Downton Abbey, episode 2.8. [during dinner, several of the Grantham family have been stricken with Spanish flu] 

Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham : “Wasn’t there a masked ball in Paris when cholera broke out? Half the guests were dead before they left the ballroom.”

Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham : [sarcastically]  “Thank you, Mama. That’s cheered us up no end.”

A few decades ago I covered a cholera epidemic in Bangladesh. Forty thousand dead. The last time I thought about that trip was while watching the Downton Abbey episode quoted above.

Downton writer Julian Fellowes clearly knows nothing about cholera. 

Nobody dies of cholera at masked balls because people shit themselves to death over several days. 

Forty thousand dead in Bangladesh was a mountain of dead bodies covered in shit. The army dug a long trench to bury the dead in a communal grave. At first, they neatly laid the bodies side-by-side in the trench but, as the day heated up and the fear of further contagion increased, they switched to pushing bodies into the trench with a bulldozer. The dozer crushed limbs and skulls. Some of the bodies were burned, some just covered in lime. All were eventually sealed over with more lime and dirt. The stench was something I still visit in my dreams.

In the fall of 1979, I was writing a book and sharing a condo in Palo Alto with my friend Gwen, who was a secretary in my department at Stanford. Gwen was dying of cancer. Her husband and children had literally abandoned her — angry with her for dying. This happens more often than you’d guess. So I volunteered to care for Gwen for the end of her life, which was about another six weeks. I had no idea what I was offering to do. Gwen was 5-11 and fighting death, which came to mean fighting me — the guy who was sticking morphine suppositories up her butt every four hours. During those weeks I got no work done at all. Also during those weeks, no more than four or five of Gwen’s other friends came to visit. There were dozens at her memorial. Where were those people when she was dying?

Gwen was my first cancer death as the primary caretaker. My first wife was my second cancer death. And my mother was my third. With each experience, I learned more but I was still never ready for anything that happened. I won’t be ready the next time, either, which I’m hoping will be my death, not the death of another person close to me.

This is all just to say that we don’t know what’s coming with COVID-19. Maybe it will be better than we fear? Trump, after all, is a lucky SOB.

Nobody really knows the full extent of what is about to happen.

But what if it isn’t better than we fear? Will grandparents in Texas really voluntarily drown in their own blood (that’s how you go with COVID-19) so their grandchildren will have a lower debt load? That’s what the Lt. Governor Dan Patrick of Texas says and he’s a guy who I’m guessing doesn’t know his ass from his elbow when it comes to epidemics.

Before he gives his next speech, let Lt. Governor Patrick first spend a day in a COVID-19 ICU.

It’s unavoidable that there will be an economic tradeoff with COVID-19, but if things get really bad that tradeoff will be the one percent flying away to leave the 99 percent to take care of business.

It will be interesting to see if the Lt. Governor of Texas is on one of those planes.