In the snap of a finger, the innocent lives of men, women, and children were lost without failure due to the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918; the public was frightened, the medical workers were stressed out and unhappy. For a second, it seemed as if this would be the end of the world. The reassurance that we were sufficient enough to pass through the trauma and the deadliness of this disease never existed. Society was enduring a massive state of regression. We’ve seen the detrimental effects of regression: death, and therefore it is vitally important that we instead step onto the other side of the red line. Progression is key, and the prominence of progression can be seen again and again through the lessons that history teaches us. We cannot be swept up by the currents of a dark sea. The repetitive actions of pandemics and epidemics such as AIDS and the swine flu of 2009 have shown us the dangers of the lack of accessibility to lifesaving technology. Thankfully for us, we have entered a new age in which we have access to technological advancements that can provide long, quality lives for many. As shown by the world-altering Coronavirus pandemic and the recent implementation of vaccines, we have certainly moved far along the timeline of capability and success within the medical world and we can continue to do so with every passing minute that comes.
The AIDS epidemic was earth-shattering; the hysteria amongst the people of the 1980s was unlike anything that had ever been seen before. There were no rules, no regulations, no causes, no effects; they were saturated in a premise of the unknown, and sometimes the scariest things in life are the questions you don’t have answers to. People were unsure of how it was transmitted, of how it moved along the body, of the probability of getting it, and even what their own subjective overall outcome would be if they’d caught it themselves. It was even unknown to the President of the United States, Ronald Regan, who never officially addressed the disease, causing even more hysteria and fear. We can analyze this same hysteria through the events of today, namely the COVID-19 outbreak; we can also look at the patterns of response, and how medical technology has improved immensely throughout the years.
I sat down with Kevin Hulbert, a Cardiovascular Perfusionist from the University of Colorado Hospital, to ask him about his encounters with medical technology, and how important and modernized it has become in the notion of saving more lives than ever before. Kevin’s occupation as a Cardiovascular Perfusionist automatically suggests the use of medical technology and his knowledge of how it’s progressed over time. On a day to day basis, Kevin’s goal is to use a medically acclaimed machine called the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Machine (ECMO) to temporarily take over the function of the heart and the lungs; the function in itself acts in similarity to that of dialysis—the only difference is the specific areas in which these machines are specifically designed for. When asked whether he’d personally seen advancements in the quality and production of medical technology, he told me, “Yes; trying not to use blood thinners for bypass has been on our radar in the production of new product types.” The mission of improving kidney function after bypass has also been on the radar of medical professionals; creating new means of combating poor kidney function would, in turn, also combat insult to the kidneys during and after the procedure. This technology that Kevin works with daily has also become difficult to navigate to the outsider’s eye; it takes training and attention paid to detail to have the means of running this equipment. As in the words of Kevin himself, “There are lots of tubes, wires, and screens involved; every different hospital has different equipment.” Despite Kevin not being in the medical field for as long as one may presume, (about three and a half years), he has seen and witnessed the rapidly moving attention and shift onto the production and invention of new technological advancements, specifically with the Coronavirus, and how their accessibility to technology has prolonged the lives of so many.
When questioned about the effectiveness of these new inventions in the prevention of COVID he said, “technology has been a game changer. It’s helped prolong lives for way longer increments than we’d all thought would be possible.” Kevin also stated that “I absolutely think there is always room for improvement within the premise of medical tech innovations. The access we have is substantial.”
While COVID-19 has rocked the world into a state of desolation and despair, we still have something that never existed during previous epidemics and pandemics: we have hope and knowledge. The production of guidelines and vaccines can be accredited to the innovations that have been rapidly thrown into the medical field within the past couple of decades. Looking in comparison, the AIDS Epidemic left everyone in the dark about the contents of the disease, how you could get it, how severe it truly was, and even the long-term effects it could have on one’s life and body for years to come. With the Coronavirus, we’ve been able to produce documentaries, vaccines, and social distancing guidelines due to the accessibility we have; the absence of this technology is what made the difference between the frantic response of the AIDS Epidemic versus the collected and calculated decision making behind COVID-19 guidelines. As Kevin said, the capabilities of medical technology are infinite; the mother, daughter, man, and the children now have the opportunity to live a long, happy, and healthy life.