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caption: John Winskill is a dentist and father in Tacoma.
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John Winskill is a dentist and father in Tacoma.
Credit: Courtesy of John Winskill

Denial is ‘the most dangerous thing of all’ when facing a virus

Voices of the Pandemic features people in the Seattle area who are on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak.

As the state continues to reopen, more people are confronting questions about how to go to work while keeping their families safe.

John Winskill of Tacoma knows something about that. For nearly 30 years, he moved between his busy dental practice and his home, where his son Christopher was being cared for. This is his experience amid the pandemic.

I've been a dentist for 37 years. And nearly 30 of those years, up until a year ago, January, it was also during the time when I had a son who was on a ventilator in an intensive care unit in my home. He was unable to move from the chin down because of a rare genetic condition and also, pretty much, without an immune system.

And so many of the issues that a lot of the people are dealing with right now are things that my family had to deal with a long time ago. And so people occasionally ask me how I move through the world and I can kind of give you my ideas.

I think the first thing you have to keep in mind is that people who are around you that you are dependent upon, kind of staying away from or being careful of, they truly, truly believe that they are not sick. And so I'm talking about good people. I can't tell you how many times they've had green goo dripping out of their nose and they look at me and say "why can't I visit Christopher? I feel pretty good. This is just allergies."

It's something almost in the genome that makes people feel as though they being good, could not possibly hurt somebody else. I don't know why it's that way. But it just seems to be pretty much universal. So keep that in mind that people intend to be good, but oftentimes, they don't really realize what they're doing.

But what do you do if you actually do have to confront somebody and my experience has been the best way to do it is not to lecture them, not to educate them, but simply to make it my problem, which of course it is my problem.

And so I tell him, you know, "Hey, sorry, Joe, you probably haven't seen this neurotic, crazy side of me before but I'm just trying to stay away from everybody" or "Mom, you know, I wish so much I could hug you but I just am feeling really vulnerable right now and I'm a little nervous. Let me give you a rain check. And I'll give you a couple hugs and in a month."

I mean, there are a lot of ways in which to handle this and sometimes you have to because it's not easy. These people are people that you love or people who are more powerful than you. My experience is if you make it your problem. People generally will extend grace and and that helps a lot.

I think the most dangerous thing of all is probably denial, you know that there is no problem and how could you catch something. Of course, if you drive behind a car, that's somebody vaping, you get a pretty good idea of the size of the cloud that can come out of somebody's lungs, and then you drive through it.

So, you know, you have to use, you know, common sense. Don't get close to people. I mean, I wouldn't be standing downwind from somebody who's coughing. I mean, there's some odds and ends like that, that I think it does help to consider.

And what really complicates things more than anything else is this two week gestation period where you can be communicable and yet you feel perfectly fine. And so you know, that's a tough one to deal with. So, you know, be aware of it, take extra care, and there's a really good chance that you're going to come through this fine. But, pay attention to the details.