Dad served on H. M. S. Glory, a British aircraft carrier, during World War II.

He traveled to Deal, England, to enlist in the Royal Marines in October 1943.  This is that ‘last day’ photo before leaving his mother, father,  little sister Ruth, and the family dog Carlos, at 20 Valley Drive, Gateshead.  He was 18 years old.

H. M. S.  Glory sailed from Belfast to ports around the world: Alexandria, Egypt to Australia and the Japanese surrender in the Pacific in 1945.   I can see in the pictures that Dad lost weight.  Dad told us his mother sent him a chicken in a tin can, she was so worried about how thin he was getting.  I can hear Dad laughing:

“When I opened the tin, the chicken had to be thrown overboard immediately.”

Dad earned the nickname “Posty” with his ‘pals’ (his word) because his job on the ship was delivering the mail.  I can’t figure who took these pictures or who owned a camera and where they developed the film, during a war.  Dad learned a cheerful attitude from his commanding officer.

“We started each day by looking in the mirror and saying, ‘In every way, throughout the day, this is going to be the best day of my life.”

The men entertained each other with shipboard shows.

Dad also told stories of the planes that missed the ship’s runway and disappeared into the sea.  Or the horrors of transporting the British P. O. W.’s from the Japanese camps after the surrender.

“They were in terrible shape.  Many didn’t make it home.”

Dad told us he held the pen at the signing of the Japanese surrender, which wasn’t true.  But the Japanese did surrender to Britain on  his ship the H. M. S. Glory on September 6, 1945, at Rabaul, off the coast of New Britain, now New Guinea.

Dad’s hero throughout and after the war was Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

“We shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a second believe, this island, or part of it, is subjugated and starving, then our Empire across the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, will carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, in all its strength and might sets forth to the rescue and liberation of the Old.”

I close my eyes or don’t watch movies with scenes of torture, or when a child dies or a pet is hurt.

So it’s been tough watching my grandkids, 4th and 7th grade, sitting, sitting, staring in front of a computer monitor for electronic ‘supposed’ learning, off and on the last months. 

I ventured out to Palm Harbor Nursery yesterday to buy red geraniums.  

“Don’t go out!” I hear the CDC voice, but I go out anyway.  The sun is shining in the great state of Florida.

During the purchase, the owner shared her horror about the kids in New York City who have been banished to E Learning.  I agreed with her.  The Academy of Pediatrics has stated that the safest place for children during The Virus is in brick and mortar schools.

Last Sunday, friends shared their experience visiting their elderly mother in a senior living facility.  

“They wouldn’t let us hug her goodbye, after the fifteen minutes, and she was crying.”

After nine months, these are not isolated cruelties, but repeated over and over and over, 

“Be safe,” everybody says to everybody now.

We’re sick of hearing it because it has created, not a safer world, but an unhealthy way of existing in our homes, churches, schools and businesses that used to bring life and joy.

The news media continues to peddle fear and misunderstanding so that we continue to tune in tomorrow. They’re desperate for ratings.  They have become expert in making us feel.  They should be helping us to understand.

The biggest turning point of 2020 is upon us.  Covid vaccines are ready for approval and distribution. We’ll be able to put this season of misery and death behind us.  However, in the misguided ideal of reporting both sides of the issue, the news continues to give air time to vaccine naysayers.

Many politicians, and the medical politicians at our CDC only make the problem worse.

We’re advised to not:  not go out, not get together with family for the holiday or any time, not travel, not touch.  That is cruel.  I can’t remember one week for the last nine months when the word ‘Surge’ wasn’t a headline in the newspaper, but the present week is always, according to The Experts, the beginning of The Worst.  That’s emotional torture.

In actor Alec Guinness’ autobiography “Blessings in Disguise” he describes his search for God during World War II.  He describes how he, along with many soldiers, turned to God, reading the New Testament on their Navy ship, in the days before battle and possible death.  

God is still our help, and we acknowledge Him as the source of providing treatments and vaccines for Covid.  He is our healer.

In Agatha Christie’s “An Autobiography,” she describes what life was like in London during the years of World War II:

“So time went on, now not so much like a nightmare as something that had been always going on, had always been there.  It had become, in fact, natural to expect that you yourself might be killed soon, that the people you loved best might be killed, that you would hear of the death of friends…”

Later, she reflects on the virtue that made those cruel days livable:

“…we can hope… we do not appreciate that second virtue in the trilogy ‘faith, hope, love.’ … how often do we forget that there is hope as well, and that we seldom think about hope?  We are ready to despair too soon…”  – Agatha Christie

The simplest shopping trip, over the last few months, could be a cause for despair.  I’d overhear a customer snap at another customer, “Stand back six feet from me!” Or encounter empty shelves.  But yesterday, I had a different, delightful experience. I stopped in at “The Painted Pear,” one of the few specialty shops of handmade and unique gifts that has not gone out of business because of the pandemic.  After picking out Christmas tree ornaments, I spotted, on the top shelf of one of the display cases, a wooden, handmade sign:

“Courage,   Dear Heart”

               -C.S. Lewis

I’m a Wheaton grad and devoted fan of Lewis.  He has a way of getting to the important point in a most clear and beautiful way.

