What to Do Now
If you're feeling hopeless or helpless, you're not alone. Here are some things to do in this time of crisis.
Welcome to Not a Doctor, the only newsletter about health and science that is only writing to you today to stave off feelings of impending doom, in the hopes that we can stave off impending doom together.
I’m Melody Schreiber, a journalist and the editor of What We Didn’t Expect: Personal Stories About Premature Birth. I’m not a doctor, or a scientist, or really an expert of any kind. I just like to ask questions and try to find the answers to them.
Friends, it’s been a tough couple of years culminating in a very tough couple of weeks for many of us. I’m oscillating between wanting to write every story possible about our multiple ongoing emergencies — infectious diseases! reproductive health! human rights! climate change! other topics that are no less pressing but that I have no background in! — and not wanting to get out of bed because it all feels hopeless.
It’s okay to let yourself feel this pain. It’s okay to feel the light of your hope pressing up against all the darkness out there.
But if you are wondering what you can do about ~all of this~, here are a few practical tips pulled from articles I’ve written recently on reproductive rights, Covid, monkeypox, and the formula shortage. (Cholera will have to wait for another day.)
As always, this is not my own medical or legal advice — I am but a person with too much anxiety and a keyboard. But these insights from experts who thoughtfully and selflessly took the time to explain their respective fields may help. These tips are by no means exhaustive; they are just my little candle, flickering in this dark corner.
Photo: Markus Grossabler
What should I be doing about reproductive rights?
Call your reps. Yeah, I’m sorry, but this is a big one whether you live in a blue or red district. Congress could codify abortion protections into law today, rendering the SCOTUS decision useless. You could contact your elected leaders to ask when they will pass legislation to protect reproductive health and people’s lives. You could also ask what they are doing to expand the social safety net for those who will now face medical bills, childcare, and a lot more.
Donate to an abortion fund. Some people will be able to travel out of state to get the care they need, but that takes money (for travel, childcare, the care itself, the work hours lost). That's where abortion funds come in; the thing they need most is donations.
Volunteer. If you have a spare room or you’re able to pick someone up at the airport — please, for the love of God, don’t post about it on social media, where anti-abortion activists can see it and target you (and the people you hope to help). Instead, contact an abortion fund to see if they or another organization in their network need your help. They’re being inundated right now, so give it time.
What should I be doing about Covid?
Vaccinate your kids! (And yourself.) I wrote about how to choose between the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for children, especially under 5. Unlike with the adult shots, where the best option was the one you could get quickly, there are some key differences between pediatric vaccines. And then, once your family is vaccinated, tell everyone you know! Seriously, one of the best ways to overcome vaccine hesitancy — which is enormous among families with young kids — is talking to trusted friends and family. You don’t have to go nuts with it, but a big step is just letting them know you all did it and you’re fine (or better than fine!). After all, you can deffo get reinfected with these new variants even a few weeks later, and that changes the immunity game.
Clean your air. Ventilation and filtration are some of the best tools for battling Covid and other respiratory illnesses (and allergies!). I wrote a primer on how to make the air around you — at home, school, work, the gym, restaurants — safer. I hope this is especially helpful for those who have a sick household member. It is possible to stop transmission in the home, and these tips go a long way toward that goal.
Get tested if you have any symptoms or exposure. Maybe it’s allergies — but what if it isn’t? After all, it's increasingly hard to tell how many cases we actually have right now.
What should I be doing about monkeypox?
Be cautious. If you frequently have close physical contact with different people, you should be careful. Monkeypox is spreading through very close contact, like the kind you have during sex.
Get vaccinated if you’re at risk. If you’re a man who has sex with men, especially if you’re immune-compromised, you may qualify for the monkeypox vaccine. But cases are not only happening among queer people; there have been some cases discovered among kids, for instance, and testing is absolutely abysmal right now, so who knows if it’s spreading among other populations. Exercise caution when it comes to warm hugs (or more) with people who have any symptoms.
Get tested if you have symptoms. If you think you have it, head to the doctor and insist on a test. We know how to stop monkeypox — we just need people to know that it is something to look out for.
What should I be doing about the formula shortage?
You have options, even when it doesn’t seem like it! I wrote about the different ways you can navigate this shortage. Try a new brand — most formula branding is an absolute scam and they’re all basically the same, unless you have a medically vulnerable baby who needs a special formulation. In these and other cases, talk to your pediatrician. They can advise you on safely switching to new brands, and they know exactly which stores have stock.
Don’t listen to numb-nuts who tell you '“just breastfeed,” because they have no idea how people’s bodies work and how vast inequities make breastfeeding incredibly difficult.
But if you do have a lot of breastmilk, consider donating it! Human milk banks always need donations, but especially now. I’d be very wary of donating informally on Facebook, because you should be screened for medical conditions that pass through breastmilk. And the babies who need it most (like preemies) can get it safely through milk banks.
As ever, please leave a comment or email me (email@example.com) if you have any questions or thoughts. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram, if you’re so inclined.
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Stay safe out there, and be kind.