COVID-19: Thinking About Ben Franklin

COVID-19, Health & Wellness
When Benjamin Franklin said “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” he was referring to creating a fire department to protect the people of Philadelphia rather than having to rebuild a city in the event of a catastrophic fire.  Nearly 3 centuries later, this prophetic statement has been viewed as blasphemous amidst the worst global pandemic since 1918. Instead of the U.S. making every effort to prevent/control the spread of the virus by adopting the proven methods used in 5 other countries, (limiting social gatherings, wearing masks, socially distancing), we have failed. As a result, numerous lives have been lost and continue to be placed at risk.

Whereas Ben Franklin and our Founding Fathers would have worked tirelessly to prevent/control spread of COVID-19, current pandemic messaging contains reverse logic: ‘We’re not going to control the pandemic…what we have to do is make sure that we fight it with therapeutics and vaccines“. In other words, “let the pandemic spread like wildfire and then we will try to put out the fire”. With nearly 250,000 beautiful souls lost (greater than the combined number of U.S. lives lost in WWI, Korea, Vietnam and the American Revolution), the pandemic’s fire continues its reckless and devastating path throughout our great country. Unfortunately, it is not “rounding the final turn” and its embers will continue to inflict pain on affected families years after it has been vanquished.

Even 300 years ago at a time when there were many magical thinkers, Benjamin Franklin was scientifically grounded- he was a thoughtfully lucid and logical, critical thinker. Have we reverted back to the age of magical thinking? For the sake of science and our world renowned experts, I hope not.

Michael Miller, M.D., is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Love in the time of COVID-19

COVID-19, Health & Wellness, Relationships

25 years ago today, my wife Lisa and I had our first date.  Months earlier, we met each other the old fashioned way, at one of Baltimore’s landmark watering holes…the “Cat’s Eye Pub”.  But as they say, life got in the way.  It wasn’t until the Saturday evening in late October, as I was heading into my elevator for a night on the town. Sparks flew as I came face-to-face with the same strikingly good-looking woman (shown above) that I had met earlier that winter.  As it turns out, she was exiting the elevator to attend a party for two of her friends who just happened to live on my floor!  Several days later, we met for sushi.  Minutes of easy conversation flowed seamlessly into hours; the rest is history.   Over the years, I’ve learned more than a few lessons that has enhanced our relationship in good times and in times of stress.   That said, here are five simple things that guys can do to enrich their love in the time of COVID-19 (and beyond).

  1. Start the day on the right foot:  Whether it is unloading the dishwasher, feeding the dog, making coffee, etc.-whatever eases her burden will go a long way toward contentment.   
  2. Touch base midday:  Check in each day with a simple text to see how her day is progressing.  
  3. Do something together each day: The after-dinner walk is always a great activity weather permitting, but even doing puzzles/word games together are fun. Our favorite these days is NYTs “Spelling Bee”.  
  4. Express gratitude: This might seem obvious, but expressing gratitude for the time you spend and things you enjoy doing together, never grows old…even as we all do. 
  5. Laugh together: Take the 4 things mentioned above, add up their significance and you arrive here.  Laughing together helps to sustain and nourish relationships. While it might be more difficult to easily engage in laughter during this time of crisis, it is also a powerful de-stressor that may improve your overall health and spirits (more to come).   

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  His latest book is  “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription...” published by Penguin Random House.

Happy 104th Birthday to a Most Remarkable Man

Health & Wellness, Relationships

My father-in-law Paul, was born on this date (October 17) in 1916, two years before the dreaded Spanish Flu Pandemic and more than a decade before the Great Depression. His father was born in Lithuania and was an indentured servant until he was able to escape to America, the “Land of the Free”. Paul was born in Baltimore, the 3rd of 5 sons. A great storyteller, he would regale us with amazing memories. For example, his favorite teacher growing up in the 1920s was “Miss Booth”, a matronly spinster rumored to be a cousin of John Wilkes Booth, whose family had lived outside of Baltimore.

As I got to know Paul, it became apparent that he was a most remarkable man. He was born to teach and math was his forte. One night at the dinner table about 15 years ago, I asked Paul out of curiosity, whether he knew how many years he had been teaching. Ironically, despite being a math wizard, he had never done that calculation! As it turns out, he started teaching in 1934 (after graduating college at the age of 18) and to that point had been teaching well over 70 consecutive years. We wondered whether he might qualify for the Guinness Book of Records. They requested detailed information – we contacted the Social Security Administration and received Paul’s records dating to the late 1930s (Social Security did not exist when Paul began teaching)! Amazingly, Baltimore City had Paul’s earliest teaching records. Nonetheless, the Guinness Book of Records rejected our application, stating that the record holder was Medarda de Jesus Leon de Uzcategui who began teaching at age 12!