I wanted to buy the sign, because it was the message I wanted to keep in front of me now.

I asked, but it wasn’t for sale. 

I’ll have to make one.

Encouraging truths which hide like secrets in the newspaper, regarding The Virus:

  1.  Safe and highly effective vaccines are almost ready to distribute.
  2. The Infection Mortality Rate, in spite of the constant drone of ‘case counts,’ remains extremely low, especially for the young and increasingly, because of advances in treatments, those of advancing age.

-picture taken at the College of Anesthesiologists in London, England.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

an overdue guest editorial by pediatrician Dr. Duane Rommel:

“In a lecture at Cornell University in 1964, physicist Richard Feynman defined the scientific method:  First, you GUESS.  Then you determine the consequences of your guess.  Then you compare those consequences with outcome of experiments.  If your guess disagrees with the experiment, it is WRONG.   This is science.” 

    from the book, “How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom”

For the past 9 months, we’ve been making a lot of guesses about Covid 19.  Some of the guesses have been wrong.  Some have been right.  Some vilified, some verified.  Some, we await the verdict.

I hear leaders claim that they are following “science.”  What that really means is that they are listening to certain scientists who happen to agree with their political bias.  The science of Covid 19 is incomplete and complex.  Therefore,  public health policy leaders need to be open to reassess their guesses and policies.

Anthony Fauci was christened by the press to be our ultimate “scientist.” Policy makers had to heed his guesses or be labeled “anti-scientific,” “uneducated,” or a “conspiracy theorist.”   However, our present reality illustrates that scientific policymakers need to re-examine their theory and be open to new ones.  That is how science works.  

Today’s newspaper trumpets “New Virus Cases Surge Across U.S. and America.”  The scientific policies followed by most Western countries are failing.   Many states and European countries hit by the pandemic imposed strict lockdowns this spring.  They launched testing and contact tracing programs to stop the spread of the virus throughout the summer and fall. These policies have failed as these countries and states have tried to ease their lockdowns.   They prove that the virus can’t be controlled that way. Their scientific theories aren’t working.

In October, another group of highly respected scientists gathered to propose a new plan for dealing with the pandemic.  

I strongly recommend everyone read “The Barrington Declaration,” and watch their video titled, “Dissenting Scientists Issue Herd Immunity Declaration” on their website: gbdeclaration.org.  Their Declaration challenges the current guesses about how to defeat the pandemic.

They explain why our current policies are 1.) Poor public health policy 2) Unscientific in their conclusions, and 3) Immoral as general policy.

They present the concept of herd immunity as a scientific fact which applies to the covid pandemic.  We reach herd immunity with every highly contagious illness that exists.   Herd immunity is the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results when a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease. Herd immunity is not policy or opinion, but the way infectious diseases are controlled.  It will happen. The only question is how we will get to herd immunity with the least harm to the public.

Their proposal rests on the unchanging scientific fact of Covid: the Infection Mortality Rate.  This undeniable scientific data should be driving public health policy.  The Infection Mortality Rate for Covid 19 is ‘age specific;’ or radically different for different ages.  These scientists insist that leaders in public health must, in their words, ‘exploit this weakness’ of the virus to defeat it and reach herd immunity.  

I’m seeing patients frightened by Covid in my pediatric office.  These young people and their parents equate getting Covid 19 with a death sentence.  In fact, according to the CDC, the chance of dying from Covid, for a person under age 19, is 3 per 100,000.  www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/planning-scenarios.html.   According to the CDC the chance of dying from the influenza last year for that same age person is 1.6 per 100,000.    For those 20 to 49 years old,  the chance of dying from Covid is 2 per 10,000.   The chance of dying from the flu is 2 per 100,000.   It’s not until age 70+ that the mortality rate of Covid 19 increases dramatically to 5 per 100.

This fact, the extremely low mortality rate in young people, which is accepted by all scientists, needs to be driving our policies. Scientific reality states that we will reach herd immunity at some point with Covid.  To clarify: the infection will largely come under control when enough people are immune to it.   Immunity will either be achieved through getting the illness or through a vaccine for the illness.  There is no other way.

The public health question that policy makers, assisted by the scientific data, need to discuss is: “How to achieve herd immunity with the least harm to the public’s health?”   

The Barrington Group recommends: “The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.”

I strongly agree with their recommendations.  The second video illustrates their reasoning as to why this is better health policy, better moral policy and more compassionate than our current policy.  

We must stop being overly focused on Covid 19 alone.  That distorts our overall health policies to the point of harming the people we want to protect. 

6105 Abbott Avenue had only, one and three quarter bathrooms.  A family of six, we four girls shared the ‘main’ bath.  The infamous ‘pink shirt’ picture of the Mitchell girls:

When we moved to 6105, Wendy and I were in high school,  Jennifer was in junior high and Pam attended elementary school.  I never remember our bathroom door ever being closed.

