Turns out, being stalked by a hurricane feels like it was on the eve of the pandemic, when we knew a storm was coming but little else. Both are slow catastrophes in the beginning. Both may or may not cause major deaths and injuries. They can be devastated or passed over without touching for the most random reasons or for no reason. Both are quickly forgotten.
Remember the viral hits MERS or SARS, cousin of COVID-19? Hurricane Bonnie 1998 and, yes, 2022? Each of the three flu pandemics after 1918? Will Hurricane Ian make the cut like Andrew, Katrina, Ebola, or AIDS?
There is a lot of denial in our society – COVID, climate change, political election results. We have the ability to entertain and distract ourselves until the storm is right over us. We humans have a decent ability to psychologically shrug our shoulders unless something directly happens to us or those we love. If not, we feel sad for a moment and then move on.
Maybe it protects us, this ability to curb our fear.
Without them I could never work as an emergency doctor. People close to me think I have PTSD after dealing with COVID for 2½ years and they are probably right.
I live a dual life, flying back and forth, practicing at UCLA and living part-time in Key West caring for a home in a place so beautiful I call it Saltwater Yosemite. But world capital Los Angeles tempts with better weather – spilled over a varied landscape like champagne on a crumpled satin bed.
People often ask how I balance life in liberal LA and crazy Florida. I tell them that the local newspapers cover the same issues: lack of affordable housing for essential workers and families, rising crime and violence, homelessness, corruption and ineffective local government. They sense a shared uneasy feeling that life is out of control, that communities are turning inward and turning away from those who are different from them, even though histories of diversity are celebrated in both places.
The Los Angeles Times and the Key West Citizen feature “it was better here 10 (20, 30 years ago)”. While such perspectives aren’t necessarily true, I find it protective to keep politics, past and present, out of the Left Coast and Gunshine State conversation.
Ian has humiliated Florida and now there will be plenty of tense political talks, a familiar echo of recent tough talks.
We doctors were humbled by the pandemic. We fiddled with what we knew and didn’t know, giving the crazy theories and outright lies a chance to dominate and water down good advice. people died from it. We’re still fighting this battle, despite great vaccines and treatments working in patients on both sides of the political divide.
The result? Thirty percent of Americans remain unvaccinated, our life expectancies have fallen, and COVID is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Like Ian, it doesn’t matter what our politics are or what state we’re fleeing from. COVID likes to mutate freely while we argue.
I’ve learned to control my panic, which is an important pre-vaccination tool that’s as useful as a real N95, especially on the day of my flight when Hurricane Ian was turning and cornering toward the Keys and Florida. I got one of the last flights.
As I waited in a crowded terminal with bared-faced passengers who seemed unfazed by Ian, I felt a familiar rising anxiety. It seemed like everyone had a sippy cup and a poker face. Mine was one of the few covered by a mask.
COVID? So last year. Have another drink.
Not on my flight. Impressed by towering purple clouds and a radar screen that looked like an abstract painting in angry shades of red, the pilots buckled everyone, including the cabin crew, for the entire flight.
eight hours later As I walked out through Terminal 4, I didn’t realize that LAX had lifted its mask rule while I was traveling in South Florida, where wearing a mask was so rare the police might think you’d just robbed a bank when the light went on was wrong.
I concentrated on getting to the curb and almost bumped into a tall gray-haired elderly gentleman walking the other way. We did a masked two step and he passed me. A second later, a loud voice hit me from behind.
“What’s the matter with the mask, old man?”
Tired and fed, I turned around and thought, “Are you talking to me?” Before I could fill up on De Niro, the tall gentleman came face to face with a young man wearing a red baseball cap.
Let’s go, LA, not Florida. You can’t invent this stuff.
But the Lord just said, “I have my reasons. You keep yours.” He turned away from the smiling brother and disappeared into the crowd. He did what we all need to do – keep trying to live a balanced life even when we are changed out of the blue by our experiences, storms or viruses or something else.
Mark Morocco is a Los Angeles physician and professor of emergency medicine.
https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-10-17/covid-pandemic-ptsd-hurricane-ian-florida Op-Ed: COVID, Hurricane Ian and me — a doctor whose friends say I have PTSD