COVID. The massive pandemic which has gripped the world. It is something that has impacted all of us on some level and it is hard to avoid unless you opt to isolate yourself into some remote mountain range. Instead of trying to avoid it or ignore it, I think it is important to step back and observe what it is and what it may represent. It is also important, especially for those in the older group, to look back from where we came, see how we got here, and determine if this is the end, the beginning, or are we somewhere in between?
Fear. That is one word which sums it all up in my book. This simple word can be applied to COVID, influenza, cancer, a mass murderer on the loose, or even to a loss of self. No matter what the cause is, the effect is the emotion of fear, which can literally lock us in our tracks and cause us to put up a fence around ourselves in an attempt to self-protect. The ultimate question is how in the heck did we get to this point of emotional and physical vulnerability?
In looking back to my childhood, way before any technology and the VHS player was just a glimmer in a young inventor’s mind, things were much different than today. We played in the streets, rode our bikes, went to the park and fished, and even hopped a train at a very young age to explore the downtown streets of Chicago, all unattended and unknown to my parents. We did our chores in the morning during the summer and then we were off with friends. The only ground rule was to be home by 6 pm for dinner. My mother couldn’t track us and knew that we were safe for the most part, aside from us doing something stupid like trying to jump a picnic table with our bicycle in the park. We rode to the local 7-Eleven to get a Slurpie and a candy bar for lunch and then used the afternoon to explore and be around one another.
We would watch some television, mainly cartoons on a Saturday morning, but back then there were really only three channels and rabbit ears on the box or on the rooftop. There were movie theatres, which were inexpensive, and were something treasured, seen as a night out on the town. When we would go to get gas for the car, there was ‘full service’ and an attendant came out, pumped your gas, checked your oil and washed the windshield. We would pay by cash or give him a credit card, which he swiped by hand on a device with carbon paper. There was little to fear in that world, as I remember it, but much to explore.
I was raised a Catholic, in the north, as were all of my siblings. Now, while I have moved on from that particular denomination, I will say there is much to learn from each and there is no right or wrong, just a question of what works for you. However, as far back as I can remember, I had questions which could not be answered, regarding religion, spirituality, and overall the concept of life. I was often told that I thought too much, asked too many questions, and that I just needed to go outside and play, or find something else to occupy my mind and time.
As I grew into adulthood, attended college and then veterinary medical school, I was still that same young boy, asking questions that were often unanswered or that I was told were irrelevant. In many instances, even in medical training, I was told not to ask, just do as you are told. This didn’t set well with me and my off-time was spent diving deeper into medical issues, going beyond what a lecture hall led us to believe as students.
In February of 2020, I was attending a medical conference along with some classmates, which I had not seen in years. I was not aware of the COVID concerns at that time as honestly, I do not watch the news. One day during a lunch break, my friend and colleague offered me hand sanitizer. I looked at him in a puzzled manner, wondering what was wrong with him, and his response was simply “I am not getting this coronavirus thing.” That was the first I had heard of it and despite his sense of alarm, I declined the sanitizer and ate my lunch as normal. I was puzzled by his response because we went to college together. We rectally palpated horses and cattle, getting covered in manure, then simply washed off with a garden hose and readily consumed our lunches in college. I still did that well into my practice years after graduation. The farmer clientele that I serviced often did the same thing and together we concluded that what didn’t kill us, helped to make us stronger. This implied that a little bit of coliform bacteria from the cow or horse likely in small doses would benefit our immune response, rather than create disease. Indeed, this home-made philosophy worked and despite the nasty situations I found myself in with cattle or horses, I never contracted a single infection.
My wife and I have raised two children in our lifetime and both have grown into very healthy and solid adults. We raised them as we were raised which included baggies of Cheerios to munch on, a high chair tray with food scattered about and mashed together, sandwiches on the go, and the ability to go outside, play in the dirt and even consume some. Our kids ate coins and other objects likely, which worked their way out and yes, they even dropped their pacifier on the ground, picked it up, blew it off and replaced it in their mouths. In some instances, they would even attempt to blow a bubble with gum, but instead force the ball of gooey stuff out onto the ground, picking it back up and continuing to chew it.
After graduation and moving into my own clinical practice, it was not hard to see how child rearing was beginning to change. Over the years of seeing clients with kids, who often grew younger as I grew older, the differences were evident. Parents were no longer using the sandwich bag with Cheerios or Fruit Loops, but were offering their kids prepackaged and hygienically sound foods. They did not have ‘sippie cups’ any longer, but prepacked juices with straws, designed to be tossed rather than reused. When they would go out to dinner at a restaurant, the parents would clean the table surface and preplace a stickie protective place mat for the child to play and eat off of. Baby wipes were everywhere, using them on hands, butts, faces, and even toys. Everything was disinfected and separation was beginning as some parents preferred that their child did not play with another, as maybe he or she was ‘dirty’. It was something weird to me, as a parent, seeing the change in philosophy as to how to raise a child. There were indications that fear was setting in and the parents needed to protect the child from everything and anything.
As a doctor and researcher, I find things like COVID and other medical crises of interest. I view them as being the ‘result or effect’ of something else, and thus, I seek to find the ’cause’. I was not aware of the threat of Coronavirus back in February at the medical conference, and even though I was exposed to many at that early stage that had fear in their eyes, I personally was not concerned. Then, as the nation became more and more concerned, measures were put into place including masks and social isolation or distancing. We were told, as a society, or more so it was implied, that this was a ‘temporary situation’, but that temporary situation has lasted over 6 months and if you do something enough, such as mask wearing, it soon becomes socially acceptable, like nudity or cursing in a movie or television program. We follow each other, like cattle down a chute to be slaughtered, but we do not realize where we are headed because we are not paying attention.