Mother scrubbed its’ tan tile floor every Friday, and washed the rug.  Two lightbulbs, hidden behind a frosted glass cover, hung above the mirrored medicine cabinet.  Maybe that was all the light a room only 5 x 7 feet needed.   The white porcelain sink wasn’t even a pedestal sink but a bowl attached to the wall, with no storage or shelving underneath.  A bar of gold Dial soap sat in a silver metal dish screwed into the wall above the sink. The white bathtub might have had tile surrounding it at one time, or it had been replaced with a plastic insert.

The space would be ripe for an HGTV makeover today.  Yet we were content with it.  Even with four girls, I can’t remember the small medicine cabinet overflowing with bottles of beauty ointments, or any of the stereotypical fights with girls banging on the door, “It’s my turn!  Get out!”

The one extra feature it had was a mysterious small oak door in the wall beside the toilet.  Guests would always ask, “What’s that?”  A clever builder designed the door for convenience.  It was a laundry chute that led to a large wicker basket in the basement below, near the washer and dryer.  All Mother’s grandchildren at one time or another used the chute as a toy.  It was fun to open the door and make matchbox cars disappear.

That bathroom taught me, before I was married,  a lesson about the rigors of married life.  While on a family vacation in Ocean City, New Jersey, Dad had to fly back to Edina to work for a couple of weeks.  He offered to wallpaper the bathroom for my mother.  Unfortunately, he also picked out the wallpaper: a very 60’s looking turquoise and brown daisy pattern.  When my mother got home and saw it, she was horrified.  But, she never repapered that bathroom.

I learned another lesson there: take every opportunity to enrich your life.  Mother wasn’t a professional musician, but she played the piano.  Her baby grand sat in the living room.

 

She appreciated the beautiful things in life, and as a born teacher, found ways to instill a love for beauty in her children.  When we lived at 6105, Mother loved taking us to the Edina library, a separate city library in those days.  Besides books, they loaned out framed art prints for free, on a monthly basis.  So Mother joyfully hung her choice for the month in that bathroom, over the laundry chute door.

I can’t remember any of those masterpieces now,  but on occasion I’ll see a painting that I recognize from that bathroom classroom.  Having no photo, memory has to paint the picture of that special place, down the hall, second door on the right.

 

 

A combined movie review (by Jill) and Covid 19 update (by Dr. Duane Rommel)!

Jill:  Once again, Tom Hanks, the famous actor with the average face of Everyman, occupies center stage in heroic glory, as the Captain of an Allied ship in WW II.  Their mission: to defend desperately needed supplies as they travel through the Atlantic.  They face a formidable enemy,  German u-boats.

The most surprising moments in the film are brief scenes where Hanks prays over his breakfast, or fixes his tie as he gazes into a mirror edged with the verse, “Jesus, the same yesterday, today and forever, Hebrews 13:8.”  Or worries about the souls of the Germans he just killed.

Captain Krause is a man of faith.  The story unfolds as the intense 36 hour fight to protect the convoy.   Tom Hanks exudes believability Krause,  directing the ship through icy winter seas and torpedo attacks.   When the Germans send threatening messages in the dark night that play over the ship’s radio to the crew, “We are Grey Wolf and we are going to destroy you,” I felt the fear.  But Krause skillfully leads his team to work together to destroy a few of the German U boats who are trying to kill them.  Some of their own men die (war is hell) but Krause ultimately triumphs, bringing his ship into safe harbor.

In stark contrast, yesterday The Tampa Bay Times featured a front page picture of a teacher holding up a sign, “I can’t teach from a coffin.”  I was shocked.  In a time of war on Covid, our country and world need heroes.   The  teaching profession is usually made up of our leaders who instruct and inspire our next generation.   The message of magic marker on the sign was worse than a lie, it was a half-truth, something more powerfully destructive than a complete falsehood.  Yes, the truth is, a small percentage of those who get Covid will die.  But someone dedicated to teaching truth should know that the data supports the fact that most people will not.

Dr. Duane:  The fear and hysteria surrounding Covid 19 continues in a significant percentage of the population in the U.S.  Because of these overblown fears, many are now advocating a delay in the opening of school.  In my office, my patients ask me:

“Should kids return to school next month?”

My answer is an unqualified “YES”.

I am in agreement with the American Academy of Pediatrics, who wrote in their guidance statement: ” Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being.  They provide our children with academic instruction, social and emotional skills,  safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits.”  Statistics continue to show that the risks for kids under the age of 19 are minimal for dying from Covid.  Of the total number of deaths from the virus in the U.S., .0004 are in people under the age of 19.  And that does not even account for the underlying conditions in those children who died.  That is the total number.

So, school leaders need to ask themselves:  When is the treatment worse that the illness?  It’s obvious that the risks associated with the virus for our children are much less than the problems we will create in not opening the schools.  This does not address the personal concerns of  individual teachers.  If a teacher has an identified health risk from Covid 19 according to their physician, they should not teach this year.  But that does not mean we should close the schools because a small minority of teachers cannot be in the classroom.  To clarify: teachers, along with the general public, need to be reassured that statistical data shows the risk of dying from Covid, for teachers under the age of 65  is very low.  (see  http://jillrommel.com/2020/06/01/covid-19-statistics-for-dummies/).  The fear of some should not control a school districts’ decision about what is the right thing to do for our kids.

