’ll help in whatever way that I can, but, likely, I’ll mostly be photographing and writing about the construction experience in Tom’s blog. However, after all of these years, I know most of Tom’s subcontractors, and they usually don’t mind my picture taking and obsessive questions. 

When I first met Tom, he was surprised that I was always asking questions. “Why do you want to know that it is useless information to you?” He would ask.  I would always respond that there was no such thing as useless information.  Over the years, I have put to use some of that “useless” information, but for me, the process of learning is reason enough to learn. 

I choose to be a competent human being. To me, that means that I am more than just a title or job description. I’m glad that I have had the training to adjust complicated pharmacological cocktails for schizophrenic patients.  However, I’m also happy that I have the knowledge base to make a meal from scratch for my family, fix a friend’s computer, or put together a solar-powered electrical system for Violet the campervan. Each activity has worth, as does picking up clumps of insulation and tossing them into a dumpster. It gives me pleasure to think that in some small way, I am helping my friend.  Every slab of wallboard that I chucked is one less that he had to do.  To me, a friend is someone who is there for you when you need them.  Tom has certainly been there for me, and I enjoy returning the favor.

During this terrible time, it is easy to feel sorry for ourselves.  To think that we are being cheated, or put upon by the world.  This is a perfect recipe for sadness.  I would suggest that it is better to think about what you have instead of what you are missing.  Extend yourself to someone else and try to be supportive of them. I’m not Mother Theresa. Yes, I feel that I’m helping a friend, but I’m also getting quite a bit in return from the interaction.  The result of helping someone has made me happier.  We live in a world of “me,” and with it, we see higher rates of depression, anxiety, and addiction.  In my career, I saw individuals who were always looking for ways to feel better about themselves.  They judged their happiness with their latest purchase.  They would blame others for their unhappiness and take no responsibility for their own dysfunctional behaviors. These patients were almost impossible to help as they expected someone else to do their work.  Their lives could have been transformed by taking some of their self-absorbed energy and “spending” it to make someone else’s burden lighter. During this crisis time, we all need to work together. There is strength in numbers; if we stand alone, we will become dust in the wind.

Tom’s construction blog post can be found at: HTTP://gizmohomecraft.com

The original 1970s kitchen.
The wall between the kitchen and living room.
Original appliances taken to a recycler.
Mike in demolition garb.
The bathrooms will be completely remodeled.
Walls between the kitchen and living room and the kitchen and dining room removed.
getting rid of a sea of “blown-in” insulation.
Stripped down to the studs.

An Introvert Reacts To Shelter-In-Place During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

I always thought that there was something different about me.  I enjoy people, but being around large groups exhausts me.  I prefer having a few friends rather than many connections.  

Early in my medical career, I was certain that something was wrong with me.  Many of my colleagues used friendships to make work connections and to build their practices.  They would form relationships with referring docs and therapists to ensure a steady stream of patients to their office door. 

I would observe their business acumen. However, the thought of doing something similar was impossible for me.  Pretending to like someone was not in my emotional playbill.  I remember when the medical director of my clinic asked me to invite a new doctor over for dinner, as he seemed to be uncomfortable and unhappy in his new job. Apparently, I was supposed to make him feel more at ease. I did what I was told and invited him over.  The new doc seemed significantly more uncomfortable than I was, and any questions that I asked were met, at best, with a one-word answer. Eventually, that doctor not only left our practice but also the state. I think he was packing his bags well before I served him our wild rice casserole, but the memory of that dinner still gives me a shutter.

Over time I understood that I wasn’t defective, I was an introvert.  I form very strong relationships with a few people and I’m a loyal and true friend.  My close circle doesn’t exhaust me in the least and I miss those connections when I don’t see them. However, I’m also very comfortable being alone and I can’t remember the last time that I was truly bored when I was by myself.  I always can find something to do. 

Like many introverts, I can be a functional extrovert.  Put me in a social situation or ask me to give a lecture and I don my extrovert cape and perform.  That last word was chosen deliberately, as my actions are an act. I know how extroverts behave and I do likewise. In many instances, I’ll enjoy these situations, but after a few hours I’ll need to have alone time to regroup and recharge. 

