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A Tale of Two Golfers

This is a tale of two golfers. 

Garry and Jack loved golf and both were good at it, although, truth be told, Garry was better. There had been talk in his more youthful years that Garry played at just slightly below the PGA level.

To support their golfing habits, Garry went into the insurance industry and Jack went into real estate. Both had their ups and downs during their careers but were generally successful and made a good living. They joined country clubs and went on golfing vacations across the U.S. and abroad.

Of the two, Garry was in reasonably good physical shape and maintained a healthy weight. Or at least his wife made him maintain a healthy weight after he suffered a heart attack. But that was some 30 years ago. She changed his diet to one that was reasonably low in fat, high in fiber, and all that. 

Although he was about five years younger than Garry, Jack was overweight and his diet was suspect. He greatly enjoyed fast food. 

Neither Garry nor Jack drank alcohol.

When the pandemic struck back in March, Garry and Jack were in their 70s, and, given their age and physical conditions, pretty much equally at risk.

About two months ago, Garry’s wife died of an age-related condition after four days in the hospital. As they were planning her funeral, both Garry and his son became ill with fevers and coughing. They were tested for COVID-19 and waited for the results while quarantining at home. A few days later, the results came back positive. They were surprised because they both felt they had maintained good precautions against the virus. They continued to quarantine at home.

After about a week, Garry became sicker and was transported by ambulance to a reasonably good hospital near his home. He was put under the care of the hospital staff doctors. 

Garry was given two of the few standard treatments for COVID-19, remdesivir and the steroid dexamethasone. His condition neither improved nor worsened for about two weeks, then he developed atrial fibrillation. He was moved to the ICU, put on a respirator, and eventually rotated to a face-down position, which is designed to help severely ill COVID patients breathe more easily. 

Garry always had a great sense of humor, and after about a week in the ICU, Garry’s son sent a text message his dad had dictated. In it, Garry announced his retirement from his insurance agency, from golfing, from going to movies and NFL and NBA games, and from spending time with his family. Garry died just after dictating his message. He had just turned 80 the week before.

Not too long ago, Jack also became ill with a high fever and a cough. In his current line of work he meets many people each day, and he was known to dismiss protocols such as social distancing and wearing a face mask. So he was immediately tested for COVID, even though he had been tested just a day or two previously. The result, which came back the next day, was positive. Shortly thereafter he was admitted to a large and prestigious hospital, and a team of 12 doctors, some of whom were highly trained specialists, attended to him 24 hours a day.

He was given an experimental monoclonal antibody cocktail that is available only to a select few. He was also given remdisivir and dexamethasone. Within a few days his condition improved, and he was released from the hospital and allowed to return to work.

It would be easy to assume that Jack survived his bout with COVID because of his treatment, which on the face of it seemed better than Garry’s. We can ask questions such as would Garry have lived had he been tested sooner and received his results faster? If he had gone to a hospital immediately instead of quarantining at home? If he had been admitted to a huge research hospital where a team of 12 specialists attended to him around the clock? If he had received the experimental antibody therapy?

The problem is there is no way to know why the outcomes were so different. In medical terms, the two cases only provide what is called “anecdotal” evidence. The two outcomes may suggest avenues for research on the treatment of COVID, but no valid conclusions can be drawn.

What can be said about the SARS-CoV-2 virus is that it does not respect age, race, gender, social or economic status, or political party, and can infect anyone from homeless persons to presidents. On the other hand, due to inequities in access to health care in the US, our poor and minority populations have been affected disproportionately. 

And the disease the virus produces, COVID-19, affects everyone differently. Some people who become infected show no symptoms. Some only have mild symptoms. Some die. You may live but suffer permanent damage to your heart, lungs, or nervous system. Victims have included children and previously healthy young adults, such as the Broadway actor Nick Cordero, who was 41, spent 95 days in intensive care, underwent numerous surgeries including amputations, and died needing a double lung transplant. No matter what his doctors tried, the virus outwitted them.

Then there is Angelina Friedman of Mohegan Lake, New York, who in her life has survived miscarriages, sepsis, cancer, and now, at the age of 101, COVID-19.

It all comes down to luck. How will COVID-19 affect YOU should you become infected? There is no way to know.

The Centers for Disease Control recommend that you wash your hands frequently, maintain social distancing, and wear a face mask to reduce your risk of infection. Of course, even those steps do not guarantee you will avoid the disease. But if your inclination is to ignore those guidelines, it might be a good idea to remember the words of Inspector Harry Callahan in the film “Dirty Harry”: 

“You’ve gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ 

Well, do ya . . .?”