I talk a lot about the death of discourse. Everywhere we look it just seems like the ability for human beings to communicate about topics of import has been eradicated by divisive politics, misinformation, and extremist rhetoric. As a previous high school and college English teacher and Speech & Debate coach this has been particularly difficult. Quite literally, it has felt like my entire occupation and passion… failed. And that has been disheartening on many, many levels. The concepts of academic sources, scholarly research, the scientific method, everything just seems to have gone out the window to be replaced by marginalizing headlines and skewed perspectives presented as facts.
On that note. Neither Joshua nor I are COVID experts. Neither of us are trying to say we know more than the news you are listening, or not listening, to. What we are saying is this:
One of us coached debate teams that competed at Harvard University, loves discourse, taught critical thinking, and stays current on about ten different world news outlets. The other is an Afghanistan veteran, and a Registered Nurse who has worked in two separate COVID-19 Units in two different states, in addition to his regular hospital here in Phoenix.
What this interview does, is provide a glimpse into the market place of ideas. Two educated, informed people having an important conversation about the global concern of our time. Ghost Writer is a progressive. Swampy Harley is a moderate. It ought never, but especially in times like these, matter.
When Josh went to New Jersey, as a volunteer COVID nurse during the outbreak, he was inspired to write A Nurse’s Story (Save You) which tells the stories of people he worked with and tried to save while he was there. The song has gotten considerable attention nationally with over 8K views since its release.
As with his song Kandahar, Josh is able to use music to try to heal, and find the beauty in life’s ugliness. Kandahar tells the story of a fellow soldier who lost his battle with PTSD upon returning home. “Are these stories, these characters if you will, in these songs true”, I asked him. “Yes. Everyone of them”, the genteel southerner responded.
One of the things that is immediately obvious when you meet Josh Strickland is this guy is real. He is good people. He is articulate, courteous, and quite the southern gentlemen. But beyond that, what really stands out to me is this simple fact.
A lot of people can write a song that tries to capture a viral moment in history. A lot of people can try to sing that song with feeling. Some of them make it to award stages. But VERY few of them lived those songs.
So timely, press adoring songs or not, good business they certainly are. Especially when that business – allows you to be honest. Which is rare.
Most of us have seen enough medical dramas over the years (General Hospital, ER, House, Emergency, The Resident, just to name a few) to know what the basic elements are that make medical dramas work. Hospital Intrigue. Experimental Practices in the ER. And Interpersonal Workplace Relations. That is why we watch these things. But what shows like this have done are make certain problems in the medical industry relative common knowledge.
Hospitals are a business that have administrations whose jobs are to make money. Pharmaceutical companies and tech companies pay, and pay well, to have sales and support people on the ground in hospitals. Almost anyone, regardless of politics, will tell a doctor to do anything, regardless of how experimental it is, to save their loved one. These are realities that these shows spin into drama continually. We all know these shows are fiction, and we shouldn’t learn our facts from TV shows, so why does it matter? Because it provides a solid, common context, for a conversation.
Straight Talk w/ Joshua Strickland
Ryan B. Clark : Let’s start off with masks. You are an RN. Your wife is an RN. You have children at home. Do you wear a mask at home?
Josh Stickland : No.
Ryan : Do you wear a mask in public?
Josh : Yes.
Ryan: Now, misinformation has become a crisis in today’s world. Masks are good. Masks are bad. COVID’s cellular size is too small for N-95 masks. Cloth masks don’t even work. Cut through the shit on masks. You wear them at work. You wear them in public. You do not wear them at home. Talk to me Goose.
Josh : Masks simply prove whether or not you are an asshole. That is really the bottom line. It is the absolute minimum that people can do to take minimal public safety steps. At that point it doesn’t really matter what blocks what, or what size a virus particle is. We are learning new things about COVID-19 all of the time, every single day. There is no harm to wearing a mask, and it certainly aids in the transmission of airborne pathogens. Why not take a small step to increase public safety? It seems like a no brainer. In terms of wearing them at home. Look. Personal decisions are going to matter. Looking at personal lives matter. Building antibodies and immunites to all sorts of illnesses matter. A person needs to make reasonable, responsible decisions. Are the people in my family, and in my home at a high risk? How close am I to clean water? How far is it to the nearest hospital? In our own home, we are familiar with our risks, where we have been, what our children’s health is, and what COVID really looks like. When I have been in COVID units, I have quarantined before returning home. Beyond that, all of us need to take a look at acceptable, and non acceptable risks. At home, with our own family, or with a few socially distanced friends, is not the same as out in the wide public with a vast number of unknown variables.
Ryan : Returning to misinformation, several topics keep swirling around in the news that seems to be particularly divisive. One of these that I hear about constantly is the idea of inflated numbers. Hospitals are paid more if a patient has COVID-19. We have seen this one for sure in the medical drama shows. In your experience, in two different COVID units, are numbers being misrepresented?
Josh : Yes and no. Is it a reality that hospitals have high access to funds with diagnoses that take more time, or are higher profile. Yes. Has that happened with COVID? Yes. But, let’s say a guy is in the ER, he has a medical condition, yes, but he has gone to 40% lung capacity in the last three hours. What caused that irrational spike? COVID. So it is both. Did the person have a medical condition that could prove lethal? Yes. Could they have died anyway? Yes. Why did they die today? COVID-19.
