The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion No wonder covid patients are frustrated


The Nov. 27 front-page article “Long-haulers turn to risky, costly covid treatments” artfully shared the desperation of those suffering from long covid. No wonder these patients reach for so-called unproven treatments. They are understandably overwhelmed by the pain, discomfort and psychological burden of their illnesses.

Using the shield of science and evidence-based care, the medical profession papers over their distress. Consider chronic Lyme disease, suicide, traumatic brain injury, Gulf War illness or even end-of-life diseases. Mainline medicine first denies or minimizes the problems and then lobbies for money and resources to study the causes.

The approach has been flawed and inefficient. For example, in the 20 years that blast concussions from improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan were obvious, few, if any, better diagnostics or practical treatments and therapy have emerged despite the millions of dollars to fund research. The scientists, seeking funding, insisted on studying what happens in the brain when a soldier suffers a blast but dismissed available treatments and nontraditional therapies as unproven and criticized the science. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of veterans have been living with the consequences.

The mainline professionals have consistently failed to acknowledge the limitations and shortfalls of the “best practices” and evidence-based treatments. The science has been so biased toward studying pathology that it marginalizes practitioners that use other statistical methodologies as “charlatans” who do not follow a traditional game plan of randomized controlled trials and criticizes their studies for not showing “sufficient evidence.” The irony is that so-called unproven treatments help some patients at some times — the underlying principle of individualized, patient-focused care.

Stephen N. Xenakis, Alexandria

In the Nov. 29 front-page article on covid deaths in the over-65 population, “Covid’s growing toll on elderly,” one of the defenders of the continued value of the lives of those of us over 65, professor S. Matthew Liao, was quoted as saying, “You can imagine a 70-year-old who can do everything — can enjoy friendship, read books and go to movies.” Without wanting to discourage Mr. Liao in any way, I would suggest that it’s very easy to find 70-year-olds who are doing even more productive activities than he mentioned: working full or part time, writing books, caring for grandchildren or volunteering at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

With such a large cohort of active Americans contributing to their families and communities, it would be wise for policymakers deciding how to limit covid deaths to consider what we still have to offer.

Ellen Davis Sullivan, Andover, Mass.

The article Nov. 29 on the proportion of coronavirus-related deaths among older people was misleading. While 90 percent of coronavirus deaths occur among those 65 and older, the article ought to have noted that between 80 percent and 90 percent of all deaths occur in the over-65 population. The “plague” is much less because of the coronavirus specifically than it is because of people growing older generally.

As with other common causes of death in older people (heart disease, cancer and stroke, for example), the coronavirus is, to an extent, preventable and treatable. Vaccination is certainly a critical means of reducing coronavirus-related mortality, particularly among older people. But those of us who are fortunate to live long lives will eventually encounter an illness that cannot be prevented or treated.

John A. Dooley, Washington