Medical Tug of War

February 19: International Tug-of-War Day -

I went to the doctor and it ended up being one of the strangest moments during the pandemic.

It was my routine check up. Without a new teaching job, in the event that did occur, I needed to use my insurance and get a physical before my provider ran out.

Calling into the office, they informed me to park in the main parking lot, and to stay there after doing a phone check in and only come in when they were ready.

As I had been there once before, there was no paperwork to fill out. I remember the last check up two years ago only briefly: we had talked about a history book about King Arthur. I suppose at the time I had read The Once and Future King and I had brought it up.

In any case, the general experience of having a doctor investigate your intimate area is certainly hard to forget.

Here I could see people with masks following one another down the sidewalk in an eerily equidistant fashion, like the cover of Abbey Road from The Beatles. After an initial check in, it was only then I was able to walk across the hospital and take the third floor up to the physician’s office.

The Nurse

After initial height, weight, and blood pressure checks, the nurse and I got to talking about PPE and how, as a teacher, I was not looking forward to what she was experiencing now, which was to wear it for upwards of eight hours a day…should that need arise.

She told me that she had been divorced for some time, and that her children lived with her parents. Between that and her own children’s underlying health conditions, to be going to school would be to risk not only getting it themselves, but also to bring it back to her own aging parents. She recommended that schools should be closed until at least the spring. As a parent, but also as a nurse practitioner, she knew that the combination of Covid-19 and the flu in winter would be a difficult set of circumstances to parse out.

I told her I agreed.

The Physician

Once she left and I got changed, I was just about to pick up my book and start reading, when the doctor quickly entered the room. We got to talking about school, funnily enough. Either he remembered I was a teacher, or he got to talking to the nurse, or he simply took a glance at my paperwork and saw I was a teacher by trade.

We started off by discussing post-secondary education, talking about how many schools could not justify the costs, if it came to pass that many schools would be going online. And since many schools earn much of their paycheck from on-campus living, cutbacks were likely for those smaller schools, and possibly even four year state institutions. We discussed the possibility of a national degree, where it was not the school that administered it, but some conglomerate of multiple colleges would agree to give accreditation to students as long as they took online classes and earned a passing grade (or the GPA required by their college of choice) with an approved professor. So no longer would a student be tied to a campus, they would instead be tied to a degree, and that freedom would allow a professor to export themselves out beyond the institution. Because of that, we also discussed the premium quality that would be required, in studio equipment for audio/visual production, as well as design of graphics alongside, in order to produce content that would rise to the top.

While MOOCs were a passing excitement from the 2000s to the early 2010s, it died out largely because it was the internet attempting to perform how poor lecture style classes were in seminars. What my doctor was suggesting was something far more pristine. In contrast with some other more explicit coursework like Khan Academy, the humanities seemed to be in desperate need of some fantastic looking and feeling experiences.

I tried to explain and bridge his ideas to courses from Udemy and Coursera, or even Skillshare. Plenty of this highly premium content already existed on the internet, it simply lacked the clout or veracity it was looking for. But I do not believe I was able to do that. For him, this idea was novel, and he was urgently suggesting to me, as a younger teacher, full of that technological prowess, I might be able to do something incredible.

From there, the situation turned starkly in the opposite direction.

We began to discuss K-12 school, and the differing requirements there. I had read some responses of some teachers farther north in the United States attempting in-person classes. What was surprising was not that students did not behave correctly. On the contrary, many of the students took great pains to keep their masks on and to sterilize their hands whenever possible.

No, the greater surprise to the teachers was how much we rely on contact, and the ability to read each other’s faces, as partial elements to the learning experience.

I lamented to my physician that, even if schools were to remain open, it would pale in comparison to the learning achievements that could be made in a more ideal scenario. When people compare class sizes of 15 and 30, they are talking about the quality of education given in an hour and a half. We may eventually have a similar pre-covid/post-corona school mindset, where our faces are more involved in the learning than we thought.

The doctor was at his wit’s end. He suggested that the masks we wore were not helping contain the spread of coronavirus in any way. The real gaps we should be investigating should be gaps between the old and the young, and as schools opened, he recommended that we segregate the old and the young for two weeks until the virus “passed through.” I did not press further on this phrase, but I was assuming he meant herd immunity.

I had not noticed this until now, but the doctor’s mask was barely a covering at all. Whereas the nurse wore a high quality mask tightly around most of her face, the doctor had a cloth covering that could have fallen off at any moment.

He referenced the American Pediatrics Association’s recommendation to put kids in school. “And we should do what they say.”*

What Now?

* As a side note, I found the APA’s recommendation to be deflating. Here is a snippet:

 Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being and provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits.

This implies that, were students not in school 40 hours a week, that they would not be receiving these things. What exactly is our default state for parenting? Is our current socio-economic state so poor for a huge swath of our country as to be totally inert when it comes to the basics of keeping our children alive? In the hierarchy of needs, can we not provide for each child what they need? I am aware of the distinction between having a child and being a parent, but at some point we are going to have to decide just how far a school is supposed to go in providing for a child’s needs.

But ANYWAY.

After I had my balls fondled, I left the hospital in a bit of a tailspin.

America’s history has been plagued with a pragmatic, no-nonsense level of discourse. We like our communication to be simple and direct. I too believe in this. In the history of education in Europe, you will find a boring continuance of one-up-ism, a reliance on jargon, and lectures of such dense language as to short circuit your short term memory.

We also have a sometimes unhealthy distaste with experts. I went into this check up thinking I needed to overcorrect. It was important, I thought, to have trust in experts, and to believe and take to heart what they have to say.

I was told from a nurse that schools should be closed, whereas the doctor believes they should be open.

I was also advised to take zinc.

Now I don’t know what to think.

It seems as though if developments in the world proceed fast enough, you are going to get wildly different notions of what the answers are. For a novel virus like COVID-19, we keep bouncing on either side of a spectrum, back and forth, until we come to the middle, which will likely turn out to be the truth.

A harsh shut down, combined with trust in institutions, allowed South Korea to resume baseball with fans.

Meanwhile, whole teams are having outbreaks and delaying games in the United States.

The differences in early coronavirus practices are starting to show themselves very starkly.

But this was only after months had passed.

I was shocked, shocked, to not only have differing opinions among people, but among two medical practitioners in the same wing.

In my interview with a school that morning, I was asked how I would know if a student learned the material I was teaching.

There are plenty of artifacts I could collect to watch them regurgitate the material.

But after this doctor’s appointment? I just do not know. Because even when an immense amount of pressure is placed on the world to become epidemiological experts, even when we are cooped up in our houses with little to do but keep up with the news, even when we send links to each other on co-morbidities, there is still a chance that two people can approach the same knowledge and get two wildly different responses.

How can we not throw our hands up in moments like this?

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