In This Episode
Not even two weeks since the white supremacist murder spree in Buffalo that took 10 lives at a grocery store, another gunman entered an elementary school and killed 19 kids and two teachers. It’s true, people kill people. But when they do, there’s a reason they usually use guns. It’s because they’re the most effective–particularly the ones meant for war. Abdul reflects on the back-to-back murders–and those the media doesn’t pick up. Then he talks to trauma surgeon and founder of gun reform advocacy organization This is Our Lane, Dr. Joe Sakran.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: 19 children and two teachers were murdered in a mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. This following another mass shooting at a grocery store by a white supremacist who killed ten in Buffalo two weeks ago. Yet another Omicron sub-variant becomes dominant in the U.S. as, COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to climb. In personal news, I had an emergency appendectomy this week and it reminded me all that we’re fighting for. This is America Dissected. I’m your host, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed.
So I’ve got a four-year old daughter. Her preschool sends regular updates on what they’re learning every week, and any forthcoming safety exercises. I remember seeing one about an active shooter drill that they did at the school–preschoolers doing active shooter drills. And though I am appalled and sickened that my four-year old kid has to do them, I’m also really grateful. Because 19 sets of parents lost their elementary school-aged kids in a senseless act of gun violence in Uvalde Texas last week. It’s not even the first mass school shooting this year, it’s the 27th. The Uvlade shooting comes as we bury the victims of the Buffalo shooting, perpetrated by a white supremacist who travel more than 2 hours from home specifically to kill Black people. Along with those school shootings, there have already been 200 mass shootings in America this year alone. Last year saw 693. To say that we have a gun violence epidemic is, at this point, to state the obvious. And yet it doesn’t have to be like this. Pro-gun extremists are hiding behind the Second Amendment to claim that they have some kind of right to a gun. So maybe it’s worth dissecting the Second Amendment for a second. It says, and I quote, “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” I want you to think about what that means. First, it doesn’t say the right of any person, but rather the right of the people. By my reading, that doesn’t apply to just anyone. In fact, it wasn’t until 2008–2008!–that the Supreme Court interpreted it that way in the landmark Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v Heller. Previously, the law held that the Second Amendment was intended to cover gun ownership rights for a militia or community purposes, such as being a member of the police or the National Guard. That’s what a well-regulated militia is supposed to mean. And well-regulated, our system is not. Nowhere does it say that any person can have any gun anywhere at any time, and yet that’s exactly what NRA backed-extremists want to tell us. They tell us that people kill people, not guns. But then why do they always use guns to do it? Well, because they’re a lot more effective as a weapon of murder than nearly anything else. There’s a reason our government is sending guns to Ukraine right now, not spears or clubs or knives. These shooters aren’t using just any guns either. They’re using semi-automatic assault-style rifles that have no other use except for killing a lot of people in a short time. These are weapons of war that have no place in peaceful communities. And the data, well, they’re clear. There are more guns in America than there are people. If you plot the number of guns per person against the number of gun deaths per person, it’s a straight line. If you plot the increase in gun ownership we’ve seen over the past two years against the increase in gun deaths, again, a straight line. Yes, people kill people . . . with fucking guns. And it’s not just these mass shootings. Though, there’s something particularly bloodcurdling at the thought of a child, an innocent child, in their school being shot, it’s the one-off shootings that plague communities around our country too. Homicide by gun is the most common cause of death among young Black men in this country. And it’s not just murder, but suicide. The majority of deaths by guns are suicides. If we’re serious about saving lives in this country, then we ought to be serious about gun reform. But here’s the most hypocritical part: the folks currently blocking any action on gun reform, they’re the same ones who claim to be blocking access to a safe, legal abortion because they’re, quote unquote, “pro-life.” It’s like they believe that the life of an unborn fetus is more important than the life of a child, that the rights of a gun are more important than the rights of a woman. One of the tools this so-called pro-life fringe uses is to tell anyone concerned about America’s gun violence epidemic, to stay in their lane. That’s been their response to any public health official finally calling gun violence what we’ve known it to be all along, a public health crisis. But what else should the leading cause of death among a whole demographic of Americans be called? Our guest today, he’s hitting back. Dr. Joe Sakran is a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Part of his job every day is to treat gun violence victims the moment after they’re shot. He’s saved lives, and lost many, too. He started a gun reform advocacy organization for health care professionals called “This Is Our Lane.” Here’s my conversation with Dr. Joe Sakran.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right, let’s, let’s jump in. Can you introduce yourself with the tape?
