I Spoke With a Lung Cancer Doctor About Non-Public Scientific Research on COVID.
A friend of mine, I’ll call him B, is a doctor from Italy and a lung cancer researcher at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. He is incredibly intelligent, an acclaimed researcher, a physician, and a kind, thoughtful man.
We had tea and coffee yesterday, along with another friend, J, and I asked B “are you afraid of getting COVID…?”
“No,” he said. “I’m not.”
“Why aren’t you afraid of getting it?” I asked him, shocked.
“Because I’ve read a lot of the scientific, behind the scenes research. Stuff that is not necessarily available to the public.”
“Wow, ok, so what have you read that’s made you less afraid…?”
He told me about how in the last few months, California supposedly had a 40 percent rate of COVID infection, and yet, those are only the reported figures. He said, according to the science, that the actual number is probably close to 13x higher. And that, with this assumption as a concept, it’s likely that more of us than we think have had the COVID-19 antibody in our system, meaning, have technically had COVID in our bodies though did not get sick. (The test for this is separate from the usual up-the-nose COVID test, which tests if you are sick right then. This test is a blood test, which checks whether you’ve had the virus in your system ever).
I asked him, “but isn’t it true that a lot of people who’ve had COVID experience things like inflamed bodily organs for months following?”
“No,” he said. “That is an incredibly small percentage. It’s something like point zero one or something. So yes, it is possible, but it’s highly unlikely. People who experience this have preexisting conditions. So yes, you could be one of those point one percent, sure, if you have an underlying condition you don’t know about, but it isn’t likely. Most people who get COVID either do not even know it, or their symptoms are going to be like the flu for a handful of days.”
“Huh. Interesting,” I said, nodding.
“I mean, of course, I don’t want to get sick,” he continued. “But I have to decide what I’m willing to lose and give up in my life during this pandemic because of fear when, in reality, I don’t think the risk of getting incredibly sick is that high for me,” he said.
“Yes, I am still going to be cautious, as in, wearing masks when indoors, not going to bars and restaurants right now and sitting inside, and not going to massive outdoor gatherings like concerts. All of that would be irresponsible and is a problem. But giving your friend a hug? It’s unlikely you are going to get COVID from that if you’re masked. Sitting outside and having a picnic with friends? Again, possible but not likely. Going out to eat and sitting outside? Same thing. I think we need to find ways to still live, to see our loved ones, to have our relationships while dealing with all of this.”
I nodded and responded.
“People need people. And time isn’t stopping or slowing down. Our lives are still passing. I mean, how long are people going to live like this? Shut away in their homes, hardly seeing anyone, terrified and disconnected from most of life. It seems to me that if this is going to go on for months more, or even a year plus, we need to figure out a better way. A way to be careful, while not giving up the entirety of our lives in the meantime.”
“Yes,” he said, nodding with me.
“It makes me so sad,” he continued, “now when I am out and about walking and people will cross the street to avoid walking close to you now, you know? I totally understand it, but this also is just really upsetting. I think COVID is going to be a huge trauma for a lot of people. And one I am worried it will take years for them to heal from. That people may let it detriment their social lives and relationships out of fear and over the long-term.”
“So you hug people?” I asked him.
“Absolutely,” he nodded.
“This has been going on for so long now in America. We need to find a way to live with this. To still have our loved ones and our social lives, you know?”
I nodded, agreeing.
“If we keep pulling away from each other and hiding out in fear…well, that’s also a disaster for our social lives, for our community, for our civilization,” he said.
“There are ways to get creative, be cautious, and still spend time with the important people in your life. Family, great friends, other loved ones,” I said.
To conclude this article and recollected conversation, a quote from an article in The Atlantic on this very topic with regards to impending winter and how we might get creative with socializing then:
Perhaps the safest way to gather in someone’s home, as unpleasant as it might sound, is to make the indoors more like the outdoors. Marr told me that her family doesn’t plan to have any guests inside their house during the pandemic, but may convene winter gatherings in their garage, with the “door open and a heat lamp, with hats and gloves and maybe bundled in sleeping bags.” She also suggested getting together with people outdoors around a bonfire or under heat lamps.
Similarly, Jha told me that for close friends, he could imagine opening up the windows in his house and letting in fresh winter air in order to have them over. “It’ll be painful for a couple of hours, but we’ll sit and at least get a chance to chat,” he said. “Then [they’ll] leave and we’ll close everything up and turn the heat back on.”
(Note: this entire article, save for the quote from The Atlantic, was a conversation between two friends. People don’t need to remark that we are “wrong” or “right.” I’m well aware, these are just opinions and perceptions. They might be somewhat incorrect (though he is reading medical research and peer-reviewed journals) and there could be many aspects of truth to them. Still, no one really knows the extent of what COVID is yet, nor how to live with all of this right now. I understand that.
Readers may share similar perceptions or they may not, and this is totally ok. The article is just offered as one perception and one way of thinking and living for people to consider and do with what they wish).