In addition to my role as The Greatest Living American Writer and international literary treasure, I’ve been a licensed emergency-room physician for decades. In 2008, I received my Ph.D. in public health policy from Harvard and an additional Ph.D. in medical ethics and communications from Yale.
In many iterations, and not just at awards ceremonies, people call me Dr. Neal Pollack. Therefore, the very real story I’m about to tell you, even though there’s absolutely no way for anyone to verify anything about it, is definitely true. Trust me, I am three doctors.
My colleagues and I at Mount Winchester Memorial Hospital were exhausted after working six straight 96-hour shifts. The patients kept coming in waves, but we stood tall, catching sleep and snacks in closets when we could. I was finally getting ready to clock out so I could go home, take a nap, and receive a foot rub from my beleaguered manservant, Roger, when one more patient came staggering through the ER doors.
He was a fit, muscular man in his early 30s, wearing a red MAGA cap and a T-shirt that read “Proud Boys” above a cartoon of Pepe the Frog waving a Confederate flag.
“Doc,” he said. “I can’t breathe.”
Even though I found his accouterments loathsome, I took the Hippocampic oath at UCLA Medical School back in the mid-1930s, and I was duty-bound to help him.
“What are your other symptoms?” I asked.
“It feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest,” he said. “I have a fever. And muscle aches. And stomach cramps.”
“Hmm,” I said.
“And I can’t taste or smell anything.”
“We’re obviously going to have to test you,” I said, “but it sounds like you have COVID-19.”
“That’s impossible,” he said. “COVID-19 doesn’t exist. Tucker Carlson told me so personally at a maskless dance party I attended at his house a few weeks ago.”
I kept my mouth shut because they teach doctors not to bring politics into the care regime.
“Why don’t you take off your shirt?” I asked, as he broke into a long, ugly hacking cough.
His bare chest contained several swastika tattoos and full-face tattoos of Adolf Hitler and Ronald Reagan. I listened to his chest. His lungs sounded full of fluid. This young, strong man was extremely ill with COVID-19, a disease he didn’t believe existed.
“How long have you felt like this?” I asked.
“I’ve been kind of off ever since I went to a party in the Lake of the Ozarks back in May,” he said. “And then it got worse after I was hanging out at a bunch of beachside restaurants in Florida.”
“Have you been anywhere else in public?”
“Well,” he said, between coughs, “I went to Sturgis.”
“Yeah, it was fun,” he said. “A month later, I went to a Notre Dame game in South Bend. It was really exciting when we stormed the field.”
“In addition,” he said, “I attended 15 Trump rallies in Alabama and five in Arizona.”
“I’m going to have to check you into the COVID unit,” I said.
“All right, Dr. Fraudci,” he said, sneering. “Maybe you can alert Bill Gates to treat me with the 5G Great Reset vaccine.”
I sighed. My colleagues and I have worked too hard this year for people like this to defy all sane public health advice. But we live in America, and we have a duty to treat all people, no matter how ignorant they might be. I admitted him and then headed home to my vacation estate.
Two days later, I returned for another shift, and he was in the ICU, on oxygen, lying very still, looking very pale.
“How is he?” I asked the shift nurse.
“Just getting worse and worse,” she said. “As all the patients do, no matter what.”
“Did you get any more medical history from him?”
“Apparently he was a professional baseball player until just last week,” she said. “A young, healthy male in the prime of his life. Just totally cut down by COVID-19, a disease that he and everyone like him refuse to believe exists.”
“Tragic for all of us,” I said.
“But there’s more,” she said. He’d told the nurse that he’d attended three Thanksgiving dinners with three separate branches of his family, and that same weekend, he’d been to six weddings. No one had been masked, and they’d all also attended Sturgis.
“My God,” I said.
I put on full protective gear and went in to see him. He looked up at me, his eyes glassy and full of suffering.
“How are you?” I asked.
“I’m dying, doc,” he said. “I understand that now. I should have listened. COVID is real. You have to tell the world so everyone knows.”
“I will,” I said. “I will do it on Twitter, accompanied by a completely not-self-promotional sad photo of my face. And I will also write an article for a major publication about this very true and horribly sad story about COVID-denying people with whom I disagree politically but heroically care for anyway.”
“And one more thing,” he said, his voice and breath rattling.
As he convulsed, the second before he died forever, this Nazi-sympathizing virus-denier who attended Sturgis and several illegal Thanksgivings said, “I should have voted for Biden.”