I discovered that I was an introvert many years ago. However, I continue to learn about my personality and my personal needs. Over the last few years, I have traveled solo in Violet, my campervan.  I have enjoyed these trips, but I have often wished that I had someone with me to share the adventure. When I say “someone” I mean someone in my close circle of connections. Being an introvert doesn’t mean that I always want to be by myself.

Although I accepted the fact that I was an introvert, It always seemed that I was shortchanged. My extroverted doctor colleagues had the sales advantage.  They could use their personal traits to attract business, I had to rely on the quality of my work and word of mouth to do the same.  

My extroverted neighbors easily intermingled with each other, partied together, and even traveled together. I would wave to them from the driveway and quickly return to the comfort of my house.  

My extroverted friends always seemed to have a hundred people to see and a million places to go. This was never the case for me.

My friend Tom is an extrovert and has the ability to connect with just about anyone.  It seems that anywhere I go with him he runs into someone he knows who automatically wants to stop what they are doing and have a conversation with him. It is interesting to me that a super extrovert and a quiet introvert would become best friends.

Over time I have not only accepted being an introvert, but I have also come to value it. I may form fewer relationships, but they are deeper and more meaningful. I may spend more time alone, but I always find something to do.  I am a continual learner and explorer, and I like the fact that I have the time to study new things and skills.

When COVID-19 resulted in shelter-in-place rules I thought would be fine.  What would be better for an introvert than being locked up in their house!  However, my assessment wasn’t accurate.

During the first few weeks of being sheltered-in-place, I found that I was feeling irritable and down. I initially attributed these feelings to the obvious.  The stock market, which was the source of my income, was dropping.  In addition, basic supplies that ranged from toilet paper to flour were impossible to buy.  I was feeling afraid and insecure. However, after a week I accepted the situation and let go of the anxiety around it.  However, I was still feeling unsettled. I didn’t feel like learning new things, or writing, or taking photos, or doing just about anything.  It was a difficult time, but also a time for introspection.

Julie was home as were three of my kids, and that was good.  We did do things together, but they were also involved in their own activities. I reflected on what was missing and it was clear that I was concerned about and missing other people in my life.  I decided to come up with a plan.  I’m close to my two sisters and during this time I would call them every day.  I would also have more regular contact with my oldest daughter, Anne.  She has a busy life so daily contact would be a burden to her, but we could certainly talk once or twice a week.  I increased my calls to my childhood friend, John.  We have always been close as brothers, but like many brothers, the time that we spent together has shrunk through the years. I decided that I would call John at least once a week.  I also reached out to my friend Ralph.  Ralph is still in the workforce and busy seeing patients, but I wanted him to know that he was important to me.

My friend Tom presented as a special case.  Prior to the pandemic, I saw Tom almost every day.  During the first week we were still in regular electronic contact, but I was still missing him.  Tom just bought a townhome that is in need of total rehab.  In efforts to reduce his cost, he is doing a lot of the initial work by himself. I’m certainly not a construction guy but I have been hanging around Tom for many years and I have observed a thing or two.  I also knew that demolishing the interior of his townhome would require that I wear PPE which would also provide virus protection.  I could help my friend and have a little social interaction all at the same time!  I like win/win scenarios.  

Lastly, I kept up other social connections with friends and family via Zoom, Facetime, and emails. 

I believe that being an introvert has made it easier for me to shelter-in-place. However, life is not about absolutes. I do need social contacts and I do value those people that I am close to. My efforts to connect with those people who are important to me have been met positively by the recipients.  I’m happy that I am as important to my connections as they are to me. 

During these difficult times, it is important to recognize who we are and what we need. We need to look at what has made us happy in our normal lives and we need to replicate those things to the best of our ability during these difficult times. When I say replicate I don’t mean duplicate. Shelter-in-place orders are there for a reason.  Be creative and explore ways to “normalize” your life.