COVID-19: Scary Graphics

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Elder Care, Homestudy, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Quick.  What’s the clinical definition of a “spike”?  You’re not sure, are you.  Don’t feel bad.  No one knows what the clinical definition of a “spike” is.  But the all-knowing bureaucrats and media types toss the word around with abandon.  It serves their purpose, which is to keep as many people as possible afraid and, therefore, controlled, especially in the age of COVID-19.

If you were fortunate enough to have had a good education and some training in critical thinking, you know you must define your terms. It’s the essential starting point for any serious discussion or debate.  You cannot make up terms or definitions on a whim.  This, of course, is distressing to those who worship their notions and emotions. Today, that means millions of people. Reality (or a “spike,”) is whatever people say it is.

Announcing that “the country is seeing a worrisome spike in COVID-19 cases” is misleading.  Defining the terms is not only critical for any measure of professional or intellectual integrity, it is essential for a prudent response.  Sadly, in far too many cases, a lack of intellectual integrity can be easily used to promote paranoia.  Today, nearly anyone can create scary graphics splashed with “worrywart red” ink.  This is done routinely to exaggerate the threat of anything from a virus to a thunderstorm.  Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

No. Do not be afraid.  Understand what is happening:

  • There is exponentially more testing being done now compared with six weeks ago (as of late June 2020).
  • The criteria for COVID-19 testing have evolved tremendously over the past three months.In March, elderly people with obvious respiratory symptoms were told to stay at home and avoid the emergency room.  They were advised they did not need to be tested.  Today, in much of the country, many people can be tested on demand.
  • Greater numbers of young people are being tested.Naturally, more positive tests will be reported.  Most of these individuals are asymptomatic and will remain so.  Consider this — no one could walk into a clinic or makeshift roadside testing site and simply demand a test for flu, strep, hepatitis, or mono because he or she felt like it.  Medically speaking, what’s going on now is odd.
  • Deaths from COVID-19 have declined by 40% across the U.S. over the last two weeks.This is crucial for understanding what is really happening.  The mortality rate for COVID-19 here is around 0.05% (and probably lower).  Contrast this with what we were told initially.  Italy had a mortality rate around 10-11% and in the U.S. we expected a mortality rate between 3-4%.  That’s quite a difference.
  • Our focus should not be on the number of positive tests, but on hospitalization and mortality rates.There will be regional fluctuations in both.

COVID-19 is new.  Patterns of transmission, virulence, and regional penetrance will change gradually.  Our understanding of the best ways to treat seriously ill patients will change.  This has happened throughout history.  For now, don’t overreact to “worrywart red” on TV graphics.  Steady as she goes, America.  Steady as she goes.

 

Help for the Helpers on the Frontlines of COVID-19

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Elder Care, Pain, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Dr. Jennifer L. Abel

Many healthcare workers on the COVID-19 frontlines are overwhelmed and traumatized. In addition to putting your lives on the line, many of you are quarantined from your family and some have insufficient PPE. Many are having to make multiple difficult decisions daily and have see an unprecedented number of people suffer and die; sometimes even colleagues.

You are amazing! You are also human! So, it is crucial that you express your emotions: cry in the restroom, cry on the way home, go outside for 10 minutes to shed tears or blow off steam. Angry at a co-worker, administrator, or politician? Pay attention to your driving, but imagine they are in the passenger seat and express your feelings.

Keeping your body relaxed is very important to help with immune function and to survive emotionally.  “How can I possibly relax? I have no time and am way too stressed to relax” are common thoughts on the front lines of COVID-19. Fortunately, relaxation strategies need not take any time at all and can be done without stopping your work activity. Test it out! Because most of you are standing or walking most of the day, stand or walk now while engaging in your favorite strategy simultaneously. Now pretend. Go through the motions of a common work activity while engaging in your strategy. The exception is you can’t do breathing strategies while talking.

