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It isn’t every day that we get to have a sit-and-talk with incredible servicemen and women who are also medical professionals. Dr. Chris Weisgarber had many stories, and as I interviewed him, there was this surreal feeling of, “Yes, I get to talk to one of the 4,400 Medical Corps in the United States Army, who protect the health of the men who fight for our country.” As an American, you get to understand that every sacrifice these brave men and women make every day should never be taken for granted. Dr. Weisgarber spoke about many things. In a calm, reassuring, and confident voice, he says, “I’ve been active now for about three years, so I’m very new into it.” Albeit a young Medical Corp, Dr. Weisgarber talked about his old-aged dream of becoming a medical doctor. “I was talking with my mom when I was probably five or six years old. Medicine has always been something I wanted to do.”

Becoming a Medical Doctor

On his motivation to become a medical doctor, he says, “I was, unfortunately, pretty injury-prone playing sports at a young age; so my orthopedic surgeons and everybody else got me very interested in the medical route.” As a boy, due to his frail health, he was always surrounded by medical professionals. The essence of ‘life’ and the fact that a doctor almost always seemed to have an answer to illnesses pushed his dream of becoming one in the future.

On his specialization in family medicine, “Family medicine was the aspect of treatment that ensured that my nephew survived spinal muscular atrophy.” Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a genetic neurological disorder caused by the loss of nerve cells in the spinal cord and the brain stem. SMA leads to the loss of control of body muscles and movement, including head, legs, hands, preventing the patient from standing, sitting, or walking. In severe cases, the patient will not be able to swallow or breathe.

His passion for getting his cousin treated caught his family practitioner’s attention, who, in turn, enrolled him into a gene therapy trial at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Typically, individuals suffering from spinal muscular atrophy do not live past about twelve months. But because of this, he got gene therapy which has now enabled him to celebrate his fifth birthday. “He’s quite the hoot now.” Dr. Weisgarber says proudly.

Pros and Cons of Military Medicine

As all aspects of life come with their pros and cons, so does being a military doctor. When asked about this, he said, “Absolutely. Some of the pros are, most of your populations are relatively healthy, so to speak— which is great. Everybody’s looking to follow whatever guidance you can offer. The best advantage is that we are trying to ensure that these individuals are healthy and fit, in the best physical shape, and essentially ready for overseas deployments. It is an important role, and each medical corp plays his role with passion and diligence because we want all men and women to be healthy enough to come back safely to their families. It’s a sacred duty and a big pro.”

When asked about the disadvantages of military medicine, he explained that there are always cons with any job one does, whether it’s admin or paperwork. “There are only a few cons I’ve seen with military medicine.”

Quite impressively, the Military offers alternative medicine options. “They offer quite a bit of opportunity for us to continue to learn a variety of different treatment options. Many of the options are adopted to help with chronic pain and to get people off opioids. We do quite a bit, including acupuncture treatments, micro-current, and myofascial release, and many different things to get people off opioids or chronic discomfort.” On the success of the alternative medical processes, he says, “They are relatively successful. There are innumerable benefits with medical medicine.”

The Impact of COVID-19 on Family Medicine

COVID-19 was an unanticipated pandemic, and the world is slowly adapting and recovering from its challenges. Dr. Weisgarber says, “We’ve had to learn to adapt quite a bit. We’ve had to get more comfortable doing virtual encounters. We see the spikes around holidays, big sporting events, and everything else. But we try to keep most things well contained and regulated. That’s what the Military does best. With a doctor’s availability on the phone, individuals are beginning to adapt to telemedicine.” With telemedicine, doctors can organize consultations and even draw diagnoses from a remote location. Telemedicine became an essential option during the pandemic because many patients and doctors alike feared getting infected with the virus. The times were devastating for many people, but telemedicine removed unnecessary body contact while allowing doctors the leverage to practice and still treat people. “We’ve seen many patients who are very hesitant as far as coming into the hospital. With telemedicine as an option, we can continue to treat people and improve on the technicalities of the process. I think we will see more innovative treatment options in the future.” The home system’s work, another option adopted by the medical world, was vastly accepted amongst individuals and organizations during the pandemic and has since become the business world’s culture. The medical system isn’t left out as individuals now prefer to have their doctors’ appointments in their homes.