Dr. Joseph Sakran: Yeah, absolutely. So my name is Joe Sakran.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Joe Sakran understands gun violence as both a survivor, as a trauma surgeon treating gun violence victims in Baltimore, and as an activist. I wanted to talk to him about what we’re missing when we talk about this epidemic and what it will take to make change.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Can you tell me a little bit about your work?
Dr. Joseph Sakran: Yeah, sure. So I am a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins, and I’m currently the Director of Emergency General Surgery and the Vice Chair of Clinical Operations. And I’d been there for since about 2016. And so my work really kind of entails a number of different components. One is taking care of critically injured patients. So that’s the trauma side of it. The second is taking care of folks that come in with emergency general surgical problems like appendicitis or bowel obstruction. And then the third part of it is the critical care aspect where, you know, as an intensivist, we take care of those surgical folks that are in the ICU that need critical care. And it’s an incredible profession. You know, something that I’m so blessed to do, and to think that, you know, as a surgeon, you’re able to have people trust you with their lives, I just can’t think of anything that would be more gratifying.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And then outside of your work at at Hopkins in the operating room and in the clinic, you also do quite a bit of advocacy. Can you tell us about your org?
Dr. Joseph Sakran: Yeah. So, you know, I think, you know, to kind of tell you about that, I really have to begin by telling you why I’m even doing the stuff that I’m doing. And really, my life changed when I was 17-years old, where as a high school senior, I went from, you know, being this healthy kid to collateral damage after I was nearly killed when I was shot in the throat with a 38 caliber bullet. And, you know, it’s actually amazing, Abdul, how clearly I still remember, you know, the majority of that night. And I was, you know, taken to NOVA Fairfax hospital trauma center where I was lucky enough to be cared for by, you know, an incredible multidisciplinary team that was led by Dr. Ahmed, who was my trauma surgeon, and Dr. Mukherjee, my vascular surgeon. And, you know, that second chance that I had really kind of changed the trajectory of what I do today and why I even do the advocacy work that I do. In fact, I’ll tell you that, you know, when I first decided to go into medicine, really that decision was based on the fact that I wanted to be able to give other people the same second chance that I was given. And then as I started to kind of go down this professional path, I began to realize that thinking beyond simply the trauma center or beyond the operating room was so critical, because despite how good I think I am or how incredible our health system is, the best medical treatment is prevention. And that’s what took me to, you know, the advocacy work that you’re asking about, where I felt like as a health care professional, as someone who’s seen this both as a survivor and now has a clinician, I had both the opportunity and the responsibility to think beyond the bedside. And this is where, you know, really in 2018 when the NRA came after docs and said pretty much that we shouldn’t be involved in this discussion around gun violence in America, and they told us essentially to stay in our lane. You know, we came out and said, No, actually, this is our lane. And we felt very strongly about that because, you know, we are, of course, at the center of taking care of these patients, talking to these families, and so you can imagine how incensed we were when we heard that. And I think it really led to being able to find our voice, and we found our voice, Abdul, because it wasn’t just about giving people, you know, the numbers and the statistics. It was about being able to tell our stories, whether it was our personal stories or stories of our patients, and to be able to really demonstrate to the public what was happening every day in hospitals across America.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I appreciate you sharing your own story of being a victim of gun violence and how that motivated you and your work. And you have a unique view both because of your own personal experience, but then also because of your clinical experience every day. You treat gun violence victims in the course of what you do. What do you think we’re missing in the conversation about gun violence in this country that your perspective offers?
