By Harold Goldberg, M.D.
Remembrance for 9/11 took place on a Saturday under clear skies. And that was not the only thing that was clear. It was clear that America still hurts, and mourns, and remembers.
Every time the bell was rung by an NYC firefighter, the air was pierced by the name of a soul lost in the incomprehensible collapse of the Twin Towers. Whether the person was an innocent victim working that regular morning or ran into the stairwell under threat, their memory looms over their relatives, their friends, their colleagues and all of us as Americans. The 2,977 names that day represented America, a roll call of the dead, whether traditional names of five letters or immigrant names from afar of 15 letters, they described the mosaic that is America – a testimonial to the melding across cultures. Listen, and hear America. The speakers honored the lost with words that spoke of the ongoing pain – with one clear message: We will not forget – your laugh, your smile, your sacrifice, your wisdom, your love – in short, the life that made you who you were and helped make us who we are. Hear the outrage of what was taken from us.
Then there were those who honored all of them, who took risks to their own well-being and unpiled the rock and steel, with ash-laden air and toxic fumes, never questioning the long-term health effects. They did it willingly, taking a risk for their fellow Americans. America was at its best in the days that followed. And we gave up freedoms in the Patriot Act, to be able to fight foreign enemies, and did so without much objection.
This 9/11/21 as a nation we also mourned the loss of 1,666 people due to the COVID-19 virus and a similar number the following day – 3,332 people over two days falling to an enemy as well; essentially equaling the Ground Zero 9/11 deaths. Again, foreign in origin and again arriving by air. Whether it was a lab accident, a purposeful manipulation of viral particles, or a leap across phyla from bats to humans, maybe it will be determined at some point.
But we have lost the ability to unite as Americans, and the enemy now has the advantage. We appeared to be gaining ground, but we are now losing. Surges of the enemy keep coming, and our hospitals throughout America and certainly in this community, are bending and bowing under the strain. Recently, Sacred Heart Medical Center announced a high-contingency level of care and if not effective, then move on to crisis level of care. There is collateral damage from the enemy, to other noncombatants who have their own battles, fellow citizens who are hurt, damaged and possibly dying due to other common ailments such as trauma or heart attacks, when care is delivered in this fashion. Crisis level of care is an actual term, not just an adjective, meaning there is a reduction in ability to care for illness throughout the hospital in the usual way, and people will potentially be harmed.
We have three weapons – two are simple: masks and vaccines. The third is a challenge: our will – the will to recognize that as Americans we can still sacrifice for each other as the workers did toiling in the aftermath and rubble of the towers. Is the risk as high now? Very unlikely. Are all the risks known? Now as then, there are unknowns; some claim sterility, tracking with chips, autism – disproven by the facts for now. I say for now … Do we have all the facts – one thing this viral enemy has taught us, to be humble about what we know, and responsive to what we learn. Two weeks ago, the CDC published the facts that the unvaccinated are 4.5 times more likely to get COVID-19, and 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die. There may be some risks, but can we not look at our fellow Americans, our children, immune-compromised neighbors, our health care providers in harm’s way every day and be willing to take some small risks for them?
There is the claim of freedom. I get it; I did not get vaccinated for the flu until 35 years of medicine, feeling my immune system was strong after exposure to multiple patients. I did so when I knew that it would be helpful if I modeled it for fellow hesitant health care workers. Freedom now is free to do the right thing; not to use the word to avoid doing just that. We give up freedoms for things we understand – you may be free to drink alcohol, but you’re not free to get behind the wheel and kill someone else.
We are a community of people and it is time to step up and look out for each other because it is clear – your freedom impacts your fellow Americans. This is not a media bias, this is fact. Do not allow yourself to be manipulated by someone with an agenda, who has a number of motives but certainly does not have the goal of keeping you or the community safe.
Since the pandemic began there have been 662,000 fellow Americans that have died from the COVID-19 enemy – 222 September 11s have passed and will occur many more times unless we do something radically different. The pain of their families and friends is as real as those who lost family on 9/11. Perhaps, if this invisible enemy had a flag, we could get behind the fight. Step up from behind the shadow of the word freedom, and step up to get vaccinated.
America, do we believe: “One nation under God INDIVISIBLE, with Freedom and Justice for All”? We are better than the divisions that have divided us. Let us understand the responsibilities of the word freedom.
Harold Goldberg, M.D., Providence Spokane Cardiology
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