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Miami Doctor: In a Pandemic, We All Control the Narrative

The narrative remains in our hands, and the story we tell depends on our collective behaviors.
The narrative remains in our hands, and the story we tell depends on our collective behaviors.

Editor's note: Bryan Pardo, MD, is a family medicine doctor who works as a primary care physician with UHealth. He trained in Boston but is a proud Miami native.

I have been at war since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11, and it seems, finally, that a lot of you have realized you're at war with me. I am a family medicine doctor, and to me, the term "pandemic" means something very specific. This is the fight that my career has been training me for. "Pandemic," to a true doctor, means a world war.

In the past few weeks, my role as a primary care physician has radically shifted. As a young doctor, I have rushed headlong into the digital revolution that is occurring in medicine. Our first rule remains as it always has been: "First, do no harm." But in the span of a few weeks, the responsibility of that oath has now demanded that we reinvent the house call, except this time, we've swapped our cool leather satchels for fancy home workstations and cameras.

My home gaming laptop has now become my pandemic battle station, from which I can help you in your effort to stay safe at home or, to stretch that war analogy just a little further, bolster the home front. I can speak for almost every doctor that you have ever known — your home is exactly where we want you to be right now. My friends and colleagues are right at the frontlines, and anything we non-hospital doctors can do to keep the ERs and hospital beds open and ready will help them conserve supplies and be ready for whatever might come. We also have the knowledge and capacity to recognize who really does need to come into our clinic to be seen. I can only do so much from miles away, but with our rapid jump to telemedicine, these limited in-person visits are now safer for everyone — patients, staff, and, most of all, our community.

Unfortunately, many of our leaders still believe this to be a multifront war, a battle that can be won here in the United States before we seal ourselves off from the rest of the world. This is not how pandemics work. Defeating this bug in Florida will not defeat the bug in Alabama. As long as we share a border, we are sharing the threat.

The only way to defeat a pandemic is to begin to think in "we." It can be a frightening concept to an individualistic, freedom-loving American such as myself, but we have arrived at this point. Within the coming weeks, Americans will be receiving checks in the mail to keep them financially healthy while they remain at home. Given my knowledge of respiratory viruses, I very much suspect that a second check will be called for in short order. Perhaps a third. And a fourth.

The true inevitability is our guaranteed victory. Eventually, coronavirus and the COVID-19 that it causes will be eradicated, and eventually the economy will recover. However, the question as to when those events occur is dependent, almost entirely, on us. And honestly, Florida, so far things aren't looking too great.

I don't want to live in a state that is behind. I don't want to live in the future where we took too long to respond, and authoritative nations such as China, which forced its citizens to stay indoors by the threat of death, are sooner able to break from their quarantines and return to work.

The narrative remains in our hands, and the story that we tell depends on our collective behaviors. We cannot continue with business as usual. I challenge my fellow Floridians to do the harder thing: that we prove the strength of liberal democracies — that we stay at home and actually enjoy it.

Pandemic means war, but with a respiratory virus, any well-read doctor can tell you this is not a police action that is over in the manner of a month. The fight against COVID-19 is a war of attrition. Some of you are expecting that you will be out and about by the first of May. I am sorry to be the one to break this to you, but the odds of that are rather slim.

You might choose to ignore my warning if that is more comfortable to you, or you might choose to believe rosier calculations. But the truth of my writing will only ring louder as time passes. The thing is, though, winning is much easier for us than it is for most.

I share a 900-square-foot apartment with my fiancée, and in the coming weeks, we will be spending lots of time cooped up in here. But within these 900 square feet, I have full access to Netflix, Disney+, all of the audiobooks from the Miami-Dade public library, a Nintendo Switch, a closetful of board games, an ample supply Chef Boyardee, and a strong Wi-Fi connection. Coronavirus does not stand a chance in my apartment. It is my personal citadel, and I am ready for whatever siege is thrown at me. I think in "we." Do you?

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