When I learned that Donald Trump is infected with COVID-19, I did not have the normal reaction that I would have, as a doctor, to an overweight septuagenarian getting infected with this deadly virus. Instead, I immediately thought of the positives that could come out of this. Not because I revel in suffering but precisely because I ardently desire millions more people to avoid the death and disability that this virus invites. A virus that snuffs out life indiscriminately. Or perhaps a little too discriminatingly in certain populations, most of whom are not represented in the Trump inner circle.
Maybe Donald and Melania will finally, though inadvertently, be the effective spokespeople for this virus that reason, logic, science, compassion and morality dictated that they be 200,000 lives ago. Perhaps this will be the wake-up call that the tens of millions who adore him, who hang on his every word, who look to him for guidance and leadership, so much so that they are willing to consider ingesting bleach, will heed.
Maybe, just maybe, this is the jolt of reality that only this reality TV star can provide.
Is it wrong for a doctor to be writing these words? I would argue, in fact, that it is precisely in line with the ethics of my profession to welcome the dissemination and augmentation of public health awareness in the context of this pandemic and our country’s failed response to it. For some who follow Hollywood types, it was beloved Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson whose diagnoses snapped people to attention at the start of this pandemic to take it with the gravity it deserved. For sports fans, it was the stories coming out of the NBA with Rudy Gobert’s ridiculous mic touching stunt and the souring of his relationship with Donovan Mitchell after the Utah Jazz coronavirus outbreak.
Others looked to their president and saw a maskless man who mocked those who covered their faces in the context of an airborne illness, who compared it to the flu and said it would go away like a miracle. They looked to the man they voted for and believed in and prayed for as he persisted to downplay the virus as the number of COVID-19 deaths continued to fill increasing numbers of imaginary football stadiums many times over. And even as stories came out of diehard Trump loyalists who succumbed to COVID-19 while regretting not taking this more seriously, he continued to contradict the clear public health messaging of his top officials, undermining and undercutting at every turn.
My colleagues and I have watched, our stomachs turning and churning in twisted knots of anger, as Trump has continued to host superspreader events throughout the country as recently as this past week. Just like the one Herman Cain attended whose life ended shortly thereafter. White hot rage has been our default setting for so many of us in health care over the last eight months, as we have been keenly aware of the broad swaths of precious lives needlessly lost due to the criminal negligence of this administration. I remember how my insides blazed as I watched Vice President Mike Pence traipse through Mayo Clinic without a mask and how there wasn’t a single person in that hospital who was willing to stand up for their patients and colleagues and call out the emperor who had no mask. This administration has been, literally, sickening.
“This moment is bigger than Trump in that it is pregnant with the potential for many of his followers and fans to consider that, maybe, just maybe, Trump isn’t the one whose advice they should heed during this pandemic.”
And now Trump has the virus, like other infected politicians on the world stage that have come before him, the Jair Bolsanaros and Boris Johnsons ― so-called leaders who eschew science and brag about shaking hands with COVID-19-positive patients in hospitals.
Yes, there is the aspect of comeuppance, because what do you expect when you do the very thing that the best and the brightest scientists in the world are pleading the populace to avoid? But this moment is bigger than Trump in that it is pregnant with the potential for many of his followers and fans to consider that, maybe, just maybe, Trump isn’t the one whose advice they should heed during this pandemic. And perhaps this can be the inflection point this nation needs to begin to turn the tide on this pandemic, something other countries, many of whom do not tout themselves as the greatest country in the world, have been able to succeed in.
Every time Trump turned up in public, maskless face for all to see, I thought about a nurse somewhere in an ICU who was reusing her sole N95 mask for her shift. And when he would persist in dismissing the virus as akin to the flu, my heart would ache for the patients whose final moments with their kids were over FaceTime, because they believed in their president ― they imagined that his words meant something.
I have been meaning to write an essay for many months entitled: Dear Huntington Beach, please don’t kill my mom and dad. Both cancer patients on chemotherapy, they are surrounded by unmasked COVID-19 skeptic neighbors whose jumbo screens can be seen from the street blaring Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity peddling their special brand of COVID-19 ignorance. I have wanted to plead with my hometown, whose very air molecules could fell my parents at any given moment, on their way to and from chemo. I thought perhaps an essay like this could appeal to their sense of humanity and decency the next time they bring my mom freshly cut Gerbera daisies from their garden, unmasked faces wanting to chat it up with her on her side patio.
Today, I welcome this moment ― not because I wish this disease on anyone but because there is now a sliver of hope, however thin, that Donald Trump’s COVID-19 infection could be the tipping point that finally makes millions of Americans finally understand the gravity of this illness, finally realize the importance of wearing a mask, finally take steps to protect themselves and their community. It’s the crucial difference between life and death for my mom, my dad, and so many tens of thousands of other beloveds all across this land.
Dipti S. Barot is a primary care doctor in the Bay Area. She is also a freelance writer and you can follow her on Twitter by heading here.
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