Benefits And Negative Impacts from Utilizing Telemedicine

As individuals adopt telemedicine, they might find it favorable—or not. “The difficulty of what you’re going to see is dependent on what style of telemedicine you choose to adopt. Telemedicine can be as simple as phone conversations or a video conference; however, it can be a complicated process where doctors try to recommend treatment plans and diagnoses without having physical contact with the patient.” On the negative impacts, Dr. Weisgarber says, “You’re always going to miss some of the actual physical touches in examining patients. You won’t be able to say, ‘Hey, can I pick up these heart murmurs or something else?’ That is difficult to do through telemedicine. It’s different.” Dr. Weisgarber says. It’s obviously different. Before the pandemic, the touch was always one of the most profound connections. Today, with social distancing, everyone is afraid to touch people or get too close. “The satisfaction I enjoy when I listen to a patient in my clinic or evaluate a patient’s back pain, joint pain, or rashes cannot be compared to doing these processes over the phone or a video call. Things never look the same over the telephone or even pictures as they do in person, and that is a challenge.” Dr. Weisgarber admitted that telemedicine is excellent for “routine general health prevention.” Telemedicine also ensures that patients and doctors stay in touch and “up-to-date” in a time where it would have been impossible.

The Buzz of Regenerative Medicine

Regenerative medicine is the process of replacing or “regenerating” human cells, tissues, or organs to restore or establish normal function. This field comes with the promise of regenerating damaged cells and organs in the body by replacing damaged cells or stimulating the body’s repair mechanisms to heal tissues and organs. Regenerative medicine may enable scientists to grow cells and organs in the laboratory and safely implant them when the body cannot heal. Current estimates indicate that approximately one in three Americans could potentially benefit from regenerative medicine. “The Military focuses more on the overall health and wellness of its population— especially in our active-duty population.” The Military does regenerative medicine only within the “muscular therapy side.” Outside the muscular therapy sphere, the Military does not partake in any other regenerative medicine processes.

The Effect of the Pandemic on the Mental and Emotional Health of Patients

The global pandemic remains the most devastating event—so far, in this century. From infecting hundreds of millions of people to killing about three million people at the time of writing, the pandemic spread sporadically through regions, states, countries, leading to unprecedented global deaths. “We are dealing with a new organism that could wipe out humanity.” Dr. Weisgarber opined. “The pandemic led to an emotional and mental strain on the world.” Dr. Weisgarber, however, felt the word “devastating” was a bit too much to use but that the pandemic “has had a huge impact on every patient. It led to an increase of anxiety and depression— at least in my patient population.” ‘We have been able to continue face-to-face workups and management, especially with individuals with a bit more mental health issues because we understand people’s emotional and mental health is essential. A human touch goes a long way. We can continue to offer emotional support. Military doctors play active roles in the lives of their patients, serving as both doctors and friends to their patients. Emotional support goes a long way in times like this.” Dr. Weisgarber recommends a twenty-minute walk, as interaction with the public and change in one’s environment improves mental health.

On the Effect of the Pandemic on People’s General Health

He notices most patients started gaining weight during the pandemic, which may be quite unhealthy. Snacks and ultra-processed foods are more readily available in the house than when we are at work; hence, individuals eat more unhealthy snacks, gaining unhealthy fats in different body parts. “A Mediterranean-diet lifestyle that focuses on lean meats, fish, fruits, veggies, and nuts, is better for health.” With the stay-at-home directive issued by the federal and state governments, many people had spare time to learn new skills like baking and recreating beautiful dishes on Instagram. “Everybody’s baking: mashed potatoes, cake, gravy, and the whole nine yards.” It’s a menace of new hobbies aligning with unhealthy eating habits—and it’s certainly bad for the health. “The hospital, in cooperation with a magazine house, is finding a nutrition program that different insurance companies can reimburse. The philosophy is, ‘If we have been exercising more regularly and eating better, the virus may not have hit quite as hard in some areas as it did.’ During the pandemic and lockdown, perfectly healthy individuals developed obesity and other comorbid conditions.” Dr. Weisgarber claims.

Impact of COVID-19 and the Vaccine on the Health of Infected Victims

Before the virus spread and became a pandemic, scientists did not know that such an infection could be fatal in people with other health conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or heart failure. “COVID hit them a lot harder than individuals who do not have health conditions. Patients with COPD suffered accelerated effects. But now that we’re studying some of the cases that began last March, we realize that there are some long-term effects that could be devastating in the next few months or years.”

Dr. Weisgarber believes that the vaccine gives “hope, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” On the effectiveness of the vaccine, “Individuals who get at least one of the actual vaccine doses will enjoy 50% coverage— as opposed to getting a severe illness or having 0% protection.”

“I encourage my patients who are eligible for the vaccine to get it done immediately. But once again, I cannot force people to do things. My job is to educate them and equip them with information that will enhance informed decisions when the time comes.”

Last Words

Dr. Weisgarber, a young military man with a refreshing disposition, was also quick to point out many of the successes governments have achieved in ensuring that the vaccine was produced within a reasonable timeline. His passion for not just his patients’ physical well-being but mental and emotional well-being is a testament to his military vows. As the pandemic comes to a close, we consistently monitor both old and new victims’ body systems to underscore trends and patterns within the virus’s path and evaluate treatment options.  

Brianna Connors
Brianna Connors