Dr. Joseph Sakran: Yeah, I think it’s a couple of things. You know, the first is, you know, one of the things I’ve learned is that we often talk about these numbers and statistics, right? You hear them being talked about around this public health problem all the time. But I would submit to you that they’re not just numbers and statistics. We’re talking about human beings. We’re talking about moms, dads, you know, brothers and sisters, that are part of our families, they’re part of our communities, and they’re the fabric of our society. And so I think we can’t forget about all that. You know, we’ve become so desensitized as a nation that these headlines barely get people to notice anymore. Or maybe you hear them responding, Oh, another shooting. And I think about this as the fact that, like when one of us is not safe, none of us are safe. And this is frankly, you know, in my mind, a uniquely American problem that reverberates across communities throughout our country. And so I think we have a responsibility to really think broader and more comprehensively as we try to tackle this issue.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: We’ll be back with more with Dr. Sakran after this break.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: And we’re back with more of my conversation with Dr. Joe Sakran.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: When the gun lobby came after you–folks who are either paid for or themselves make gobs and gobs of money selling deadly weapons to people, many of whom don’t know how to use them–when they came after you and told you to stay in your lane, how did that change the way you thought about the gun violence issue? What perspectives did that offer you in terms of how you need to respond?
Dr. Joseph Sakran: Yeah. I think in general, the health care community there are there are many that, you know, believe that their role is, you know, simply to work at the clinical bedside. And let me just be clear, like, I don’t want to, like, minimize the importance of that. Of course, that is critical, important work that I think , you know, all of us love that have gotten into medicine, but I think we lost sight of the fact that we are also part of communities, we’re a part of this nation. And we have, I think, both the ability and the responsibility to take what we see and really be part of the solution. And it’s not just in gun violence. I mean, you think about how health care interconnects in so many of the different issues we are facing as a country, whether it was COVID or immigration or climate change or racism, right? And it’s so inter-tied to health care and here we are as health care professionals, and it took, I think, honestly, a lot of collective individuals, not just doctors, by the way, nurses, researchers, people from all walks of life, to come together and say, No, you know what, we actually are part of the solution, and we have to be. And I think, Abdul, when you think about any complex public health problem, right, if anyone thinks that they can solve it alone, whether it’s an individual or an organization, they either don’t understand the complexity of the problem or they don’t really want to make a difference. And I think that’s what we saw with the NRA. You know, look, let me just be clear, like the problem are not responsible gun owners. And when you think about the NRA, right, the problem with the NRA is that the leadership doesn’t represent the membership. And just think about that for a second, right, you have the majority of NRA members, okay, that are in favor of things like universal background checks, yet the leadership is not willing to push on that. Right? And this discrepancy is so clear. So I think we have to move away from the propaganda, the rhetoric, and if we really want to be serious about this, think about how we come together in a multi-disciplinary way to try to solve this problem.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And one of the things that’s so empowering about your experience and your story is that it’s so uncommon to hear doctors decide that they’re going to step up. Nurses have been advocating for a long time, whether it’s on universal health care or safety in hospitals. They’ve stepped up. They recognize that they have a responsibility. There’s something about we physician folk that tends to dissuade us from from stepping, you know, out of our lane. And I think part of that is this notion that, you know, the people who tend to go to medical school tend to be really good at following rules and protocol. I think part of it is that there is this conceit that somehow we’re part of some professional class that, you know, does not threaten or engage with authority. I think part of it is that physicians just have to work really hard and there’s just not very much time outside of the time that you’re in clinic. And then another part of it is that we tend to be very hierarchical. There’s this sort of extreme hierarchy in medicine where young people, who tend to be the folks who are willing to step up and step out, are told that they don’t know anything, even though they sometimes see things a lot more clearly than their seniors. And I wonder what aspect of that or something else or some combination of those that you feel has kept doctors so much, quote unquote, “in their lane.” And, you know, what does it look like to unlock some of that physician energy around other issues that are critical to the experience of physicians and more importantly, critical to the world in which we live?
