Doctors Are Covid’s First Historians

June 14, 2020
Posted in Blog
June 14, 2020 Editor

Doctors Are Covid’s First Historians

Please click on audio of post. NOTE: only main text read; no links, text markings, images, videos, footnotes, etc. read aloud.

Since March, 40 physicians have created a record of a pandemic in which “grief was the overwhelming theme.”

By Ron Suskind, Illustrations by Lilli Carré

June 12, 2020

Ron Suskind is the author of six books including, most recently, “Life, Animated.”

photo above: Two doctors (Kelly Griffin and Lindsay Lief) discussing fighting COVID-19

WN: This article is simply riveting; letting us into a world of COVID-19 care in two hospitals where doctors are stretched to the breaking point. We non-medical people have no idea . . . Though we’re invited to listen in to the agony . . .

And the Trump Administration is fiddling not only as the U.S. burns; but as medical care practitioners face daily burnout with many unknown future symptoms and current fears such as PTSD, such as infecting loved ones; such as infecting themselves; etc.

Then there are the COVID-19 Holocaust Deniers willingly throwing all caution to the winds–with Ultra-Insensitive Trump willing to sacrifice countless lives, not least medical service providers’ and hospital staff lives, to get re-elected . . .

Please also visit: “The New Stability” – a dark and insightful perspective from a COVID-19 Doctor.


How are you feeling?

She’s the head of an emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian, a huge hospital at the center of the coronavirus pandemic. She’s talking to a close colleague and friend who is a veteran emergency room doctor.

I’m sure I’m feeling the same as you are about the terrible news about Lorna … It’s unimaginable.

Dr. Lorna Breen, head of the emergency department at New York-Presbyterian’s Allen campus in Upper Manhattan, killed herself the previous night. It’s a Monday morning in late April. Many department chiefs know it was a suicide, but aren’t permitted to say — the family’s told the hospital it doesn’t want that information released. Both know that their friend Lorna had Covid-19 and recovered about a week ago.

Sounds like it’s Covid complications.

He says this with a slightest uptick of question on the last word. She looks down.

There’s a lot we don’t know. It’s just incredibly sad. Emergency (Department Chief)
My God, she was so young. It’s hard to wrap your head around. ( Her colleague)
It seems like our west campuses have been hit incredibly hard. They lost one of their beloved emergency department nurses. ( Emergency Department Chief)
Yeah. ( Her colleague)
And, umm, they just lost one of their care coordinators over the weekend. (Emergency Department Chief)

A long pause. She sighs. Then he sighs. And they both begin to cry.

Take a break from this bracing, terrifying, deeply unsettling moment of change and challenge to think like a historian. Which “eyes” from this clearly consequential time will scholars seek; whose perspective — built, as perspectives are, from truths ranging from the widely known and broadly experienced to the personally felt — will be most instructive for history’s record?

A safe bet: doctors and nurses treating Covid-19.

They are, of course, like everyone: wives and husbands, parents and children; many are immigrants. They worry about what’s ahead, and their loved ones, and — with much more intensity than the rest of us — whether they’ll be infected, infect others, or will die.

They also are the first expert eyes to really see this nasty, clever virus up close, and feel its strength in hand-to-hand combat. They fight with it each day in front of frightened patients who are praying for victory and who, if conscious, try to detect how the battle is proceeding through subtle tonalities in what the doctors say, because what they tell a patient is not always all that they know or feel.

That’s what they reveal to the work friend, that trusted soundboard at a shift change, when they exhale and share a moment with the colleague about your condition, your prospects, the situation at hand. That’s also where you’d get a good glimpse of a single life’s fortunes from those who, at this moment, most poignantly experience the interplay between our greatly-altered daily rhythms and a virus that so savagely fells its victims. Someday, a historian will kill for that.

And right now — in a country all but crying out for contextualized truths to help everyone live their lives — hearing those private conversations would come in mighty handy.

But they are devilishly difficult to capture. When people talk to journalists or to someone, like a boss, for whom expression carries consequences — or to virtually anyone on the post-and-present digital landscape — their words take on a performative and transactional quality, where audience matters, as does reaction and effect. It’s not the way we talk to close friends. That’s our real voice, the authentic one, which rests on familiarity and trust.

So I took a digital platform I’d built for autistic people like my son to engage with their friends, a conversation catcher of sorts, to enter that special zone of intimacy — a technology that needs to be operated with particular care as to privacy and disclosure. Then my team and I brought aboard 40 doctors in the thick of the struggle: 20 from NewYork-Presbyterian and 20 from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, both of which have been enduring a battle with the disease that other cities are likely to face.

In late March, each doctor found a trusted colleague and paired off for regular encounters on the platform, called BongoMedia, where they sit, usually at home — their faces side-by-side, like on Zoom — for a 10-minute session guided by preloaded questions that pop up on the screen every few minutes: How are You Feeling? What Do You Fear? What Are Your Hopes?

The questions are meant to start conversations, to help the doctors think and feel and explore together, the way friends do. The Bongo pairs get into just about everything — clinical, emotional, experiential, philosophical and powerfully predictive — in videos that are captured, but not released. To preserve privacy for those made public, we anonymized videos by morphing audio and masking faces, wrapping in only the context needed to understand what’s being said. Next stop, the nurses.

What has unfolded in a hundred sessions with doctors thus far — many lasting more than 10 minutes — is the gyrating crisis mapped to the day. As each city hits its peak, as bodies pile up in New York while Boston prepares for bigger blows, doctors are stunned by how quickly, and mysteriously, the virus kills. They are troubled by the way the elderly and poor fill their emergency rooms, guilt-ridden for feeling relief at not being in otherwise high-risk categories and fearful about how the past weeks have shaken them.

As the country reopens for the summer, with cases plateauing in some states, rising precipitously in others, what these doctors are facing, what they’re learning and how they’re reacting are leading indicators of where we’re heading. Hear them talk to close friends, and you get a sound diagnosis of America’s condition, its prospects and risks and underlying strength.

Please click on: Physicians Pandemic Record: Grief


  1. [1]Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.
  2. [2]It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.
  3. [3]Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.


Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

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