I think the biggest thing that has concerned me in this COVID crisis is the level of fear. Honestly, in he beginning, I thought that we as a society were stronger than this, more resilient, and less likely to be talked into jumping off of a cliff. I was wrong and this became readily apparent as time has gone by and people that we know no longer will even come near you in a grocery store or a parking lot, all out of fear. Many of those people were individuals that I looked up to, believing them to be strong in faith and in life, but fear will bring out the worst in all I suppose.
How did we get here?
I remember as a young boy in the suburbs of Chicago watching sports programming with my father on the weekend, maybe being the Chicago Bears or something of the like. Intermittently, we had commercials and many times, one that I can recall, was of a woman in a flowing gown running down the beach. This was an advertisement for Massengill douches, but at that age, I had no idea. I would ask my father what the commercial was about, but he would distract me and wait for it to end. Over time, yes, I figured out what the commercial was about but what is interesting is that in knowing the product and the research, time led us to the conclusion that this approach for women was likely not the healthiest in the world. Reason being is that this hygiene habit led to alterations of the vaginal microbiome, which could create more health issues than resolve.
Now, why did I raise that Massengill example? The main reason is that we learned from it, doctors learned from it, and researches learned from it. However, the other hygienic habits and phobias that were developing, such as those mentioned above with children, the excessive use of hand sanitizers, or general disinfection were not and are still not seen with any concern. This is interesting to me because these habits are just as destructive on the general microbiome of the body as the douche habit is on the vaginal environment. In addition, we are eating more processed foods now than ever before. More soda pops, caffeinated drinks, heavily creamed coffees with fancy flavors, and other things we were not intended to consume. We do not sit down for meals, but instead order them on our phones for delivery to our homes, which we consume in front of a television, computer, or game.
Additionally, due to our accepted level of technology, we are driven 24/7, with alerts, messages, texts and other notifications. Our stress levels are at an all time high and our emotional state has gone into the toilet with rage outbursts, anxiety, and fits of depression. Suicides are at an all time high with many due to perceived lack of acceptance into a technology driven world. These problems were present before but now with COVID and the perceived need for isolation, they are even more problematic. The mind and the body are one and are interconnected. What happens in one department impacts the other. Thus, mental health and physical health are also interconnected.
What is the point, you might ask? The point is that we have created all of it and over time, we accept all of it, but despite this, we do not want to accept responsibility. We fear what we do not understand, plain and simple. This can be COVID or it could be a rollercoaster ride. When we fear something, the best answer or solution is to take time to understand it, but in most instances we’d rather choose to have someone else tell us what to do or better yet, just protect us.
When it comes to COVID or coronavirus, it is real, and I will not deny that, but so are many other infectious disease conditions. In our world, they have come and they have gone. The question is what do you do about it? Should you take precautionary measures? Sure, as you should every day no matter what the situation presents. This is basic hygiene such as taking a shower, washing your hands, coughing into your arm or using a tissue. It also includes eating well to support your body and overall health, which includes exercising. The COVID situation is also reflective of the fact that we, as a society, are not healthy in many aspects , but this is the elephant in the room which no one desires to discuss. Interestingly, this fact of generalized unhealthiness is likely the cause of the vaccine reactions noted in research trials that are being rushed. An unhealthy body will react more negatively to a vaccine than a healthy one. Again, simple medical logic and why it is not a wise idea to vaccinate an unhealthy person or animal. Despite this piece of medical logic passed on to me as a student decades ago, we ignore it for unknown reasons.
COVID and other infectious conditions will continue to come and go, people will become sick and many will die. This is simple logic but the answer does not come from wearing a mask which is non-protective or by utilizing a vaccine, which is being rushed through development. The answer comes from seeking the ’cause’, not trying to eradicate the ‘effect’. Wearing a mask, from my perspective, should never be accepted. In all honesty, I hated wearing one as a doctor in surgical procedures, so why would I wear one now or at least choose to wear one, let alone pay for a designer mask with lips or a cat’s face on it?
The bottom line is the emotion of fear. It makes people do some crazy stuff for sure. As the singer and songwriter Peter Gabriel states in one of his songs, “I have my fears, but they do not have me.” For many, these times are a sign of the end of the world, for others it is just a phase or a ‘new normal’. I will not go into my opinions on that subject, but I will say that either way, we are 100% responsible, each and every one of us. One could look at society and the past 40 years and see steady decline in morality, ethics, and overall well-being. This could be noted for the last 100 years as well. We have come a long way since the days of husbands and wives sleeping in separate beds, as noted with Lucy and Desi Arnez on television. What we accept becomes reality, whether if that is cursing and full nudity on television or living in fear, being socially isolated from loved ones by choice and wearing a mask with a false sense of security.
It could be the end, but it could also be the beginning of a shift in mentality for the good or bad. The choice is up to each of us, each and every day. We can choose to live in fear of COVID or anything else that may rob us of our lives, or we can understand the situation and realize that there are measures that we can take personally which may make our bodies more resilient naturally. Wearing a mask and isolating yourself from another human being is not natural and certainly not what God intended. You can look to another to hopefully solve the problem for you or you can choose to look within, realizing that the only one responsible for you is you. Each of us has tremendous power within us.
Author: Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH, CHN