Ryan : In essence, the way that I have discussed this issue is that COVID preys upon pre-existent conditions. And people with pre-existent medical conditions have less access to health insurance protections. Which is how COVID becomes an insurance issue.
Josh : Absolutely, that is correct.
Ryan : There are plenty of drugs being tested around the world as possible treatments for COVID-19, but here in the United States two have gotten considerable attention: hydroxychloroquine and ritonavir. The connection of these drugs to the President, his stock options, and his personal practices have called all sorts of attention to the way that illnesses are treated, but perhaps in all of the wrong ways. Can you elaborate on experimental medicine in the ER?
Josh : Look, nobody can really defend the way President Trump has conducted himself during this crisis. One should not take information from briefings, and put that information out of context on Twitter. That does not help anything at all. And, the stock connection specifically with hydroxycholoroquine is certainly an ethics violation. But, let’s take a look at how this really works. You have a disease that nobody understands. Science is racing to keep up with it, because when the outbreak hits, you are already behind the 8 ball and losing. So immediately trials and experimentation begin to try to figure out how to treat this thing. Meanwhile, in the ER, nobody is saying, “No. Just let my loved one die.” That is not how it works. Your mother starts to code, and you will do anything, try anything to save her, because if you don’t – she is gone. Suddenly, great news. People are showing positive signs with a certain drug. So as doctors are dealing with coding patients, in the hundreds per day, they try anything, “Maybe that new treatment will work for my dying patient too.”
Ryan: That is true. I don’t care how liberal or conservative you are, in that moment with a diving flat line – you will try anything.
Josh : Exactly. So the President gets briefings. Some are reporting success with hydroxycholoroquin, a doctor in Chicago got positive results with ritonavir. This is nothing new. This is exactly what fighting a new pathogen looks like. It is usually just not politicized all over Twitter.
Ryan : I seems to me that a major problem with this misinformation issue is really just ignorance and spin. For instance, the CDC just released an update that COVID does not transmit from surfaces as easily as first believed. Immediately it seemed that I saw this post explode all over social media, “Just another reason not to trust the CDC, WHO who?, Just more Fake Science.” I mean, have people 100% forgotten the scientic method?
Josh : Yes. The short answer is yes. This is exactly how science works. This is how emergency medicine works. Nobody knows this enemy. And this enemy is faster than you with more Intel than you and he has the drop. Science works off theory, experiment and test, and reassess hypothesis until you are able to claim that hypothesis is a fact. It has always been this way, but even these normal occurrences are politicized into ignorant bullets in our current state.
Ryan : True, personal question. The Navajo Nation is the number one per capita COVID-19 Hotspot in the country. My father lives in Cortez, Colorado right on the other side of the reservation. It takes me about 8 hours to get there on a motorcycle. My father is over 70 and a smoker, but otherwise is in pretty good health. He maintains a socially distanced lifestyle normally. Is it a responsible decision, in your opinion based on what you have experienced, to go see my dad?
Josh : It goes back to common sense and making decisions based on what you know about your family. Just like I do for mine. If COVID never really goes away, are you just going to never see your dad? No. Is your dad going to be okay with you never seeing him again because he might get sick? No. So, my advice. Go see him. You ride a bike, so you will have to stop for gas. Don’t go inside. Don’t be close to people if you don’t have to be. Wear a mask. Wear gloves. Get your gas, and get on the road. When you get to your dad’s, shower, and wash immediately. Wear a mask when visiting, because you normally work at a high risk environment and you don’t know what you may be spreading. But go see your dad.
Ryan : If we just take that advice into consideration. Masks to avoid unknowns. Avoiding high risk areas. Making responsible decisions. Do you think we are looking at live music, even locally, this year, and if so, what do you think it looks like?
Josh : I think that it is doubtful. Certainly we already know most tours are cancelled until 2021, and even smaller tours that would normally target venues like Valley Bar and The Rebel Lounge are looking at losing shows for the better part of a year. But when they do come back, I think you will see less merch booths, more online shopping. I think you will see more masks. I think you will see far less artist interaction out in the crowds. I think artists will be much more concerned about maintaining distance while performing. Kinda straight out of green room and straight back kinda thing. Live shows are going to be very interesting going forward. I see lots of trial and error. I mean it is hard to drink in a mask, and how many drinks does it take to just not want to stay socially distant?
Ryan : We are certainly in uncharted times. Lots of change. Lots of opportunities for innovation. Knowing all that you do, and not knowing all that we don’t… what would be your advice to other Indie musicians during this time be?
Josh : Stay relevant. Do not give up hope.
Take this time to network, work on relationships. We all know how it was, once you start doing your own thing, it can be cut throat. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And a time like this allows us to reconnect to that and remember what really matters.
Think about other folks in the valley you might wanna collaborate with. For instance, you know all those cool old country songs that are like conversations between Willie and Merle…. like old Pancho and Lefty? I really wanna do one of those with my good friend Jim Bachmann, and there is really just no reason why we shouldn’t. Now just might be the time.
In this life we forget we are not running a sprint; we are running a marathon. And really…. all we can do, is cheer other people on in their races.
Word Swampy Harley. Word.