Looking back, looking forward

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Several times this past weekend, we heard people discussing everything they hated about 2021 and what hopeful things they are anticipating about 2022.

It appears that COVID-19 tops the list of things that everyone wants to have behind them. I certainly agree. Amazingly, after two years of infections, hospitalizations and death, there are still some simple-minded folks who think the entire virus is a hoax.

Having been born in 1950, I have a vague recollection of the fears our parents had of the poliomyelitis virus (polio). During their lives they saw children and adults get infected. Many people exhibited minor symptoms and recovered within a few weeks. Others lost their ability to move their legs, their head, neck, and diaphragm. Many died.

Hospitals throughout the world were clamoring for equipment that could be used to ventilate the victims of polio. At the time, the iron lung was the most advanced technology available. Years earlier, a man named Emerson, who liked to tinker and invent, patented a negative pressure ventilator known as the iron lung. When polio hit this nation, they couldn’t make iron lungs fast enough.

It has been said that the respiratory therapy profession developed because of the polio epidemic and the immediate need to ventilate infected patients. Several years later, the use of iron lungs gave way to the use of anesthesia machines to ventilate people who were unable to breathe on their own.

Throughout the 1960s, equipment was designed specifically for ventilating people who could not breath on their own.

These early ventilators usually operated pneumatically (using gas pressure). As computer science advanced, so did the design and operation of mechanical ventilators. Today, they are almost completely operated by electronics and computer systems.

A modern ventilator is a technological marvel. When a patient with COVID-19 gets to the point in their disease process that their lungs cannot support them, they are hooked up to a mechanical ventilator to keep them alive.

Operating these systems is the responsibility of respiratory therapists. When I retired, nearly 20 years ago, I had been working with ventilators, and watching them evolve, for 30 years.

One of the worst outcomes of any disease process is the need to place the patient on a mechanical ventilator. The goal of placing someone on a ventilator is getting them off the ventilator as quickly as possible and allowing them to live a normal life.

That is the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work. In the immediate future, we will continue to see many people with COVID-19 requiring mechanical ventilation.

We do not need to worry about polio anymore. I cannot remember the last time I heard of someone being diagnosed with a new case of the disease. That is because Dr. Jonas Salk developed an effective vaccine in 1952. By 1955, the polio vaccine was accepted by medical science as the cure for polio. Polio was cured by using a vaccine.

Throughout history, thousands of people died of smallpox. The last outbreak of smallpox occurred in 1949. The world health organization has declared it to be eradicated. Smallpox was cured using a vaccine.

I pray that COVID-19 will eventually be cured using a vaccine. With ongoing research (and God willing), medical researchers will identify a safe and completely effective vaccine for this horrid disease by the end of 2022.

What else should we look for in 2022?

I hope we see and end of vicious political wrangling. Whether Republican, Democrat or Independent, I hope we can focus on what is needed to help this country to stay strong and to stay great. We will never agree on everything, but we do not need to be hostile or violent in our disagreements.

I pray there are no more violent demonstrations like we saw at the U.S. Capital on January 6.

In a year, I pray that we can look back at 2022 and see a reduction in the number of wildfires that have recently destroyed huge portions of our western states.

I pray that hurricanes and deadly tornadoes are removed from our headlines and become rare.

I pray that our shelves can be filled with the products we need, that gasoline and diesel fuel are available at a reasonable price, and that supply chain issues become something for economist and historians to ponder.

Basically, I would love for 2022 to be boring.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.


Randy Riley

Contributing columnist