Dr. Joseph Sakran: Yeah, it’s such a interesting and important question, because I think you’re spot on. And part of I think the reason that they have not done so is because they’re afraid. You know, it’s like they’re delving into this unknown. How is it going to affect their career? How is it, how are people going to look at them? What are their patients going to say, right? I mean, there’s all these different aspects that get brought into this fold as docs think about, you know, wanting to speak out about an issue, whether it’s gun violence or something else. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with docs say, Oh, you know, I wish I just had your courage to talk about this. And, you know, it’s like, well, you know, I think if more people had the moral courage to kind of stick to those core values, this would be less of, you know, an issue where we’re afraid to talk about it or we’re worried what is our hospital going to say? And it’s real things. I mean, we saw during COVID, you know, the pushback that some, you know, hospitals had against their employees and their health care professionals. I think it’s, there’s something else, though. I think a lot of times docs will say to me, Hey, like, listen, like, I don’t have a story like yours, Joe. Like, I don’t, like I’m not going to be able to be that, you know, impactful or powerful. And anytime someone says that, I always say them like, Listen, like, everyone has a story, we all have a story. And I think what I’ve seen over the past decade is health care professionals, people like yourself, right, that has figured out that, of course, the data and science are critical, but the data and science doesn’t change the hearts and minds of people. So how do we take our experiences and peel back those layers? And actually, I play this exercise with some of my students and residents. It’s called the Why Exercise, right? And I ask them, Why did you get into medicine? And they answer, right. And all I do is I just ask them, why, why and why? Nine times, right? I picked this up and one of the leadership programs. And it’s amazing when you do that, what you realize is that we all have a story. And so being able to I think, you know, one of the things I’ve tried to do is to empower people and let them understand, like, hey, like, what is your story and how do you actually tell that story? And when you look at like some of the incredible work by people like Marshall Ganz, you know, from the Kennedy School where, you know, they talk about public narrative and how do you turn that into action, you begin to realize that regardless of whether, you’re in health care or you’re an engineer, right, we’re all part of this community and this society and this country, and so we have a responsibility to really work beyond our little niche or our profession. Now, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to do that, but if you want to do that, you shouldn’t be stigmatized for doing it, which I think goes to the premise of your question.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I want to ask, what are some of the things that This Is Our Lane has gotten up to? How have you pushed back on the gun lobby, and what kind of shape has your activism taken?
Dr. Joseph Sakran: Yeah, so I think one of the things that we realized is that there’s no one solution to this problem. Right? So this problem, you know, I get asked all the time is like, you know, well, like, what’s the one thing that we can do, or what, you know, what are the two things we can do? There’s no one solution. And what we’ve tried to do, you know, as an organization and group, is really empower clinicians and health care professionals with the ability to effectively talk about this issue, whether it’s at the local or state level–which, by the way, you know, frankly often gets dismissed, but is incredibly important, as you know, because most governing happens at the local and state level–or whether it’s at the federal level. But it’s also, you know, working on initiatives with our partners at Brady, for example, where we’re trying to empower clinicians with the knowledge and skills to be able to talk to their patients about, you know, issues like safe storage, for example. So it’s really kind of a multifaceted approach. And what we found is that the kind of training and advocacy and being able to talk about this issue has become very useful for many other aspects of, you know, these professionals’ lives. And that’s been, that’s been pretty gratifying.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And I guess there’s, the other question is, as someone who treats victims of gun violence immediately after they’re victimized, how has your activism and your engagement in This Is Our Lane, how has that changed your interactions with your patients in your care?