 

Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”  We must move forward with life.  Schools must open.  As a physician, concerned with the whole well being of my patient families, I see how unwise policies produce more fear, which are pushing too many into unemployment, isolation and depression.

Jill and Dr. Duane:  The media is not helping.  Putting an image of a frightened teacher on the front page tears down the truth.  Rather than instructing the public, they pander to their fears to sell papers.  They play the part of “Greywolf” in the movie, the enemy, taunting the sailors with lies.  “We are coming after you and will destroy you.”  Instead, the media should be highlighting the lawn signs we’ve seen as we’ve biked our neighborhoods, “Thank you to our heroes: our health care workers and grocery store workers.”  Our heroes show up to work.  They are.  Teachers need to be heroes, too, and show up for school.

Seeing a hero, like the one Tom Hanks portrayed in “Greyhound,” reminds us that right actions are based in our faith in the truth.  And the truth is, getting Covid is not an automatic death sentence.  Scientific data continues to support this.    One would hope that schools, some with specific ‘STEM’ labels, would be places where their leaders would grasp these ideas.  I know quite a few teachers who do, and are ready to start back to school.

Some British made WW II movies are based on the idea of ‘the enemy within.’  This theme used to surprise me, as I assumed that all the Allies were on the same team:  ‘We’re all in this together.’  The facts reveal stories like that of Charles Lindbergh, American aviation hero, who was supporting the Nazis.  Royal Edward and his wife Wallis Simpson sympathized with the Nazis … or the traitor can be turn out to be the neighbor next door.  Unfortunately, there may be those among us that are trying to tear us down; who are on the Fear Team.

Facing the realities of life, like this Covid illness, forces each of us to choose what kind of person we’re going to be.  Interesting that in “Greyhound,” Captain Krause found his strength in God.  Duane and I have found ourselves to be in need of help these days.  Not that we’re afraid of the virus, but it’s sobering and saddens to see how the fear of the virus has destroyed so much.

‘Greyhound’ ends with a prayer.  Before falling into bed, exhausted after 36 hours straight of fighting the enemy, Captain Krause kneels beside his bed and says,  “I thank you, my heavenly Father, that you have graciously kept me this day.  Into your hands I commit my body and soul.”

 

 

Another guest posting by Pediatrician Dr. Duane Rommel.

I often get a call in the middle of the night from an anxious parent because their child has a fever of 104.  

“What other symptoms does he have?”  I ask.  “How is he acting?”

The mere fact that a two-year-old has an elevated fever is not a cause for alarm if the child is acting fairly normal, or if other family members have had the same illness.  Fever is only a symptom.  The important information for me is what is causing the fever. 

Similar reasoning applies to the most recent increase in Covid 19 cases in Florida.  The number of reported Covid 19 cases has increased significantly in Florida in the last week.  Forecasters are predicting their usual doom and gloom. 

“There will be catastrophic consequences,” according to the ‘model’ of Dr. Marrazzo of U of Alabama Birmingham Infectious Diseases. 

The big issue I have with the word “models” is that it suggests some kind of legitimate scientific basis for predicting the future.  However, every model which has been quoted in the news since the pandemic started has been drastically wrong. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently stated the same thing when asked about reopening New York, “All the national experts … were all wrong.”  There is not much difference between ‘models’ predicting the future for Covid 19 and tea leaves predicting the future.  These are guesses. There is a little bit of science and a lot of guessing.  So let’s start ignoring these guesses and concentrate on what is important.  

From the beginning, I have stated that many people will get infected with Covid 19.  The state of Florida has dramatically increased its testing availability and more cases are being diagnosed  which were missed several weeks ago.  

Also,  the state has relaxed the lockdown guidelines for most of Florida. Many more people are returning to normal activities with social distancing.  It is to be expected that more people will get the virus.   This also is not a cause for concern.

The infection mortality rate is the most important statistic, which the media continues to ignore.  The infection mortality rate is the risk of dying from Covid 19 if a person gets infected with it. The infection mortality rate in people under age 65 is about .1% in the latest U.S. studies.  This is a more encouraging and lower mortality rate than previously feared.  It is not necessary or wise,  in light of this data, to make any changes to present health guidelines regarding the virus in Florida.  

As Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom stated this week,”We have to recognize that you can’t be in a permanent state where people are locked away to see lives and livelihoods completely destroyed, without considering the health impact of those decisions as well.”

Efforts and resources need to be focused in protecting those who are most at risk of dying from this infection:  people in nursing homes and those with well defined risk factors. 

The most important statistics are not the daily case counts.   Other statistics to monitor are the ages of the individuals who are becoming infected, the daily hospitalization rates and  daily death counts.  These statistics will be better guides for our policy making decisions than the number of cases per day. 

A child with a fever can cause anxiety for a loving parent.  Reassurance and education  about how the fever is the body’s normal way of fighting an infection are often the only treatment needed.  The prospect of an uncontrolled virus at large has caused the same anxiety; however, the most important facts, like the infection mortality rate, should be trumpeted by the media to calm our country.

As a medical professional, I implore the media to cease broadcasting the so-called ‘scientific models’.  It’s harming my patients, and the general public as much as the screaming of ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre.

