Many years ago (long enough that the internet was still known only as “that computer thing with the web pages”), a 20-something friend of mine went to buy his first car, a used Honda Accord. My friend is a reader, a researcher, and besides vetting the car for its roadworthiness, had calculated what his monthly payment would be based on a certain amount of loan interest over a certain amount of time. So, when the big moment came and he sat down with the car dealership’s finance officer to sign on the dotted line, he looked at that weird, abnormally oblong auto financing contract and his brow furrowed. The monthly payment was higher than he’d calculated by $10.
After a fleeting moment of self-doubt, my friend pointed out the error. To his surprise, rather than a debate ensuing over whose loan calculations were correct, the loan officer just kind of made a half-hearted apology, opened his desk drawer, and produced a contract with the correct monthly amount. The other contract vanished into the drawer during the process, like a playing card in a sleight-of-hand trick. We’ll get the next guy.
I think about my friend’s story a lot, including over the course of the pandemic, in which—despite it being the worst crisis of our lifetime—tricks continued to be played.
Early on in the crisis, as small businesses like ophthalmology practices were faced with the prospect of laying off employees or even shutting their doors, multi-million dollar organizations like Shake Shack and the Los Angeles Lakers were shouldering the small fry out of the way and scooping up the Paycheck Protection Plan loans for themselves. Only when watchdogs called them on it did they reach back into that desk drawer and return the money.
More recently, AstraZeneca, who no doubt assiduously followed every patient and p value in its study of its coronavirus vaccine, cited data that stated the vaccine was 79 percent effective. However, when the data-monitoring board questioned the “completeness” of the data in a message to the U.S. government, AZ reached into the old desk drawer and produced the more applicable, and slightly less impressive, data.
Amid a pandemic, when spirits are already low, it might be easy to focus on such negative tricks and traps, but I won’t. Instead, let’s focus on the positive stories: The ophthalmologists who reconfigured their practices with the help of PPP loans to enable their employees to have an income and their patients to receive care; and the clinicians who re-engineered the way they examined patients—moving screenings to the parking lots and patients’ homes via telemedicine. They stared into the gaping maw of the pandemic and survived.
Imagine what we could accomplish if we eliminated all the negative impulses and focused solely on the positive? If we didn’t see our fellow human as a mark to be duped but instead someone worthy of respect?
We might keep that desk drawer closed forever.
— Walter C. Bethke
Editor in Chief