Dr. Joseph Sakran: When I look when I look at my interactions with my patients, I would say there’s a couple of things that really come to mind. The first is that as someone who is a survivor, I’m often reminded of my own family. And I can’t tell you how many times when I have to walk into a waiting room and, you know, deliver the news that I never want to deliver, it’s the worst part of my job. And I’ll often be reminded and think of, you know, I wonder what my family must have been thinking as a surgeon came out to talk to them. And that personal experience, I think, has allowed me to, number one, you know, resonate with these loved ones and these families, but it’s also allowed me to resonate with my patients. Because look, like, you know, even as an Arab-American, you know, I look like just like a white guy, and so most of the patients that I’m treating in Baltimore are Black and when I’ll see them, you know, after the initial, you know, phase of treatment, say, you know, at the hospital bed or in the ICU and I’m interacting with them, it’s amazing how many of them will say, Hey, doc, I looked you up, I didn’t realize, you know, that you’ve been shot before. And all of a sudden that is like an immediate rapport that’s built up, because they now understand that, you know, I’m not just this guy wearing a white coat, but I’m someone that can relate to what these kids have faced and what people in the community are facing. I think the other piece from an advocacy perspective as it relates to kind of the patient care, is I’ve realized that like how critical it is for us to think about this from a policy aspect, right? To effect, maximal change, right, we have to be able to understand and I think engage with the depth and the breadth of the problem. And that is done through targeted policy to address, you know, the concentrated poverty, the underfunded and underperforming schools, the unfair criminal justice system, and so many other issues, right? And this is critical, Abdul, because only policy can fix what a policy created in the first place.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Right.
Dr. Joseph Sakran: So we have to move away from this solid approach and we have to focus our efforts to reduce violence in ways that reflect, I think, the broad complexity of a problem that is multifactorial nature.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I appreciate that that point about how multifactorial gun violence really is. And yet the focus that you all have chosen, and I think is the right one, is on guns. And obviously we’re having this conversation in the aftermath of a terrible, horrendous mass shooting in Buffalo, in which young men motivated and radicalized online to hate Black people and to fear some sort of replacement, drove 2 hours from his house specifically to kill Black folks. But he did it with a gun that is a, you know, weapon of war, an assault-style rifle, that he was able to, despite previous run-ins with the law, to buy and to keep legally. And it opens up a whole conversation because obviously this person was motivated to kill people by his hatred for people and his racism, but he did it with a gun. And arguably, there is no other way that his attack would have been nearly as lethal if he didn’t have a weapon that was intended to be used in a theater of war rather than at a grocery store or anywhere else, or even, you know, in a hunting range. So I want to ask, you know, “people say people kill people, not guns” but but they almost always do it with guns. Why do we have to keep focusing on the guns?
Dr. Joseph Sakran: Well, let me just first say that, you know, what took place in Buffalo is absolutely horrific. And I think it’s exactly, you summed it up really nicely. In my mind, it’s this, you know, of course, a racist ideology that is toxic and growing, plus, right, this easy access to guns. And that has now, Abdul, put Buffalo in the same camp as Charleston and El Paso and Pittsburgh, right, in experiencing a racially and ethnically-motivated attack. And I think this kind of violence, as we seen has become epidemic, right? And so when you think about, you know, our country and you think about the aspect of the gun, right, no other developed country in the world has anywhere near the same rate of gun violence that we have in America. In fact, the U.S. gun homicide rate is 26 times that of any other high-income country. To understand, you know, why that’s an important like, stat, it’s because you know the U.S., right, we have the highest number of privately-owned guns in the world. And when you look at the number of civilian-owned firearms, it’s about 120 per 100 residents. Which means that there are more firearms than people, okay? And so when you look at it, any way you cut it, right, the research is overwhelmingly clear that more guns mean more gun deaths.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And we’re seeing this not just, you know, in the the number of mass shootings, but also the shootings that tend to be ignored, which tend to be the kind that you treat, which are, you know, individual incidents of violence, usually involving one person, oftentimes in lower-income communities and disproportionately among Black men. Why do you think we don’t talk enough about that kind of gun violence? And what would it mean for us to take our advocacy beyond these kinds of mass shootings to the more common and, frankly, more deadly kinds of shootings that we tend to ignore.
