COVID-19 Protection Advice from a Doctor, albeit a Dentist

Throughout my working life, I've had friends introduce me to strangers as "Dr. Pete."  The new acquaintance invariably comments, "Oh, so you're a physician?"  And then I reply, "No, I'm just a dentist."  Should the ensuing conversation veer into science or health care, I make sure to preface all my remarks with "I'm just a dentist, but..."

How dentists became the idiot stepchildren of healthcare, I don't know.  Fact is, the first two years of dental school and medical school are identical.  And when you're attacking someone's corpus with needles, drills, Novocaine, and narcotics, you'd better have a damn good sense of anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology lest you damage or kill your patient.

So imagine my bewilderment in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic at all the politicians, pundits, and talking heads who've suddenly become experts in infection control — not to mention all the lay people wearing masks of every conceivable design and standing six feet away from others, as if six feet were some magic number.  Poor sheeple — they think they're safe, they're following the "science," and far be it from me to disabuse them of their imaginary sense of security.

As I was saying, I'm just a dentist — with forty-five years of studying and practicing infection control — and here's how I see it.  We live in a sea of bacteria, viruses, and Spirochetes (Lyme Disease, syphilis), a veritable Grand Central Station of pathogens, all of them vying to take us down.  They're on doorknobs and newspapers, in our air and water, and emanating from the mouths (and other orifices!) of our fellow human beings.

One way to protect yourself from these ubiquitous bugs is to raise your immune status.  Eat better, exercise more, get your sleep, and manage your stress.  Like the USS Enterprise from Star Trek, you want your shields up at full capacity and the warp engines working.  Run yourself into the ground with bad habits or bad thoughts, and you get sick.

The other form of protection is infection control.  Exactly how do dentists practice infection control, a question not one person has ever asked?  This is how.

You enter a treatment room, and after several minutes of witty repartee with your patient, you wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap, and long enough to hum the theme song to Gilligan's Island.  Then you carefully put on a mask, protective goggles, and gloves.  Done right, the patient's protected from you, and you're protected from the patient.

Now, here's the exciting part.  When you're done abusing the poor patient's molars, all your PPE is contaminated, chock-full of pathogens and bodily fluids.  You throw your mask and gloves away and leave your goggles to be disinfected by the assistant who later cleans up the operatory.  Because you just touched your contaminated PPE, you wash your hands again before leaving the room, this time humming the theme to Mr. Ed.  A horse is a horse, of course.

And you do this again and again and again, going through boxes of gloves and masks every day, and spending thousands of dollars on high-tech goggles so there's one pair in every room.  If your dentist walks around the office with glasses or loupes hanging from his neck, he ain't doing it right.  If he doesn't wash his hands at a sink, but instead rubs a little Purell on them, he's faking it.  I've probably spent 10–15% of my time on the planet washing my hands — so much so that my arm hair ends exactly where an latex glove would begin.  But my infection control protocol works.  I've treated coughing, hacking, sneezing patients for entire winters without catching a cold.

Here's the scary part: almost no one on the street is practicing proper infection control with regard to COVID-19.  No one, including me.

The mask you wear all day gets contaminated from within by your exhalations and from without by the exhalations of others.  Is anyone putting on a new mask every hour?  Of course not.  Even the best N-95 mask is a hotbed of germs, inside and out, after just a few hours.  Paper masks degrade even faster, and cloth masks and bandanas are effective only for bank-robbing.  They're literally sieves when it comes to microscopic bugs.  If you wear a mask without covering your nose, consider yourself totally unprotected.  And an idiot.

Same for gloves — the pair your cashier wore at the supermarket had germs from everyone that cashier serviced before you.  And then the cashier handled your food!  Don't even think about what's living on the cash register's keyboard; that alone will make you ill.

Protective goggles seal to your face; glasses don't.  If you're walking around in public without protective goggles, to paraphrase the old song, bugs get in your eyes.  And don't even get me started on the "six-foot social distancing rule."  It's a made up, arbitrary distance.  Someone sneezing sends droplets much farther — someone yelling, farther still.  The length of a football field is probably the ideal for social distancing.

Here's the challenging part of my screed.  What most people are doing to protect themselves from COVID-19 is entirely symbolic, a Jedi mind trick played by CNN talking heads on the wary and weak-minded.  You're not doing a fraction of what a dentist does to avoid spreading infection.  You can't, let's face it.

The solution to this dilemma is to use your common sense.  Avoid crowds; limit your interactions with strangers. Wash your hands compulsively with warm water and soap, ideally humming the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies.  If you're ill, stay home. If someone you know is a target for COVID-19 mortality, don't visit him; call him on the phone.  Try not to rub your eyes, lick your fingers, cup your chin, chew your fingernails, or scratch your head — something that's harder to do than you might think.  Watch a Joe Biden video, and since he's generally making no sense, notice instead how often he breaks these rules.  Thank God he's smart enough to stay in his basement; that's one thing he's doing right.

If you must wear a mask or gloves, buy them by the case and change them as often as possible, washing your hands after each change.  And by all means, raise your immune status as previously discussed.  There will eventually be effective treatment and hopefully a vaccine for COVID-19.  The COVID-19 virus may even mutate and thereby pose less of a threat.  Until then, trust in God, stay strong, and use your common sense.

I'm just a dentist, but...this is what I believe.

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