York County Medicine Summer 2020 - 12

YO R K C O M E D S O C . O R G

INCOMING PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE:

Colleagues,
T
PAUL D. BURCHER, MD, PHD
Incoming President

he Covid-19 crisis has laid bare many problems in our society. The political
polarization has made communication regarding medical realities more
complicated and less trusted by the general public. The conspiracy theorists and
tinfoil hat wearers have really had a heyday with this global pandemic. What can we, as
physicians, do to calm this atmosphere and encourage both our patients and politicians to
take an evidence-based approach to this pandemic? I have some thoughts, but first I want
to share my sense of the problem.
I recently read on Twitter a tweet wherein the writer claimed that they would never
accept receiving a Covid-19 vaccine because, "Big pharma isn't going to inject poison into
my veins." As you can imagine, the twitterverse went crazy excoriating this lost soul, but
my reaction was more akin to sadness. One has to be pretty deep down a paranoid rabbit
hole to preemptively reject potentially life-saving preventive medicine.
Similarly, I went to an Amish farm the other day to buy cheese from his little self-serve
store. I expected to be alone, but I wore a mask, just in case I ran into the farmer or his
family. As I was leaving the store, he and a non-Amish neighbor in a pickup truck greeted
me. The neighbor asked somewhat suspiciously why I was wearing a mask. I responded
that I was a doctor and had treated patients in the hospital just last night, so I wore a mask
to protect other people. His attitude instantly changed, and he thanked me for masking.
But then he launched into a soliloquy about how politicians were inflating numbers, and
that this is really no worse than the flu. We had a respectful conversation, but I did
challenge both of his assertions. It seemed like I changed his views at least a little, and
if I did it is because he was willing to accept my expertise as a physician. Herein lies the
difference between the Twitter anti-vaxxer and the Amish farmer's neighbor-one had the
humility to recognize what he didn't know.
Many others have written about the decline in physician/scientist trust and authority.
Blame Dr. Google, or the President, or a post-modern world where every reality is
questioned (even the shape of our planet). But these are all things we have no ability to
control or change. What we can change, and what we as a profession must change, is how
we talk to our patients and the public.
Patients, indeed, all of us, learn more from stories than we do from bare facts or statistics.
Stories make facts real to us. When I am counseling a pregnant woman regarding influenza
immunization, especially if her initial response is refusal, I often share that during the
H1N1 epidemic I had to do a perimortem cesarean on a 22-year-old woman dying of
influenza in the ICU. The facts are that hundreds of pregnant women die in any given year

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York County Medicine | SUMMER 2020


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York County Medicine Summer 2020

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