Columns

The Doctor Isn’t Always Right

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room, Thursday, March 26, 2020, in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence listens. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

True story: A friend of mine was in the military and fell in love with a local national. Military doctors and the base command have to approve when a troop marries a local, so the bride-to-be had to undergo a medical examination via a military doctor on the base. That doctor took X-rays, blood tests and thought he detected tuberculosis, and set about to derail the marriage. The shocked couple went and got a second opinion from a local doctor, who chuckled at the very idea that the lady had any ailment, let alone TB. She was fine. The second opinion saved the wedding and they have been married happily and healthily ever since.

Another true story: A young friend of mine in the military mysteriously broke his femur. He was 19 and otherwise very healthy. Military doctors believed he had cancer and after treatments and repeated breaks, were preparing to amputate his leg. A last-minute second opinion from another military doctor found that there was no cancer at all. He had a staph infection brought on when a military dentist removed the man’s wisdom teeth. He nearly lost his leg, and could have died, if the doctors had kept on down the wrong path they were on. The second opinion saved his life.

Despite knowing that both of these actually happened, when I visit my doctor I tend to trust what I hear and act on it. Doctors know a lot more than I do.

Still, the doctor isn’t always right. Good doctors encourage us to get a second opinion on anything very important. There’s room to disagree with Dr. Anthony Fauci when he prescribes a national lockdown as we face COVID-19. He’s not an economist and jobs aren’t necessarily his job. His medical advice, which is likely the best we have available, has to be balanced with economic and other information available to President Trump. I do trust President Trump not to happily preside over the destruction of the economy he built over the past three years. His seriousness, including the quick action to ban travel from China back in January and his quick thinking to involve corporate America from Honeywell to MyPillow, should give us all some comfort even as we face an unprecedented economic crash thanks to the shelter-in-place orders that about 75% of Americans now live under. His business sense serves us well now.

We’ve seen 10 million apply for unemployment just in the last two weeks. A huge majority, 87%, of small businesses say they are experiencing major impacts from the shutdowns. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s not 100%.

The economy is essentially frozen. You can preserve something by freezing it. But you can also kill it that way. Freezing the economy, which is basically a living thing, will eventually kill it. It’s just a matter of time until the economy looks like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.

All of that said, outside the United States COVID-19 is creating dire situations. CNN published this video of what’s taking place in Ecuador. I know…CNN. But still. There, authorities can’t even keep up with removing bodies of those killed by the virus, or who had the virus and died due to underlying conditions. It’s stark. They’re flooding streets with soap to combat the virus. Watch the video:

Assuming CNN isn’t just making this up, and there’s no indication of that, COVID-19 is a deeply serious threat. Dr. Fauci is trying to prevent similar scenes from happening here. But, and this is very important, such scenes are made worse by Ecuador’s economy being much weaker and less advanced than ours. We have to have an economy while we act on medical advice to get through this.

The president knows this. Today he’s meeting with oil executives to save the U.S. oil industry. It was thriving just a month ago, but is on the verge of collapse today. No energy means the lights literally go out, and many many more will suffer and die not just here, but everywhere. American industry and technology are facing similar threats, red lights blinking away on the nation’s dashboard.

At some point, the president will probably have to reject Dr. Fauci’s medical opinion and render his own opinion — and restart the economy so we can get back to work. When we get back to work we have to get the timing right to balance the medical interests with the economic ones. I won’t even pretend to know when that is — but it needs to be soon.