I don’t enjoy writing about diseases, nor drawing or painting diseases. When I worked for a pathologist I got my fill. The only person I have ever know who enjoyed the dynamics of diseases was Dr. Timothy Bratton. He loved researching anything disease-related. University of Jamestown colleagues and I have discussed since early February what a field day that Renaissance-man historian would be having during this worldwide pandemic were he still alive. We lost him in August.
At the beginning of this week, universities throughout the United States closed. High schools and K-12 closed or soon will. Dr. B (as we all referred to him) was a serious researcher of cause and effect and could give you dates when a pandemic occurred throughout the world. He was a listener of other people’s experiences and could then connect (along with a pun or two) a date in history when that injury or first surgery was performed to cure that ailment.
An ever-curious learner, he would exit his computer with a conqueror’s yell: “Guess what I just discovered?” And then he’d relate his find. He’d use the discoveries at Halloween to create some new angle to frighten people. He made fun of illnesses. He had enough of a health struggle his entire adult life (with diabetes) and learned to manage it with knowledge and humor.
He’d find something to laugh about at this time of history when the world is trying to find meaning and survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not everyone was born with the same type of funny bone. We all have some struggle that we seek ways to overcome. Social distancing means many people feel alone and isolated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information and photographs documenting actions taken in past pandemics that includes empty city squares as well as tent cities filled with victims.
One of the CDC’s National Archive’s photos from the 1918 influenza H1N1 shows a sign in a New England street that reads “Open your windows.” The day after finding that image, on a televised news broadcast there was a sign in a New York borough that read “Keep your windows closed.” The difference in 102 years of directives for the average citizen was a total reversal of safety precautions. Doc B would have something to say. Double-blind, provable science has changed how we view, treat and prevent contagious diseases.
The CDC site contains a wealth of information and historic documents about pandemics, showing methods of dealing with panic and death. It clarifies sources and gives numbers for each country’s deaths. It does not connect to any political leanings but gives clear and simple data that’s easy to understand.
With the number of deaths in Italy as of today, Dr. B would make the connection to the bubonic plague of the 14-16th century. He would dawn his Dr. Schnabel mask, cane and robe, and quote the plague doctor of Rome. He would follow the isolation needed and he’d sit down with his notebook and using cursive, write every bit of information he found. If you were lucky enough to be in one of his Death and Dying classes at UJ, he’d recount every tiny, disgusting fact he’d learned. He’d make sure you knew the importance of the trivia and then caution you on safety practices. Maybe we need some Doc B’s reminding us we’re not alone and we will get through this together.