Dr. Joseph Sakran: Yeah, it’s, it is such a critical point and something that I always talk about. And the reason I always talk about is because exactly your point, which is the mass shootings, right, that are so, that are highlighted in the media, they comprise, you know, less than 2% of the public health problem. And every day in cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, Detroit, right, we have young Black men that are being slaughtered on our streets, and so we have the responsibility to tell those stories. Here’s what I’ll say is, I think that over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the media get a little bit better in telling those stories. And I think part of that has led to some of, you know, what we’re now seeing, you know, through the Biden administration as it relates to community violence intervention programs. But we have to do a better job. And I know this might not be a popular statement, but, you know, frankly, it wasn’t, you know, until white suburban schools started getting shot up that people started, you know, focusing on this. Now, thankfully, we’ve leveraged, right, you know, this conversation around the mass shootings to be able to highlight what’s happening in cities like Baltimore. And it’s exactly right. I mean, you know, Black Americans are ten times more likely than white Americans to die by gun homicide. So we have to keep that as a focus, and we have to figure out how do we have a comprehensive approach to this issue.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, I appreciate that, that perspective. You mentioned the Biden administration, and, you know, the president has said a lot about taking on the gun lobby, and sensible gun reform. But we just haven’t seen as much and obviously, to recognize the structural obstacles that are in his way, he has several obstinate members of his own party in power and they do not want to do anything about the filibuster, which basically offers Republicans a level of minority rule over any level of legislation. And at the same time, you know, this keeps happening. And I remember Sandy Hook very vividly when I heard about it. I was on my way, I was on a bus to the airport. And I remember just thinking, this has to be the moment. And yet we, we have yet to see any real movement since then. What do you think, how do you rate the administration’s effort? And then what will it actually take for us? Because, you know, the point you made at the beginning is really quite profound, which is once you start normalizing this level of gun violence–it’s just another shooting–it actually, ironically, means that every other shooting just contributes to that normal, which is a really frustrating and sad, despicable state of affairs. So where do you rate the administration and what do you think it’ll take?
Dr. Joseph Sakran: Yeah, I mean, here’s what I’ll say is I think, first of all, I understand the frustration that exists that more has not been done during this administration around gun violence. At the same time, I’ll say that unlike any other administration in the nation, right, the Biden administration has really kept gun runs prevention as a priority, trying to, you know, move the needle forward. But as you appropriately, you know, mentioned, there are a number of obstacles. And I think this goes back to the fact there is no one person is going to be able to solve this, even the president. Right? It’s going to require all of us. And when I say all of us, I don’t just mean people in government, I mean like people out in the communities. It’s true, Abdul, what you’re saying, that, like we need to see more at the federal level. But I don’t want to lose sight of something that’s very important, and we talked a little bit about this in the beginning, and that is that most governing in America happens at the local and state level. You look at, okay, in 2018, there were 67 pieces of common sense gun legislation that were passed in states all across America. Why did that happen? Well, it happened because people were active in their own backyard. They were down at their state capitals and they were playing a role that helped change the temperature of this country. And that continues to happen. In fact, if you go back and you look in 2008, we had 63 Democratic members of Congress that had an A-rating by the NRA. In 2018, I think that number was around three, and maybe now it’s zero. The point is, is that our country is not the same. Have we seen the type of change that we need to see at the federal level? Absolutely not. And I think that’s going to require all of us, you know, to say, like, listen, like, you know, if people are not going to really represent our interests as citizens, then we can’t keep them in office. And I think we have to have the moral courage to do that. I think the other piece that, you know, is much more complex and perhaps beyond the scope of this discussion, is we need, you know, campaign reform. You know, money influences, right, how all of these politicians think. And here’s the problem of course, you know better than I do, 90% of, you know, incumbents get reelected, so why would they change a process that’s working for themselves, right? I mean, so, you know, it’s this vicious cycle. But I think for too long policy, you know, when you look historically, has been utilized as a tool of oppression. And I think as our nation faces, you know, this public health problem with COVID and so many others, we’re in a phase, I think, where we’re equipped, again, with this responsibility to eliminate, you know, the health inequities that continue to decimate communities across the U.S.. And doing so, right, has to start with recognizing the indiscretions of the past and really begins, I think, with implementing, you know, actionable solutions to chip away at the existing inequities so we can finally realize, you know, how to have a healthy, equitable, and inclusive society.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, we appreciate you being one of the leaders in that fight, and we’re grateful for the work that you do on behalf of, we know, hundreds and thousands of patients in in Baltimore City, treating patients one-on-one, and then also the advocacy that you do every day representing physicians and health care workers when it comes to the issue of gun violence in America. That was Dr. Joe Sakran. He is a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins and also founder and leader of the organization, This Is Our Line. Thank you so much.