Disclaimer: My views may not reflect the views of Children’s Medical Center.  Please consult your own doctor for specific advice in your situation.

 

We biked into the church parking lot this Sunday morning.  I was so happy to be back at church that my eyes filled with tears.

I’ve been having flashbacks of Duane’s medical residency, forty years ago, during these last months of lockdown.  We had moved to Rochester, Minnesota, where we knew no one.  Duane was on call at the hospital every third night, leaving me alone at home.  That July, I realized the normal routines of life would be gone for three years.  The natural rhythm of workweek/weekend disappeared.  Friday night movie dates, over.  We used to go to church together on Sunday mornings.  Now I went alone.

I was pregnant, too, so technically not alone.  I found a job at the County Clerk’s office processing passports and marriage licenses.  A  kind couple at  the church I attended started a Bible study for new mothers soon after Mike was born.  Even though I was new to the church, the ladies held a baby shower for me.  I went home with a car full of presents, from other young mothers who hardly knew me.

For Duane and I, being part of a healthy church has been a top priority.  We’ve moved a lot in our forty three years of marriage.  Wherever we settled, we searched for a good church.  A place where people who follow Jesus gather.

I remember the couple who taught our Sunday School class when Duane was in residency, Herb and Fran Reigler.  They tried anonymously, to pay for our car repair bill when the motor froze.  Where ever we’ve moved, we’ve met more people like them:  the friends who visited the juvenile jail with us to share their lives with incarcerated kids.  Jeanne always remembered each child’s birthday with a card. Our Sunday morning team who planned and led a worship program for kids.  The high school kids who babysat the kids of young parents so they could get together.  The friends who have listened to our family emergencies and prayed for us, and asked us, “How’s it going?”  These are people who care about others.

Over the last weeks, unable to go to church on Sunday mornings, I miss my Christian friends.  We’re different ages, in different ‘life seasons’ with different callings and backgrounds.  But my Christian friends share two characteristics that attract me: gentleness and grace.  Over the years, we’ve shared the good, bad and ugly of life.

When something comes up on a Monday morning, or whenever life crashes into my plans, I  think, “I’ll be able to share this with my friends at church.”  It comforts me to know they’re praying for me. I’ve seen circumstances change in ways I couldn’t make happen myself.  These aren’t just nice people, they’re people who’ve made the choice to believe God exists and that he cares about us.  And so, we  care about each other.

On the old  British show “All Creatures Great and Small”, two veterinarians were discussing the hard lives of their patients, the farmers of northern England.

“They have sheer stubborn pride and refuse to quit, in spite of the frightening day to day realities they face.  They’re a breed apart.  They possess that exceptional quality of the unbreakable human spirit.”

In the next scene, James, one of the vets, is sitting at the kitchen table of the farm family whose cows needed his healing.  The farmer’s wife kindly asks James if he would like a cup of tea and a piece of pie.  Her son, hardly twelve, breezes through the room.

“I’m off to check on the cows for Dad,”  he announces as he goes out the door.

“Where’s your husband?”  James asks.

“He’s in hospital,”  the wife answers.

“Is it serious?”  James looks shocked, as he had just seen him a week ago, and farmers can’t afford to go to hospital.

“Well… it’s not looking hopeful,”  she says quietly.  Set in 1937, before present day medical treatments, death was not uncommon for illnesses we shrug off today.

I’ve been meditating on that ‘unbreakable human spirit,’ pictured so poignantly in that farm family.

When ‘the going gets tough, the tough get going,’ goes the old motto, and in these present days my ‘unbreakable human spirit,’ can feel fragile.  I used to turn on the news each morning, to catch the local weather.  Not anymore;  I’d have to endure hearing the newscasters spouting the latest Covid stats.  So I make other choices, which take time to consider.  The constant ‘considering how to spend the time’ and being forced out of life’s habits and routines, is, in itself, exhausting.

I try to surround myself with inspiration.  Winston Churchill’s speeches can do that. The epitome of moral courage, he determined to survive against Hitler.  In response to the idea of surrender to Hitler, Churchill stated, ““If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”    

I try to copy his resolve.  Lately, I also  remember that Churchill spent much of the war taking hot baths and drinking heavily.

The greatest hardship of quarantine for me has been the loss of the Sunday morning church experience.  Zoom and internet services can’t fill the void.  My mainstay, beyond faith in God, is  being able to get together with people who love God.   I go to church on Sundays with expectancy.  A  serendipitous Energy pervades those gatherings, that begin out in the parking lot when we arrive, because we often meet there first.   Surprising encounters happen in hallways and the lobby.  The carefully planned services restore my spirit’s perspective.  Through music, prayers and spoken truth I’m changed and strengthened.  Something I didn’t expect but came looking for is found.

It’s the one morning out of seven where the focus is God’s community, not me.   I’m reminded of important things I knew but forgot.  Being with other Christians, God’s kingdom comes alive. The ideas I hear may propel me to a new choice or a new habit.  Or something to eliminate from my life.  This morning I learned about a summer Bible study to join.

