There is a high likelihood that by the time you read this, we will be on to a new controversy, a news item that may make this irrelevant or untimely. To give you an insight into our editorial cycle, I write these editorials roughly a month before publication. And although the news may be old, the lesson or observation is fresh and worth spending a minute thinking about.
Explore This IssueMarch 2020
Today is February 6, 2020, and this week has had its share of significant events. The impeachment trial is coming to a close, the Chiefs (!!!!!) won the Super Bowl, and it is the week before the Oscars, where a foreign film may win the Best Picture Award. But the dominant news of the week is the spread of the novel coronavirus. I am hoping this will be under control by the time this editorial goes to print, and if it does, it will go down in the annals of history with SARS and MERS as evidence of the power of infectious epidemics and how some things are just not in our control.
In most catastrophic events, there are heroes that embody the resilience and bravery of the human spirit. They can be obvious, like the second responders who bravely put the lives of others before their own or the bystanders who fight off a potential terrorist act. But there are also the heroes who stand up and fight for what is right in the face of a system that would rather see them be quiet. And sometimes, these heroes are physicians.
Li Wenliang was 34 and a relatively obscure ophthalmologist in Wuhan, China. After seeing a mysterious illness had stricken seven patients at a hospital in Wuhan, he wrote on an online chat group on December 30, 2019, warning his medical school classmates of a virus that could be similar to SARS. Later that night, officials from the health authority in Wuhan summoned Dr. Li, demanding to know why he had shared the information. Three days later, the police forced him to sign a statement that his warning was unfounded and an illegal rumor. Not long after his reprimand, thousands of Wuhan residents fell ill, and he later became sick after contracting the virus from a patient he was treating for glaucoma. Even from his hospital bed, he continued to speak out against the censorship policies of China and was hoping to recover soon so he could help treat the sick in his city. He lost his battle and passed away this week, but his bravery will not be forgotten.
His story reminded me of another physician who challenged her local government for the benefit of her community and the patients she served. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a pediatrician in Flint, Michigan, whose research revealed that children were exposed to dangerous levels of lead from cost-cutting water policies that had been enacted by the state government. Her research was initially ridiculed by the state of Michigan when an official accused her of being “an unfortunate researcher” who was “splicing and dicing numbers” to cause “near hysteria.” Her bravery to stand up for her community eventually led to hundreds of millions in federal and state dollars allocated to Flint to address the crisis and clean the water.
Although we may not have as grand examples as mentioned above, the field of otolaryngology has its share of unsung heroes. They are clinician scientists who innovate novel procedures or, conversely, colleagues who advocate on behalf of patients against unnecessary surgeries. They are the physicians who bravely challenged the status quo on the lack of gender equality and the pioneers who fought for the right to treat patients whose conditions were previously claimed by other specialties. We have heroes who volunteer abroad and locally to help underserved populations, and young learners in residency who are giving up the prime of their lives to serve our patients. I applaud you all for your bravery and thank you for your service.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to talking soon.