I am blessed.

Watching this coronavirus spread has been like watching a motor vehicle crash in slow motion. At first it seemed as if it might be avoided, but then there was first contact. After that the details remained unpredictable, but it was never in doubt that we would see devastation. In early February, when I saw that more than 10 million people were in the area we are calling the epicenter of the outbreak, it was clear to me that the virus would escape from there undetected, and it would go on to spread over the entire globe. Even if only 1 person in 10 within the epicenter became infected, and the chance of any one individual traveling to another area and infecting someone in a new location was one in a million, undetected spread to the entire world was likely. We knew then that there was likely asymptomatic spread and that this disease was infective enough that each person infected gives it to (on average) more than 2 people over the course of 14 days. That means that the number of people infected would at least double every 14 days in the nature course of things.

The World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020. That designation refers to the geography of spread of an infectious disease, that it has global spread, and does not reflect any indication of the severity of the illness or other dimensions of the disease.

I gotta tell you … I absolutely believe that everything IS exactly as it is supposed to be.

Unfortunately, sometimes it is supposed to be difficult.

Also, consider this Zen story:

A family went to a priest and asked that he prepare a blessing for the family, then write it on a scroll that they could keep as a family heirloom. He agreed to do so, and asked them to return in a few days to receive it. When they returned, they were angry and horrified to find that he had written:

Grandfather dies

Father dies

Son dies

He offered to write a different blessing, but pointed out that the words he had written reflect a life that is free of that most wretched grief of a parent facing the death of their child. When we really look at the things that are important, we see that the avoidance of suffering is much more powerfully beneficial than any enhancement of pleasure ever could be. The family was satisfied with the priest’s work, and took it gratefully. Whether they displayed it prominently is not recorded.

If there is any good thing about this disease, it is that it adheres to the natural order of Grandfather dies, then perhaps Father dies, and son is likely able to carry on and live a normal life with immunity from this disease.

When parents bring their children to the ER with a bad cold and cough, I often tell them; "Your child has a cold. It’s a chest cold, but it’s a cold. It’s simply one of more than 120 different respiratory viruses that are in our community. One of their most important jobs, between 1 and 9 years of age, is to catch most of these viruses. By getting sick with them at this age they develop enough immunities to live without frequent colds later in life." This coronavirus will probably be just one more virus, in a few years. It’s also worth noting that new infectious diseases change characteristics with time, and this almost always results in less severe symptoms.

This is because milder versions of the germ are spread more easily (sicker people stay home or may be more apt to die before spreading the disease) so that milder versions of this virus are likely to outcompete the nastier versions. We have already seen that to be the case with this virus. There are at least two known genotypes, and the deadlier genotype is comprising fewer and fewer of the cases, as a proportion. It turns out that the cases in Washington State are almost all are genetically identical, and they are of the more uncommon and more deadly variety. (That, by the way, suggests that it was brought there by a single person.)

Only time will tell what will happen with this disease, and I do look forward to being able to test for it at our hospital. However, the test is only valuable for a couple of things. If the illness is not widespread in the community, the test can tell us who does have the disease. Once we find a new case (we say ‘index case’) we isolate them from others and follow the chain back to see where they contracted their illness. We can also test and isolate as necessary, all who were exposed along that chain, as well as by the index case. That’s the reason I wish we had the test, to protect the community. Once the illness is widespread, testing will actually be less important, unless and until we have specific treatments that target the virus.

Dr. Bradly Bundrant

Dr. Bradly Bundrant is the Chief of Staff at Ballinger Memorial Hospital and the founder of the Health and Wellness Coalition of Runnels County. The phone number to Ballinger Memorial Hospital is (325) 365-2531.