If the human spirit is ‘unbreakable’ or we’re stronger than we feel at times, it’s only because God is the one who supplies the love and strength that we need to make it.  He designed us to live in relationship with him through our relationships with others.

I was thrilled and thankful to be with my church family this Sunday.  We met at 8 a.m. outside, in our shady parking lot.  Being the middle of June, no one  expected the cool Florida breeze that floated around us, scattering the Pastors music and sermon notes.   We sat on lawn chairs or blankets we brought, with our children at our feet.   We joined in Communion with each other.

In the last weeks, as our county has begun a careful Reopening,  some of the New Normals have been a disappointment.  Store shelves still have empty spaces..  Libraries and restaurants aren’t their usual selves.

But this Sunday morning’s gathering, thoughtfully planned with wisdom, began my week with the same life-giving joy as every other Sunday.  As always, God’s glory shines in his people.

 

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people.”       -Psalm 22:22.

“The world is a perfectly safe place to be as long as you are in the Kingdom of God.”  – Dallas Willard

Another in what has turned out to be a series of medical posts by Dr. Duane Rommel:

I read the headline in the National Review, “Why does the CDC think the Covid 19 fatality rate is so low and why won’t it tell anyone?”  (https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/why-does-the-cdc-think-the-covid-19-fatality-rate-is-so-low-and-why-wont-it-tell-anyone/)

I’ve been asking myself the same question.

In April, early data was beginning to show the Covid virus that locked us  in our homes was not as fearsome as first thought.  The health experts that supported that view were lambasted.  As the weeks pass, more data has arrived, supporting their claims.  The latest news comes from the CDC, our government’s scientists; yet some don’t want to believe it.  Or, worse, report it clearly to the public.

This report from the CDC, our nation’s health protection agency (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/planning-scenarios.html) was dated May 20.  Their best understanding of Covid 19 shows  that for those age 0-49 the Case Fatality Rate for people who have symptoms is .05%.  

Please take time to learn this important statistic.  This is one statistic that has meaning, in a never ending sea of confusing numbers broadcast in the media.  The case fatality rate means the number of deaths from Covid 19 divided by the number of people who had symptoms of Covid 19 and tested positive.

The case fatality rate for age 50-64 year olds with symptoms is .2%. The case fatality rate for age 65+ year olds  with symptoms is 1.3%. The CDC currently estimates that 35% of Covid 19 cases are without symptoms.  

Even more important than the Case Fatality Rate is the Infection Fatality Rate.  The Infection Fatality Rate is the number of deaths from Covid 19 divided by all the cases; symptomatic plus asymptomatic.  The Infection Fatality Rate, according to the CDC’s research at this time, is: 

Age 0 to 49:  .032%

Age 50 to 64:  .13%

Age 65 + :   .85%

Earlier rates were being used by the government to set policies leading to the shutdown of our country.   These numbers are a significant change from those used in March, which were estimated to be 3-5%.  The case fatality rates clearly have been a major factor in government officials’ decision making.  The higher the fatality rate, the more aggressive we needed to be to minimize the transfer of the virus from person to person.  The less the fatality rate, the more we can resume activities which allow contact between people.   

The current understanding of the Infection Fatality Rate by the CDC on May 20, is one tenth the original estimate.  A typical infection fatality rate for the ‘seasonal flu’ is .1%.  So Covid 19 is three times more deadly than the seasonal flu, not thirty times, as originally predicted.

This great news should be leading media headlines.  Instead, each night news anchors mindlessly read the number of cases and deaths.  Death counts have no meaning out of context.  If a patient deciding on surgery with anesthesia asks, “How many people died from anesthesia last year?”  The factual answer is “310.”  This is not helpful; what they need to know is the death rate, not the number.  The death rate is .001%, a reasonable risk to take.

Why did the CDC, a reliable group of physicians and scientists, change their estimates?

Scientist Brian Nosek, Ph.D., of the University of Virginia, comments: 

 “The pandemic has exposed the messiness of science.  That’s how science always is, but we don’t usually see that truth exposed so vividly.  We all want answers today, and science is not going to give them.  Science is uncertainty.  And the pace of uncertainty reduction in science is way slower that the pace of a pandemic.”

 From the beginning of the pandemic, scientists have been clamoring for reliable data.  New data and findings continue to pour in. The truth about Covid 19 is complex.  These fatality numbers are the CDC’s new best estimates.

It’s better to understand science  as a process.  As the new knowledge about Covid-19 emerges, the recommendations by experts need to reflect this change.  We cannot stay stuck in the March policies when we have a better understanding of reality.  This means we should not be fearing the numbers of cases in most people under age 65.  We should be treating this situation as we deal with our yearly flu epidemics. Open schools.  Open camps.  Open stores.  Stop wiping all surfaces.  Finally, figure out how to protect the elderly.  

The greatest challenge for our government and health leaders will be to communicate, after months of fear, that this is a virus we can manage and survive.  The CDC’s latest projections can’t be ignored.

The tornado that whisks Dorothy out of Kansas in the Wizard of Oz,  and drops her house on the Wicked Witch of the East, terrifies the folk of Munchkin Land.  The Munchkins are hiding in their homes. Glinda, the good witch, arrives and sings, “Come out, come out, wherever you are, and meet the young lady who fell from a star.” 