It’s easy to get distracted and forget to use your coping strategies. Try to get into the habit of using strategies every time a machine starts beeping, each time you switch rooms, someone calls your name, or when you change tasks. Put up sticky note reminders when possible. Change the wallpaper on your phone or change the ringtone and text-tones. Each time you experience the reminder, engage in your strategy.

No doubt you’re exhausted. When you experience one of your reminders, ask yourself “do I need all this energy” or “what’s the least amount of energy I can use while doing this procedure? Writing notes? Walking down the hall?” Follow with your favorite word, like soft, loose, or relaxed.

People in helping professions are great at taking care of others, but aren’t nearly as good at taking care of themselves. Now is the time for you to finally ask for what you need, or even want, from others. And take time to self-nurture.

I heard today that people wearing scrubs are being discriminated against out of fear they’re carrying the virus. Some have been mugged or antagonized because they are known to have a job. Please know that the majority of us, not just patients and their families, are very appreciative of your sacrifices.  Know in your heart that having a purpose is a positive predictor of happiness, even though you probably aren’t feeling particularly happy right now. Similarly remember that even when you feel helpless, you are still helping!

Thank you very much for all the help you are providing, especially if you are putting your life at risk and/or isolating from your family to help!


Dr. Jennifer L. Abel is an expert in worry and the author of three books and two card decks including Resistant Anxiety, Worry, & Panic.

Errors in Judgement

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, MD

I’m confused.   It’s too dangerous to go to school.   It could spread COVID-19.   It’s too dangerous to go to work.  It could spread COVID-19.   It’s too dangerous to eat out, get a haircut, go to a concert, a clinic graduation, wedding, or funeral.  It could spread COVID-19.   But riots, vandalism, looting, and arson are somehow First Amendment rights, and they override concerns about spreading COVID-19.  Has everyone gone insane, or is it just I?

The reality is, going to school, work, or other everyday activities was never really problematic.   Riding on filthy, overcrowded subway cars or living in a nursing home has been really problematic.   So far, there is no statistical correlation between the economic shutdown and COVID-19 case rates, hospitalization rates, or mortality rates.   Sadly, there are devastating correlations between riots, anarchy, and the protracted decline of cities.

Some of us are old enough to remember the spring of 1968.   It was horrible.   Shortly after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, appalling levels of violence broke out at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.   Cities across the country burned and many neighborhoods never recovered.   Areas of Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta, and New York City are still scarred today.

Three months of lockdowns from COVID-19 have shown many educated people they can earn a living from the comfort of home.   The violence and destruction of the past two weeks will give many people pause about remaining in big cities.   The exodus has already begun.

Unfortunately, for those left behind, taxes of every type will increase, but the quality of life will decrease even more.   Economic decline leads to declines in education and public health.   And the people who suffer the most are those least able to cope.

The chief duty of any public official is to protect the citizens, not to lock them in their homes.   We have witnessed a series of dreadful errors in judgment on the part of many mayors and governors — over the past few months (in March 2020 and beyond).   It has devolved into gross incompetence and cowardice over the past two weeks of late May and early June 2020.   People in the media love it.   Suddenly, they have a topic to replace COVID-19.

Politics has a massive impact on education and health care.  We cannot pretend otherwise.   In light of that, I’d like to offer a few thoughts:

1.      Ignore 95 percent of the people in the media.  They live for conflict, anger, and fear.

2.      Realize that anyone promoting conflict, anger, or fear is a big part of the problem — in any situation.

3.      Understand that most people are not inherently racist, sexist, xenophobic, or homophobic, but identity politics lives on.  It’s cheap and it’s easy.

4.      Recognize that businesses, large and small, are a good thing for individuals, neighborhoods, and society at large.  Punishing business owners with violence, absurd taxes, or excessive regulations is spiteful and wrong.

5.      Know that people typically get the kind of behavior they tolerate.  If you tolerate violence and chaos, you’ll get more of both.   A famous passage from the Talmud sums it up, “When you’re nice to the cruel, you’re cruel to the nice.”

The year 1968 was awful.  Let’s not make the same mistakes again.