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The Hidden Human Cost of COVID and our health care system

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

-Eli Wiesel

“We need Ativan for Mrs. X, and we need it now,” came the plea of a nurse on my phone.  “She is acting out and screaming and we have to stop it.”


I didn’t know Mrs. X very well, but I was going to her assisted living facility, so I decided to visit her.  She had dementia, couldn’t walk, and had recently been diagnosed with COVID.  Who was she?  Why had her behavior declined so quickly that the nurses needed me to prescribe Ativan right away?


Ativan is a benzodiazepine, a medicine most similar to Valium, which itself hit the world over fifty years ago to great acclaim.  It’s primary promoter, Dr. Arthur Sackler—the uncle of the Oxycontin Sackler’s, and someone who left a much more persistent and pernicious stamp on our health care system—said the drug would make people happier, make housewives act their place, remove anxiety in the world.  It was a drug sold to quiet our angst and enable an unjust world to trample on us even as we smiled.  And it sold like hotcakes.


Why did Mrs. X need this drug?


We are four years into this COVID madness and yet we have learned nothing.  The medical community believes so deeply in COVID’s pervasive myths—spreading them like Priests who preach the Bible’s unassailable sanctity and accept no deviation from the one and only gospel—that we are more imprisoned by COVID liturgy than by COIVD the disease.  As a disease it has largely become just another bad cold, one that can turn bad but usually doesn’t, one that can be treated if it does cause problems, and one that is no worse than 20 other infections we live with day after day, year after year, decade after decade. But COVID has become magical and Satanic; it demands a dramatic and unwavering response filled with ritual and dogma, and any who question the gospel are heretics who will pay the price.


I am such a heretic, and I have paid the price, but what price was Mrs. X paying, what price were hundreds of my frail elders paying for this lethal myth that has spread across our medial society like a real pandemic, a deadly and debilitating pandemic, one instigated by the medical community itself?


Mr. X had been tested for COVID not because she was sick, but rather because others had COVID.  She tested positive, despite having no symptoms.  So, as per health department regulations, they locked her in her room, where she was told she must stay for ten days.  And that is when she started screaming.  (I talk about my experience on my podcast, if you want to hear my feelings on the day I saw her last week.)


As I walked into the building I was stuck by a sign I had recently read in a sister facility: 98% vaccination rate, mask mandate still in place, major COVID outbreak in the building.  How did these discordant facts not trigger some alarm with the medical community who forced people to get a vaccination never studied in the elderly, who sheepishly (even zealously) complied with and enforced a mask mandate despite every study and every bit of our experience (including at this building) showing that masks do not slow the spread of respiratory viruses or protect those who wear them (a recent study showed that mask wearers have 40% more respiratory infections than non-wearers), who have somehow not comprehended an obvious fact that our policy of isolation and quarantine, of 6-foot separation and 20-second hand washing, have not worked and have no scientific basis of legitimacy?  98% vaccination, mask mandate, COVID outbreak, all at the same time?  How did this not raise alarms about the absurdity of our policies?


It only became worse.  I remember the first few years of the outbreak. In my practice we effectively treated COVID by doing everything the CDC told us not to do, and the primary victims were those who were sent to the hospital and subjected to barbaric high-cost (high-profit) unproven treatments.  We lost hundreds, though, to the quarantine.  And I can still hear the cries of anguish of those locked in their rooms, deprived of socialization and exercise, greeted by robotic drones obscured by gowns and masks.


The cries continue to reverberate in my mind.  And as I approached Mrs. X’s room, they dug through my head like the pain of a knife.  The inhumanity of it, the medical senselessness, it was too much to bear.


“You need an N-95,” one of the nurses snapped at me.  I was wearing my own mask, an un-mask, the very one I had been wearing (only when forced) for 3 years.  I typically slipped it off in the room so my patients could see a smiling face.  Here in this facility, no one smiled, and if they did it was obscured by this unwieldy, feckless mask.  I swam in a sea of robots, of heartless drones, of people forced to break their prime directive of caring for people and who no longer felt compelled to use science as their guide.  Doctors, nurses, aides, administrators; it didn’t matter.  They had transformed this once vibrant and loving environment into a sullen death camp.  Most of the nurses and aides I know understand the horror of it all, the senselessness, but they comply because they know they will be fired otherwise.  Most doctors I know fully embrace the madness of it, proselytize it, perpetuate it.


No wonder that when I see anyone with a mask I cringe.  It’s a visceral reaction.  To me these are the very drones, the very fanatics, who have transformed this world and my profession into a vicious religion whose only purpose is to follow rules without an ounce of concern for the human beings whose lives these zealots are destroying.