We can come out now.

 

Guest editorial by Pediatrician Duane Rommel, M.D.

In my first year of Pediatric Residency at the Mayo Clinic, I learned a major lesson.  We had to research a topic and present it at Grand Rounds.  The topic I chose was ‘The Placebo Effect in Medicine.’  Placebos are a harmless pill or procedure given for a psychological benefit to the patient.  The Placebo Effect, well documented in medicine, also explains why, when we do medical studies, we always take it into account.

I learned to use the power of placebo.  For example, studies have shown that patients begin to feel better when walking in the door to a doctor’s office.  My words and involvement in the patient’s life within the healing context of my office can influence both the actual illness and the perception of the illness in the patient.  This has a major impact on the outcome of the patient’s problem.

This applies to Covid 19. With Covid 19, as with many medical decisions  we face as doctors, there are unknowns.  We don’t really know the true fatality rate of this virus because the statistics are incomplete at this time.  We don’t know why it impacts the older population far more that the younger population.  We don’t know the likelihood of spreading the infection from surfaces which have been contaminated by someone with the infection.  We don’t know how the mental and physical health of people will be affected after months of ‘stay at home’ isolation.   

But as physicians, we are forced to make medical decisions within current knowledge, even though sometimes key facts aren’t clear.  We make educated choices on the science we have, along with past experience. 

Epidemiologists, another type of medical professional, make predictions about our health future. The scientific name for these guesses is “modeling.”   Modeling tries to put numbers on some of the theories which will predict our medical future. 

I’ve lived in Florida for 25 years. Floridians know modeling.  About ten times a year, scientists make models for hurricanes. They attempt to predict how strong they will be and where they will go.  Floridians spend hours, days, even weeks, glued to our televisions, watching the ‘spaghetti’ hurricane models.  Almost every one one of them is wrong in specific outcomes, especially when the storm is farther out in the Atlantic. 

The same thing is happening for Covid 19 modeling.  Two months ago, the models were predicting that there would be 460,000 cases of Covid 19 in Florida and that the ICU beds would be totally full by April 15.  As of today, May 4, there are 36,000 cases of the virus and about a 40% vacancy rate in the ICU’s.  

Our nation’s epidemiologists and newspapers have used models and statistics over the last months to scare us into behaving how they believe we need to live.  We’ve been told that if you get Covid 19 either you will die or, even worse:   “I’m not worried for myself, but I have a family member  who’s high risk, and I don’t want to cause their death.”

There’s a bit of truth there, but also, like an iceberg that is only partially visible, lots of hidden fiction.  The truth is that my life does impact others.  Because it does, I will take reasonable precautions, like six foot distancing and washing my hands and coughing into my elbow or possibly even wearing a mask.  But the insidious lie is:  ” I am the one responsible for a family member getting sick because I choose not to “stay at home” anymore.”

If we believe this lie, we wouldn’t drive our car with a loved one in it.  I would force my brother to get a flu vaccine even though he doesn’t want one.  I wouldn’t allow my children to go to school because they might get meningitis.   The truth is, every person is responsible for their own health. We can never fully protect our loved ones no matter how hard we try. I cannot take on the impossible burden of protecting everyone else’s health to the detriment of my own well being.

To be fair, medical epidemiologists will never give a message of comfort; their livelihood is statistics and graphs.  Scientists make the hurricane models. It’s the task of local weatherpeople, like our favorite Denis Phillips on abc TV,  to use their experience to interpret them, to advise and calm, during the storm.  Likewise, medical practitioners, the ones dealing with direct patient care, need to use their expertise to reassure the public.

“This is a serious infection, but very likely you will get over the illness, so take proper precautions and you will get through this.”  

Instead of hearing that reasonable and calming message, while the infection rate drops, the public’s fear rate now runs rampant.  

Today, in Florida, we’re allowed to go to the beach and pool. However, the Florida Department of Health has a two page list of disinfecting rules, so technical and at the same time vague, that citizens are afraid of liability or continuing to spread the virus.  There are warning signs at the beach.  FDOH is still spreading fear of the sickness that prevents people from enjoying these activities, even though the chances of transferring illness through them is likely extremely small.

Stores and restaurants began opening this week.  Jill went to three stores yesterday that were open but empty of customers.  Pandemic panic is still incapacitating us from getting back to life enhancing activities.  Many stores have chosen to remain closed.  The Placebo Effect is working in a negative way at this time.  We are being told the country is sick.  We aren’t being told we’re getting better. 

No one knows the final outcome of the Covid 19 story.  But as a physician, I choose to look for the positive outcome.  My goal is to remove fear from my patients.  In medicine the outcome is always better when patients have hope, rather than when they are anxious. 

 The biggest problem we’re facing now is fear.  Fear for myself.  Fear of me getting someone else sick. Fear is our enemy.  

