Notes From My Sick Bed: Cold War, Viruses and History Repeating Itself

Growing up in Sweden in the late 1950s, I remember walking past the metal gated entrances to the underground bomb shelters from World War II on my way to kindergarten. Around the same time, mass polio vaccination was introduced.

My parents and grandparents still held on to the rationing coupon booklets they had left over from the war – needed to buy sugar, coffee and other staples.

As the years passed, Russia continued to loom as a threat close to our borders. In 1969, as I traveled around Europe with the Swedish Explorer Scouts, we visited Prague almost exactly a year after the Soviet invasion that crushed the democratic reforms led by Alexander Dubček.

The oppression was palpable and the beauty of the ancient city was shrouded under the dystopian Soviet totalitarianism.

In 1973, Sweden and much of the rest of the world faced a gasoline crisis following the October war in the Middle East.

In 1977 I visited Moscow with my medical school class. We saw underequipped hospitals with underpaid physicians and we saw long lines of people waiting to buy basic groceries.

Also in 1977, the last case of smallpox was recorded in Somalia after a worldwide campaign to eradicate the disease.

And in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, in many ways ending the Cold War that had started in 1947. The bunker memories of my preschool years finally faded away.

Fast forward, through the bulk of my career as a physician, to 2022:

A pandemic, finally appearing to be less lethal than at its onset. The medical victory of mass vaccinations, but not before our economies almost crashed. Supply chains strangulated and people scrambling to buy toilet paper and other necessities. Lingering chip shortages crippling the automobile industry. A rising awareness that our global marketplace has made us vulnerable in our interdependence.

And now, Russia has invaded its non-communist neighbor. We are at war again, cold or otherwise, a war between communist totalitarianism and democracy. Oil and gas movement across the globe may end. More shortages are looming. Military conflict may erupt in other places; Sweden is mobilizing and reconsidering its independence from NATO.

And here we are, deeply divided, bickering about the right to refuse vaccinations and masks, the right to bear arms, the right to abortion, the right to discuss race or sexual orientation and even the right to vote. Not to mention how to handle the climate issues we are facing.

Meanwhile, our victory over the coronavirus may be only temporary: I am writing this on my iPad from my sick bed on day 8 of my fortunately mild case of Covid-19. Me, triple vaccinated, living alone, N-95 masked whenever I leave the house, goggles at work. If I can get infected, anyone can.

It makes me humble. We are all vulnerable – to illness, war, natural disasters, supply shortages, civil unrest and loss of the freedoms of movement and self expression we have been accustomed to.

5 Responses to “Notes From My Sick Bed: Cold War, Viruses and History Repeating Itself”


  1. 1 Michael Baum, M.D. February 27, 2022 at 8:06 am

    May God bless you with a speedy recovery. I value your thoughtful blog regularly. mike baum m.d. efrat israel

  2. 2 Zaiga Sears DO February 27, 2022 at 8:12 am

    I too voice the same sentiment with gratitude for your interesting and thoughtful insights. I hope you recover quickly to full strength.

  3. 3 OlRedHair February 27, 2022 at 9:08 am

    I’m a retired military physician who truly enjoys your thoughtful blog. Wishing you an uneventful recovery!

  4. 4 David Felker March 2, 2022 at 9:54 am

    Get well soon, Doc! Thanks for all you do

  5. 5 Elizabeth A Champeon March 2, 2022 at 3:07 pm

    Safe recovery.


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