As it turns out, reviewing Paul’s teaching records turned out to be a treasure trove because we learned that he taught at 20 different schools. They ranged from elementary level math through college calculus, spanning secular and religious domains and Universities that were public (University of Maryland), prestigious (Johns Hopkins) and historically of color (Coppin State). Paul also taught at Fort Meade and worked on military cartography during World War II.

To Paul, math was a universal language to be shared selflessly and tirelessly with others.

When Paul celebrated his 75th consecutive year of teaching, he received a congratulatory letter from one of our current Presidential candidates. The following year, he was elected to the National Teacher’s Hall of Fame. To see their special tribute posted today, click here.

Paul taught math for 80 consecutive years, finally retiring at age 98. Having taught thousands of students (including families of 3 generations), he will tell you that his greatest achievement is his family (7 children plus grandkids/great-grandkids). He taught all of us that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life“. For Paul, it has been a life well lived and words to live well by…Wishing you a Very Happy Birthday!!

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

COVID-19: Response from the Medical /Scientific Community

COVID-19, Health & Wellness

In recent weeks, two prestigious scientific journals took the unprecedented step of denouncing President Trump’s handling of COVID-19. In the most recent edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, the Editors wrote that “Our current leaders have undercut trust in science…instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed “opinion leaders” and charlatans who obscure the truth…” And in this month’s issue of Scientific American, the storied publication that began 16 years before “Honest” Abe served in the White House, an inaugural presidential endorsement was made (against Mr. Trump) due to continued rejection of “evidence and science“.

My colleagues are not wrong. To become a scientist, physician and expert in a specialized medical field takes years of intensive training. Experts in public health (such as Drs. Fauci and Birx) have become trusted voices that the public has relied upon during the current pandemic. Other highly talented researchers at Regeneron (and Eli Lilly) have developed innovative treatments for COVID-19, as recently bestowed to Mr. Trump. Unfortunately, widespread availability of experimental therapies and vaccines is not likely to happen anytime soon. Until herd immunity develops (70% or more of the population develops immunity), we need to remain diligent to protect ourselves and others (masking/socially distancing/handwashing).

Bottom Line: Listen to the scientific experts who have spent their careers in advancing science, medicine and public health. They have no bone in this (dog) fight!

Michael Miller, M.D., is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.



COVID-19: Do Masks Really Work?

COVID-19, Health & Wellness

Now that the President, First Lady and others have contracted COVID-19, presumably linked to last week’s Rose Garden Event where COVID restrictions were neither practiced nor enforced, is there scientific evidence to back up safe practices recommended by CDC and others since the pandemic arose many months ago?

My friend and colleague, Dr. Deepak Bhatt recently spearheaded a study at Harvard’s Mass General & Brigham & Women’s Hospital that found that universal mask wearing by health care workers was associated with a significantly lower COVID-19 positivity rate than when masks were not worn. Another study showed that face masks worn by 2 hair stylists who tested positive for COVID did not transmit the virus to any of their clients, all of whom had also worn face masks. And in another case, an international traveler with a dry cough that was subsequently confirmed to be due to COVID-19, did not infect any of his fellow travelers during a 15-hour flight from China to Canada.

Bottom Line: Wearing a mask really does work to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Protective masks include N-95 (for health care professionals) and level 3 surgical masks, the latter of which are now readily available and inexpensive. As long as these masks don’t get wet, they can be reworn; otherwise they need to be replaced. We absolutely do not recommend masks with valves because the virus can be transmitted through the valve outlet area. In other words, wearing such a mask is not protective to others. In addition to the mask, maintaining social distance (at least 6 feet), and keeping your hands well sanitized reduces your risk of the virus to very low and to negligible levels when interacting with others who are also wearing a (non-valve) mask. It is fair to say that had such COVID restrictions been practiced at last week’s Rose Garden (and/or possibly another recent event), neither the President nor those he was in close contact with, would have become infected. While we wish the President, First Lady and all those affected with COVID-19 a speedy recovery, why not apply common sense methods to protect each other until we can eradicate this deadly virus?

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  His latest book is  “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription...” published by Penguin Random House.