In the film “The Farewell,”  a beloved grandmother in China is diagnosed with lung cancer.  She’s coughing up blood.  However, the medical community in China doesn’t believe in predicting the patient’s life expectancy.  The films’ true story plays out through the eyes of her granddaughter, a college student in America.  She’s horrified her grandmother is not being told the prognosis: death in six months.  Along with her parents and extended family, they travel to see the grandmother, ‘for the last farewell.’  The gathering of a family wedding conceals the real motive for the trip to China.  At the end of the movie we see a clip of the grandmother practicing Tai Chi, six years later. 

“It’s the fear of death that actually kills you,”  the grandmother’s Chinese sister explains to the granddaughter.

Modeling and statistics can be interpreted either to bring life, or cause suffering and death. 

As a physician, I choose hope and life.

 

Another guest editorial by Dr. Duane Rommel, FAAP, member of Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society, and Board Certified Pediatrican, practicing at Children’s Medical Center in Palm Harbor, Florida.

 

I was surprised at the overwhelming response to my previous post. The first article surveyed the current situation and treatments regarding Covid 19 in the U.S.  I received a number of questions from people who are at higher risk, according to the current knowledge,  of Covid 19.   Time to talk about risk.

We now know some people have a higher mortality risk.  We also know that some populations seem to be almost immune from the virus.  Clearly, age is the biggest risk factor.  The older you are, the more risk of dying from the virus.  Children’s deaths are so rare, the numbers can be counted on one hand.

My response to the question of risk is that each individual must make decisions about their life choices with input from your own physician.

Everyone makes risk judgments every day.  Often we don’t even know the exact amount of risk, but we know there is some risk involved. Older people commonly climb on ladders to paint or clean gutters.  We know that if an older person falls, he has a much higher risk of permanent disability or death.   I see this same risk assessment played out in my office every day.  We recommend the flu vaccine for everyone.  About one half of the patients choose not to get the vaccine which is proven safe.  Some patients are more concerned about their perceived possibility of getting sick from the vaccine, than dying from the flu.  Even when I try to convince them that the vaccine is safe and that you cannot become ill from the vaccine, they choose the riskier path of not getting vaccinated.  They have the responsibility and right to make this personal decision.

The same risk responsibility should apply regarding Covid 19.  Physicians should be informing patients about how to manage the new reality with Covid 19.   We need to inform our patients about the level of risk they face according to the best medical knowledge so that the patient can decide what course of action to take. Our knowledge of Covid 19 is continually expanding so these risk assessments may change over time.

As I stated previously, the latest scientific data has been very encouraging regarding the risk of mortality. Even today, according to the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine,  Covid 19 will be fatal in a flu-like 0.1% to 0.36% of cases.    The large majority of the deaths from Covid 19 would be in the over 65 years population.  The mortality rate for people under 65 is .001%.

We have accepted these mortality rates as a society many times in the past with other serious flu epidemics without panic and shutting down the country. Unfortunately, instead of helpful data, for the last weeks we’ve only been inundated with daily death counts.  These numbers, out of context, have no meaning other than to create hysteria. That number tells me nothing about my individual risk or the risk that we face as a country. Our government leaders, standing on the best medical knowledge, need to educate citizens about risks they are facing.  Then each person may determine what risk they will take and make decisions on their own activities .  This is, basically, what Sweden is doing.

For the last few weeks, I gave government the benefit of the doubt about their leadership.  They were just being cautious in their heavy response to Covid 19. Now the time has come to stop needlessly frightening us.

I live in Pinellas County, Florida.  After watching yesterday’s County Commission meeting, I must speak out again.  The Commissioners were meeting to decide whether to reopen the beaches and swimming pools.   Citizens were allowed to comment on their decision.  Fear dominated much of their discussion and some public input.  A majority of citizens pled for freedom from the government restricting activities that under all other circumstances would be obvious rights we have as Americans.

The commissioners finally voted to open up the beaches and pools next week. However, it was obvious that they are very reluctant to give away the powers that they have assumed during this crisis.  Even though Sheriff Gaultieri told them that some current guidelines are unenforceable for a number of reasons, they still wanted to keep some restrictions on people at the beach.  The idea of restricting beach activities has no valid medical basis.  There are miles of beach in Pinellas county and people can easily social distance at the beaches.  The commissioners don’t trust that people know how to do that.   Or there might be a few people who don’t social distance enough.  This is ridiculous.   Government must give up these emergency powers which they are currently abusing.   They need to allow people to determine their own activities, such as beach-going, since they want to accept the miniscule level of risk.

Yesterday’s meeting illustrates the bigger issue:  who will decide our health choices?  The government, or patients under a physician’s care?  Our current crisis has become a major health mess.  The government has scared the community so much that the risk of Covid 19 has disproportionately eclipsed every other health risk.   Medical professionals who are able to understand and apply medical decision making must be involved in their patient’s health.  Many patients are now too afraid to even go and see their doctors.

The most important thing for our government leaders to do now is get out.  People must go back to their physicians to get the medical information they need to determine personal life choices based on their own risk tolerance.  To continue down the current path of trying to control the virus by restricting activities and controlling our behavior until a treatment or vaccine is developed, is unwise.  From the feedback that I received, the longer our leaders dawdle in that direction the more people will suffer and die.

 

Disclaimer:  My views may not reflect views of Children’s Medical Center where I work.  Please seek medical advice for you own situation with your doctor.

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