Covid-19 and Apollo-13. Our Finest Hours.

Fifty years ago this month, Apollo 13 limped back to Earth after an explosion knocked out an oxygen tank and their electrical system. It didn’t look good. In the movie version, flight director Gene Kranz overhears NASA administrators saying this could be the worst disaster NASA ever experienced. Kranz replies “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.” And it was. They dealt with loss of cabin heat, buildup of CO2, and a shortage of potable water. The astronauts sought refuge in the Lunar Module and try to figure out how to re-start the command module. Nonetheless, the crew overcame all obstacles and returned to earth safely. The mission was termed a successful failure.

So it is with the Wuhan Coronavirus. The naysayers complain that this is the worst disaster America ever faced, but I prefer to look at it as our finest hour. Our technology has allowed us to face the virus in ways that would have been impossible not long ago. The media complain that we aren’t doing enough tests, when really they should be amazed that we can do a test at all. Very quickly after unusual pneumonia cases were noted in Wuhan, the virus was isolated, the genome sequenced, and diagnostic tests developed. By contrast, it took years to find the cause of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, years to get a reliable test, years to learn how it spread.

In America, we didn’t have to ration care to treat Covid patients. We literally built more ventilators than we know what to do with. Compare our situation with the response to the 1918 flu. Back then, they didn’t have to ration ventilators either, but that was because they didn’t have ventilators.

Overnight, new hospitals sprung up in New York City. A Navy ship, a convention center, field hospital tents in Central Park, makeshift hospitals in parking lots. It was an amazing show of what America can do, even if we didn’t need half the temporary beds. 

We are spoiled in the 21st century expecting instantaneous cures and unlimited capacity. Just once I would like to see a story about how all our technological advances saved millions of lives. Without our current knowledge, this bug would have killed ten times as many people as the Spanish flu.

But no. Instead I read articles that we cant leave home until we do 35 million corona tests a day. Excuse me. Test 10% of our population every day? That’s not a plan. It’s like telling the Apollo 13 astronauts they couldn’t return to the command module until 100% of their electricity could be restored. With that approach, they all would have died. We need to work the problem using our brains and the materials we have. And we have plenty of both.

I can tell that the author of the Vox article is a defeatist-or looking for political advantage by making our situation appear worse. I know they are biased because they show the number of tests performed on a per capita basis, but show the deaths as an absolute number. That is just designed to make us look bad. On the other hand, if we look at deaths on a per capita basis, we are better than most Western countries. And, we lead the world in test capacity on an absolute basis.

The fight against the novel coronavirus is not over, but we flattened the curve and made it to the other side. When it flares up again, and it will, we will be ready. This will be our finest hour.

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  10 comments for “Covid-19 and Apollo-13. Our Finest Hours.

  1. Pat
    April 25, 2020 at 10:59 pm

    The original story “Lost Moon” by mission commander Jim Lovell is one of the most moving, inspiring stories I’ve ever read. The contrast is that the Apollo 13 crew and ALL of NASA from Kranz down to the janitorial staff were heroic in their tenacity, their optimism and a sheer will to win.

    This virus though, serious and often deadly, has been surpassed in its ill effects by a sensationalist agenda-media, panicked politicians, and a cowardly society. The medical community has largely bought into, fostered, and amplified this cowering in a grotesque overreaction.

    Finding a cure may be a legendary moment for science, but harming tens of millions, needlessly trashing the economy, and threatening civil liberties is no occasion for pride or optimism. Whatever flattening or vaccine may lie over the horizon, our national response is already the opposite of the Apollo 13 triumph.

  2. arf
    April 25, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    I can tell you precisely when this crisis will end.
    November 4, 2020
    As in, the day after Election Day.

  3. Martha Clark, RN
    April 25, 2020 at 2:11 pm

    Russell Kamer, MD – the Voice Of Reason in an insane world.

    How many people will lose their life due cancer and cardiac diseases? Facilities being forced shut down and not perform ‘elective’ procedures like colonoscopies, heart caths, and other life-saving tests are putting at risk.

    Many of my patients are refusing to go to ER when they’re having chest pain, severe abdominal pain, and other crises. Rightfully worried that they’ll either be sent away in favor of “coronavirus victims” or that they’ll be put at risk of catching the virus.

    End this shutdown now – let get on with living life and really saving lives!

    • RK
      April 25, 2020 at 5:38 pm

      Thank you for your kind words. You are so right about people neglecting other conditions. The other day the son of an 89 yo patient called me. Mr. J had passed out, EMS was called but EMT said he was OK and dissuaded him from going to ER. Happily, the son called me later to report that Mr. J looked pale (he’s on Coumadin). I told him to go right to ER. His Hgb was 6. I know his case is not unique.

    • Pat
      April 25, 2020 at 11:14 pm

      Amen. I think that when widespread antibody testing is available, we will learn that we were inflicting far more damage on ourselves than this virus could have.

      The tragedy of this needless lockdown will be covered over and compounded by being unable to disprove the unprovable prescriptions of the Fauci & Birx Show.

  4. Harrietta Christodoulos
    April 25, 2020 at 2:03 pm

    Great article. I agree. We have done made amazing progress and have risen to the challenge of a pandemic. We are not victims, but are active players making a difference

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  5. Phil Fogle
    April 25, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    Well said!

  6. Rando
    April 25, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    Nice essay. Testing will be a very important part of how we handle this going forward, but the wild demands and focus on testing detracts from the development of a broader plan.

    It reflects a basic misunderstanding of tests in general, and it’s not a coincidence that it’s coming largely from politicians and political reporters. It kind of reminds me of the mindset that everybody needs a MRI for their back pain. When you broadly apply a test to a low risk population you greatly increase the incidence of false positives, possibly even to the point where false positives outnumber true positives. The plan in Montana therefore has to be different than the plan in New York City.

    As things progress my feeling is that a successful recovery will be based on identifying and protecting high risk population, identifying and mitigating high risk activities, identifying what works and is practical for protection, effective treatments and proper use of focused testing possibly to include random sampling. Long term of course we need a vaccine.

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    • RK
      April 25, 2020 at 5:33 pm

      Agree 100%. People don’t understand testing, and that includes a lot of docs. The question is what will we do with the results.
      I had a guy yesterday to test his SARS-2 IgG. The guy has recovered from Covid and had a documented +PCR swab over a month ago. I told him the main reason to do the test was to see if the test is accurate. I know those nuances are hard to understand. But, really I am at the stage where I am validating the Quest Ab test.

      • Rando
        April 26, 2020 at 3:09 pm

        I think right now we have to question all the tests. And I’m not saying they’re bad, I’m just saying that none of them are perfect and all have some percentage of false positives and false negatives.

        So if you are in NYC during a COVID-19 crisis and have a patient with typical symptoms that comes back positive, that’s great, that’s helpful. But if you have a patient with no symptoms or history of exposure, low incidence in your community and you get a positive test, what do you do with that. Some of these articles are suggesting testing doctors, teachers and policemen daily? If you test daily, have a 1% false positive rate and quarantine the positives for 2 weeks, you needlessly lose 14% of your work force (hope I did my math right).

        Even the flu tests we do in our office have a 30% false negative rate, so the COVID tests need to be much better than that. The thing is we use our judgment with the flu tests and it is one tool towards treating the patient, not blindly relying on it.

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