The cost of incompetence
Last week, the federal government mailed oversize postcards to thousands of folks in Maine and millions across the country. The face of each postcard reads: President Trump’s Coronavirus guidelines for America. Get real.
Until recently, Donald Trump was the epidemic’s denier-in-chief. He claimed that the “ Chinese virus” would miraculously disappear. Trump is responsible for the government’s delayed and anemic response to pandemic. As a result, hundreds in Maine and many thousands across the nation will likely die.
Adding insult to injury, the postcard demonstrates to me that the president is now using a health emergency to promote his own reelection. And who pays for Trump’s postcard promotion? The taxpayers — you and me.
But that cost is nothing compared to the cost of incompetence in the White House.
Recognizing who is essential
I find it ugly that in this health crisis the U.S. government considers many undocumented immigrants essential workers, but will resume aggressive deportations as soon as the crisis passes.
It is said that moments of crisis show our true character. It is time to show that we have moved beyond the mass extermination of Native Americans and the horrors of slavery, to recognize that the core of our immigration problem is that we are unwilling to recognize that we want and need these workers here.
The U.S. government has now deemed them essential. We must now create a system that recognizes their essential contribution to our lives.
Clarity about the medical laboratory profession
I find this an opportune but unfortunate time to bring to the forefront our profession — that being the medical laboratory profession — and also to clarify some things that are sometimes misunderstood.
Most people do not know who we are or what we do, but let me start with the clarification that the mobile “testing centers” for the coronavirus are not where the tests are performed. Those are specimen collection centers only. The actual testing is done in a clinical laboratory by clinical or medical laboratory professionals. We have college degrees and have studied topics such as clinical chemistry, molecular virology and microbiology, immunohematology,thrombotic evaluation, flow cytometry, pharmacogenomics, mycology, parasitology, etc.
When a patient specimen comes into the clinical laboratory, we do not just push a button and an answer comes out. We do use and maintain sophisticated analyzers, but we also do complex manual testing requiring years of scientific study to get test interpretations right, such as differentiating the cells that determine if a patient’s leukemia is lymphocytic or myelocytic or telling plasmodium falciparum from babesia microti. A patient’s treatment is based on accurate identification of these cells and microorganisms.
If a test takes hours or days or weeks to perform, that is how long it takes. Needs are not being ignored; laboratory professionals are working diligently to get the testing completed. The laboratory receives specimens from all over the hospital, its clinics, nursing homes, and from individual physician offices. Your specimens are given the fullest attention. To us, you are not just a swab or venipuncture — you are our patient!
We love science and want to serve the scientific needs of our patients however they enter the health care system. You don’t have to think of us often, but we hope you know we are there trying to help you along with the other healthcare workers.
Retired medical laboratory scientist
Learn from this crisis
We can build a multi-billion dollar nuclear powered aircraft carrier, which can have enough firepower on board to destroy half the planet in one day, but we cannot provide enough “ personal protective equipment” to protect our healthcare workers from a contagion that can kill thousands of our citizens, or enough ventilators to save their lives when they get ill.
After having worked in engineering and health care, I have seen this coming for many years and tried repeatedly to warn our elected officials of the coming catastrophe. They were only interested in political bickering. And now what is their response? Throw money at it and repeat the same stupid political platitudes and slogans and economic gibberish that got us here in the first place. Can you begin to see my point?
We keep hearing from the government how fast we will return to “normal ” after this is over. There will be no normal after this. And if we try to go back to the same old “normal” then we are doomed to repeat another world catastrophe.
What credibility our government has at the moment will perish along with many of our fellow citizens who will succumb to this disease. It didn’t have to be this way. It could have been prevented. It could have been contained. But political self-interest and corporate greed got in the way.
Every country has a piece of this responsibility and everyone of us has a responsibility to see it does not happen again. We must learn from it.
Applaud and support government workers
Like many Mainers, I am often frustrated by inefficiency and waste in the federal government. But over the last three years I have felt uneasy as President Trump has mocked and disparaged our hard-working civil servants. It has been doubly disappointing to watch the Republican Party join him in their fevered call to “drain the swamp.”
Our government scientists, health professionals and, yes, even bureaucrats work hard to protect our nation’s health and safety. If that wasn’t obvious before, the coronavirus pandemic has brutally reminded us. It was a hugely costly mistake for the Trump Administration to disband the National Security Council’s Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, and wrong to propose budget cuts for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health.
In November, I plan to vote for candidates who applaud and support the important work that federal, state and local officials do on behalf of all of us.
Nathaniel T. Wheelwright