Mrs. X’s screaming grew louder.  At the room’s door was a kit of gowns, gloves, hats, new masks, all of which I was forced to wear.  At the beginning of the COVID madness, doctors, politicians, media pundits, and all the social media geniuses insisted that people were dying because we didn’t have enough PPE—personal protective equipment.  Turns out they were wrong; COVID doesn’t live on surfaces, so wearing masks and gowns and hats does nothing to slow its spread or to protect people.  We knew this years ago, and yet the rituals continue unabated; we must wear the mandated garb lest we are deemed to be dangerous heretics.  And so, however reluctantly, I covered my face and body and head and entered this room not as a human being but as some creature out of a science fiction nightmare.


Or at least that is how Mrs. X likely perceived me.  She screamed when I entered.  “I need to get out,” she yelled.  What she needed was human touch, a smile, someone to care.  And she received none of that, not in this environment of COVID religiosity.  She was withering away, yelling and dying, suffering, all this to deaf ears whose only response was to insist that we shut her up with a drug that numbs her senses and her outrage.


I slipped off my mask and smiled at her, and she instantly quieted and smiled back.  Then I noticed that she had been desperately reaching for a glass of water that sat just beyond her grasp.  I picked up the water and helped her drink it.  She slurped it down quickly.  I filled it twice more and she drank both cups.  Then I moved her table closer to her so she could reach the cup which I again filled.


“I’m not sick,” she said to me. “I just want to get out of here.”


“I know,” I said to her, smiling.  “Soon, I promise.  This is all so stupid.  I am so sorry.”


“No one comes in,” she then said.


Of course they didn’t.  The time needed to put on all the useless PPE dissuaded anyone from visiting or responding to her cries.  The fear of contracting COVID still muffled any sense of care or humanity and compelled people to walk by her room with deaf ears.  This was a land of religious drones, and the consequences were that thousands of Mrs. X’s continue to suffer even as the world thinks that COVID has disappeared.  It has, in the sense that it is just another virus.  But it hasn’t in that the COVID fear, the rituals, the oppression, the dogma has become so entrenched as to be normalized.  The mask wearing horde will not let up.  They want this to go on forever.  And as they do, Mrs. X suffers, and hence they seek to quiet her with some Ativan, to exorcise her soul rather than caring for it.


This is the medical system in a nutshell.  We abuse these elders with copious tests and treatments and pills and fearmongering that doctors claim to be beneficial but which my 30-year experience and my reading and writing has shown me to be far more deadly and debilitating than disease itself.  I often say that if doctors disappeared from our land, people would live longer and suffer less.  Our longevity declines as our interventions increase, the burden of debility and chronic illness has increased dramatically as we flood these vulnerable elders with our “necessary” interventions, doctors and industry thrive, my older patients die and suffer.  COVID showed us the worst of it, but as it has become accepted and normalized, it is clear that the world either doesn’t care, or doesn’t believe reality.  Science has evaporated and been replaced by medical religious fundamentalism.  The cries of Mrs. X and countless others will be ignored, silenced by drugs designed to prevent us from complaining.


In our practice we used to say that most of our patients who died had as their cause of death: Killed by the Hospital or Killed by Overtreatment.  Now we know that most of our patients’ deaths are Killed by the Quarantine.  It goes on and on, despite the absurdity of it all.  98% vaccination, mask mandate, COVID outbreak; the juxtaposition of these conflicting realities has not resonated and has not helped Mrs. X, whose own misery is only acknowledged as something to be silenced by mind-numbing drugs.  4-trillion-dollar health care budget, lower life expectancy, increased chronic disease and debility.  Our entire health care system is a paradox; the more we do, the worse people fare, and the more those like Mrs. X silently suffer and are told to shut up


Given the complicity of an ignorant and leashed medical community, given the apathy of society at large, how can we fight back?  I guess each time we pull down our mask or refuse to wear it at all, give someone a glass of water and a hug in opposition to the rules that seek to erase humane and scientific gazes, don’t test for COVID or treat it like some Satanic curse, preach the words of science and not of dogma, that will chip away at it.  There are days I think I need Ativan.  I’ve been fighting the medical beast for 30 years and the COVID beast for four.  I feel like I am swimming upstream and going backwards.  Have the doctors won?  Have people accepted the mythical and self-defeating liturgy they are selling?  Maybe.  But for those of us who think and who care, there can be no retreat.  We must fight for Mrs. X.  And we must never turn our back on a suffering that our own profession is instigating.  We must be humans first, not robotic drones.

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