Dr. Joseph Sakran: Thank you so much. [unclear].
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: As usual. Here’s what I’m watching right now. Omicron sub-variant BA-2.12.1–that’s a mouthful–became the dominant variant of SARS-CoV-2 across the U.S. this week, accounting for 58% of what remains a rising number of COVID cases. But I want to offer some important context here: while cases and hospitalizations do continue to rise around the country, there are two good piece of news. The first is that while cases are still rising, that level of rising is now leveling off, suggesting that the surge may be reaching its upper limit. Also, despite case counts that have been rising for almost two months now, and hospitalizations increasing for about a month, the number of COVID deaths has been dropping up until just now. Why? Because although new variants continue to emerge, we’ve come a long way in treatment of COVID-19. Paxlovid, the five-day oral pill, is 90% effective against hospitalizations and death. But here’s the challenge: we don’t know where this pandemic is going. And I know I’ve said this so many times already, but Congress has yet to fund the president’s plan to assure we have the vaccines, tests and, yes, treatments we need to, quote, unquote, “live with the virus.”.
In personal news, I had a bit of a personal health scare this week. On Monday night after dinner, I started to feel some diffuse abdominal pain. That night, I could barely sleep. I thought it was something I ate. But by the morning, it was clear that something was wrong. While the diffuse pain started to go away, I started to feel a cramp on the lower right side of my abdomen, like I’d pulled something working out. And that’s when I put two and two together. I asked Sara to do some abdominal examinations for possible appendicitis on me. My symptoms were textbook, and so I took myself to the emergency room. That evening I had my appendix removed. Because I knew what was going on, I was able to get in before my appendix burst, causing all of that bacteria in there to spill all over my abdominal cavity, which would have made the situation a lot worse. I was discharged less than 24-hours after I showed up, and thankfully I’m on the mend. I’m one of the lucky ones. I have great health care. I didn’t delay my care at all for fear of how I would pay for it. When all was said and done, I had to pay a $25 co-pay. And assuming I heal up, the fact that I’m generally healthy means that I’ll be back to my usual health in very little time. Millions of Americans have been locked out of the life-saving care I received. They would have had to delay it because getting the care to save their lives could have come at the cost of their financial livelihood. Millions more would have gotten care, only to be hit with thousands of dollars in surprise bills. It’s also a reminder that none of us should take our health for granted. Literally the day before I had surgery, I took a 20-mile bike ride. If you’re someone who’s blessed like me to enjoy generally good health, remember that not everyone has that privilege. And for those of our listeners who have to deal with chronic disease or disability, we owe you so much more. As we say in my tradition, [speaks in Aarabic], I got really lucky. But this experience has cemented my commitment to working for an America where everyone gets access to the care that I received. And part of that is continuing to host conversations with all of you about how people in our country continue to struggle with their health and our health care system. I appreciate you being a part of those conversations and to listening.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Before we go, I want to thank our outgoing associate producer, Olivia Martinez, for her insights, her perspective, and her diligence in making the show what it is. She’ll be moving on to greener pastures in the Crooked Media community, and we’re sad to see her go, but we’re excited to watch her keep building important conversations through her work. Olivia, thank you so much. Your fingerprints are all over the show. We’ll miss you.
That it’s for today. And on your way out, I’m going to leave you with a haiku:. Please rate and review. It would be great of you to do. Grow the show, will you? Also, if you love the show and want to rep us, I hope you’ll drop by the store for some America Dissected merch. Everything is discounted: logo mugs, t-shirts, Science Always Wins sweatshirts and dad caps, are all on sale.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: American Dissected is a product of Crooked Media. Our producer is Austin Fisher. Our associate producer is Olivia Martinez. Veronica Simonetti mixes and masters the show. Production support from Tara Terpstra and Ari Schwartz. Our theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa and Alex Sugiura. Our executive producers are Sara Geismer, Sandy Gerard, Michael Martinez, and me, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, your host. Thanks for listening.