(Editor’s Note: This article was provided by well-known local physician, Dr. Patrick Ball, in response to recent articles or letters by his colleagues, which were in response to his initial articles regarding the pandemic and how we as a civilization respond.)

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Once again, I fear that I have failed to convey my message of freedom. Dr. Neff’s well-written article bears evidence of such. One of her major points of contention was that I should not blame government agencies for disallowing face-to-face encounters with my patient, but should take the issue up with the hospital I work for. I had already done that long before either of our articles had appeared in The Telegram. The hospital administration was in fact quite receptive to my position on continuing face-to-face visits. My nurse and I had even worked out a plan to do home visits for the more vulnerable elderly population. However, due to guidelines set forth by state and federal agencies, they reluctantly informed me that we could only do traditional exams on a very limited basis. I had not done a fact-check regarding this issue, but Dr. Neff had and I take her at her word that there are no laws prohibiting our intentions; but I propose there are unwritten laws that produce the same effect.

Hospitals that accept federal monies (Medicare) are scrutinized by the Department of Health and Human Services, a federal agency. The CDC is a branch of that department. Should they determine that a hospital does not follow guidelines recommended by the CDC, the hospital can face severe financial repercussions including non-payment for services and even fines. There may be no specific laws, but a hospital's survival may depend on its compliance with CDC guidelines. As a pediatrician, I doubt that Dr. Neff has to deal with the intricacies of Medicare to the same extent that hospitals do.

I would like to point out that I am not anti-government but I am "anti-mistakes" they make, including those of their representatives like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Brix. Both of these physicians are highly trained and intelligent but they live in a vacuum of ivory towers and politics and probably have few financial worries of their own. Most Americans live elsewhere. They prescribe seemingly infallible advice about a virus which, by their own admission, they know very little about. Advice enshrouded in fear and tucked safely away behind a cloak of personal and political agenda. Questioning our leaders when we feel they are wrong and especially when we feel it compromises our freedom, is not disrespect. It is patriotism.

Another opinion of Dr. Neff that differed from mine is that there are always options and choices when making a decision. I had opined that there are only two options in dealing with the pandemic, fear and hiding versus courage and fighting. I stand by my opinion. Dr. Fauci has recommended that we never shake hands again. That does not sit well with me and is a good example that sometimes there are only two choices. If I should have the privilege to meet Dr. Fauci, I will without hesitation, extend my hand. He has two choices. Shake it or not shake it. These are the only two options offered. One might argue (and they have!) that we could do a virtual handshake or a virtual high five, a virtual nose rub or whatever. But those are not the choices. They are thin disguises for fear of shaking my hand. He has the right to refuse my hand, that is his privilege. However, he has no right to tell me that I cannot extend it just as I have no right to insist he accept it. And that is the foundation of democracy, freedom of choice.

A handshake is so much more than a traditional greeting. In America, we do not bow down or curtsy to a monarch. We do not lower our heads or divert our eyes from our leaders or anyone else. We shake hands. The handshake is a gesture of trust, equality, friendship, and above all, respect. It is possible to respect and criticize our leaders at the same time. In fact, it is our patriotic duty to do both. I will continue to respectfully criticize our leaders but I will not tear down their statues. Democracy gives us the freedom to make such decisions and democracy requires us to take risks. I am willing to take these risks and I am willing to wash my hands. I pray you are too.

Try to imagine this. If I am your patient and you are afraid to touch me because you may catch something, then you are in the wrong profession. That is an opinion. On the other hand, if I am your patient and you are afraid to touch me but you are willing to do so anyway, then I want you for my doctor and that is a fact. (You don't have to fact-check it!) I took the same oath as Doctors Neff, Fauci, and Brix. Taking risks for my patients is a part of that oath. At least that's the way I see it.

As is always the case, there are two sides to every conflict and I have tried to keep an open mind. I search for a clear path through the jungles of social distancing and the pandemic. Out of sheer luck or perhaps divine inspiration, I came up with a great suggestion for all the advocates of social distancing. Virtual intercourse.

Here's how it works. You put on your masks and gloves, stand six feet apart and do your thing. This will result in a virtual pregnancy which will produce a virtual child who will grow up in a virtual world, become a virtual citizen who gets a virtual job and pays virtual taxes. It's fool proof and it's safe. However, I will submit that the customary technique has proven to be most effective in maintaining the world's population and appears to remain quite popular. Nevertheless, go ahead and give it a try and let me know how it pans out for you. I'll wait here. Too bad there is no such thing as virtual sarcasm, huh? My point is that some things should not be forsaken including handshakes and procreation. Cheeseburgers, pancakes, and beer are other good examples.

Now it seems we don't get too far into the pandemic arena until someone brings grandma into the fight and mostly against her will. I suppose she belongs in the ring since she is the most vulnerable and well, after all, who doesn't love their grandmother? Well, Dr. Fauci threw the first punch before the bell rang, then left the fight and sent in his tag team. That's okay. He has a lot of letters behind his name and has earned the right to come and go as he pleases. I respect that. I tried to counter with a few punches of my own but Dr. Brix was already toweling him off just outside my reach.

Meanwhile, Dr. Hartwick got into the ring and beat me up a bit. He could have done a lot more damage had he wanted but he is a kind soul, true to his oath, and let me off easy until the bell rang. I like Russ. Next, Dr. Neff crawled through the ropes and landed a couple of hard lefts, which I deserved. She fights really well for a girl. I know, sexist -- get over it! I like Jill too. Social media nailed me with a few punches, a couple below the belt. No foul called. The ref, grandma, was over in the corner knitting. Looks like maybe a baby blanket with a flag on it. Now I'm on the ropes getting the hell beat out of me and by my own friends, no less. I'm thinking maybe I should just throw in the towel and give up. Maybe so. But not just yet.

Some fights cannot be won and therefore cannot be lost. The courage as well as the compassion shown in a fight are far more important and inspiring than the referee's decision. It is democracy that allows us to either have the fight or to hide from it. Like a fight, freedom is not always won or lost, but given away. Given away round by round, piece by piece, until one day, we wake up, the fight is over and our freedom is gone. All that remains is anarchy. Then we face hardships and dangers far greater than any virus.

Remember, freedom requires courage and it requires taking risks. There is safety -- social distancing -- but there is no honor in it. There is no courage and there is no fight, only submission. Neither the benefits nor the harm of social distancing has yet been proven, only speculated. One thing is certain. We have lost a piece of our freedom and have lost the first round. What is next? Will we choose to fight or bury our heads in the sands of fear and alleged safety?

Mandated social distancing is wrong. Social CONTACT is the heart and soul of humanity itself. Left untethered, it can take all comers, bar none. Stifled by law or circumstance and left un-nurtured by courage and proximity, it will surely wither and die. Freedom or safety? Which do you choose?

Lastly, I offer a humble gesture to friends and opponents alike. I invite you to shake my hand -- always and forever.

--Dr. Patrick Ball