Ramsey Russell and long-time hunting buddy Dr. Sam Pierce catch up post-season. Remembering many memorable moments, they recall their first duck hunt together when “bombs were dropping,” and conclude that great friendships are truly formed in foxhole situations! As a physician, Sam is on the frontlines dealing with COVID-19 in Mississippi and offers first-hand insights.
The Day the Bombs Dropped and Other Memorable Duck Hunts
Hunting buddies Ramsey Russell and Sam Pierce catch up about their first Mississippi duck hunt together, reminisce at the height of the covid pandemic quarantine
Ramsey Russell: It may be duck season somewhere, but I can’t get there today because of coronavirus. Today’s guest is Dr. Sam Pierce from Vicksburg, Mississippi, a longtime friend of mine. I invited Sam on, not only to talk about some fun duck hunting stuff, but to kind of shed some light on coronavirus. Everything I know about infectious viruses and diseases and things of that nature would fit in a full snuff can. I don’t know anything. I sell worldwide duck hunts for living. Sam Pierce is on the frontline right now, treating patients. I just thought that, while we’re all sitting at home in quarantine, maybe Sam and I could talk ducks and talk COVID-19, and we’d all be in the boat together. Sam, how are you today?
Sam Pierce: Ramsey, I’m doing fine, man. How are you doing?
Ramsey Russell: I’m doing fine. Long time no see. Where are you at in the world today?
Sam Pierce: Man, I am driving back from Senatobia, Mississippi. I had to come up here this morning after rounding at the hospital. Left Vicksburg and headed up I-55 to Senatobia to pick up a couple of motocross bikes for my boys. That’s their sport. They don’t play baseball. They don’t play football. They race motorcycles. It’s an exciting sport, and we get after it pretty hard. They race at a pretty high level, so I’m bringing two new bikes back from Senatobia to Vicksburg for them.
Ramsey Russell: How old are they now?
Sam Pierce: My three boys are eight, ten and twelve. My eight year old, Sam, he and Clay, my oldest, race. And Luke is my mechanic. He’s my engineer of the family. He helps me keep the bikes running right, which is a full time job for him.
Ramsey Russell: Look, I keep up with y’all on social media. I’ve known you since before they were a twinkle in your eyeball. We go back, I’m going to say, twenty years. You’ve known my children, my two boys—who are twenty and twenty-two—you’ve known them since they were babies. But I keep up with y’all, and I’m just going to say it. Watching Sam and Clay on the track makes my palms sweat. Do they ever make your palms sweat? Watching your boys out there hitting it like that?
Sam Pierce: The older they get, the faster they get. The faster they get, the higher they jump. The higher they jump, boy, I get knots on my stomach, sometimes. We started this kind of innocently, and it’s turned into something really big, you know? They’re pretty good. It’s a lot of fun to watch, but you got to trust that they know what to do when the times are right.
Ramsey Russell: They’re already doing more than I would dare. Now, having watched your sons grow up at Willow Break, the thing I’ve loved about them is they are pure boys. They are real boys like a boy needs to be. Absolutely fearless. Snake catching, fish catching, turtle catching, mud riding since they were born, man. I’m so proud to see them on that dirt track going fast and jumping like that. But I ain’t going to lie to you, it does make my palms sweat, watching them.
Sam Pierce: Man, I get it. Makes me and their mama’s palms sweat sometimes, too!
Ramsey Russell: It doesn’t surprise me that Luke is the mechanic. It does not surprise me one bit that he’s the mechanic, because, I’m going to tell you, man, I called him “Lulu” just to mess with him back when he was a little boy. That’s a smart young’un.
Sam Pierce: He’s smart as a whip. He’s scary smart, is what he is.
Ramsey Russell: I will not say this in the light of day, but I do remember, one day, being out in the field. I had that old used Ranger I bought. Man, it was just a POS when I bought it. But we tinkered around with it, got it running and everything else. I was somewhere out in the middle of nowhere on camp and couldn’t get it running. And your boy, Luke—and he could not possibly have been more than five or six years old—come up, fooled around, and got that thing running. I am not exaggerating.
Sam Pierce: Yeah, that’s why he’s my mechanic. Even if he wanted to ride, I wouldn’t let him ride. He’s too valuable on the motors.
How’d the past Mississippi duck season go?
Ramsey Russell: Now, he was good at it. But, Sam, I haven’t seen you much this duck season. I hunted all over and didn’t do much duck hunting this year. Did you do any good in Mississippi, at all? Did y’all manage to get to it?
Sam Pierce: We did pretty good, early season. We got that first really good cold push right before the opener, and I kind of split my time between Louisiana, Mississippi, Louisiana. We’d be just across the bridge in Mound, Louisiana. We did really well over there for the first 3-4 weeks. Really just kind of hammered on them pretty consistently. I got a couple blinds over there just right across the river, maybe ten minutes from the house. Then the warm weather rains came around Christmas, just like everywhere else. Turned our fields over there into an ocean. It was tough going since then. We did hunt up there in a place in Anguilla, Mississippi, a good bit, after that, and it was spotty. Now the last week, we hammered them pretty consistently the last seven or eight days, I’m going to say. Me and a couple buddies of mine take the last seven or eight days off and scout them up in the afternoons and hunt in the mornings. Sometimes hunt all day, if that’s what it takes. We did pretty good this year. Got me a new dog and she is jam up, which added some joy to the hunt. It was a hell of a lot better than last year, but not as good as the year before.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve actually seen that little black lab, I can’t remember her collar name, but I actually saw her down at Alexandria. She is an absolute pistol.
Sam Pierce: Yeah, she’s a handful. Spanky is her name. I didn’t name her. Alan Sandifer named her. But, boy, she’s a handful. She can get it done, that’s for sure. She had never hunted before this season, had never set foot in a duck blind, never had a gun shot around her. She was a field trial only dog, I picked her up at fifteen months old. Alan warned me that she’ll get it done, but she’s green as grass. He said, “I think you can make a hunter out of her.” Three duck hunts in, she was stepping on two hundred yard marks out of a pit blind and then running big blinds. I’ve been real impressed. I think she’s going to be a jewel, for sure.
Ramsey Russell: Boy, as tough as duck hunting has been in the south Delta of Mississippi the past two or three years, you can’t let one get away. You need a good dog like that.
Sam Pierce: You can’t. And old Cowboy—last year, I guess—he just lost his step. He just couldn’t do it anymore. He’s twelve years old. That really put a damper on my season, in my 2018, 2019 season. I didn’t duck hunt much because I just didn’t want to hunt without my dog. You know how it is. You’ve taken Cooper literally all over the world.
Ramsey Russell: Cooper is ten years old, but she’s retired. If I shot a duck today, she would go get it because that’s what she does. But she don’t want to, man. That dog has gotten long in the tooth. She’s picked up a whole lot of birds in her career. She’s seen a whole lot of countries. I bought a black lab, myself. She’s down there with Alan, he’s training her right now, getting her ready for the upcoming season. I hate to put this kind of pressure on a dog, but you’ve known me twenty years. Delta and Cooper and some of these other dogs—I don’t get attached to a dog like it’s a child. I do not. I normally find myself getting real attached to a dog after a period of time, having hunted with it. But this little dog here—Char, we call her—I don’t know, man, it’s scary how much I love that dog. She’s showing a lot of potential. He’s really pushing her out there. She’s getting through some technical stuff right now. I’m cautiously optimistic that she’s “The One.” Her personality was such, it really tested my patience. I am not a dog trainer. I don’t have near that amount of patience. She really tested me, when she was young. But at the same time, I like that attitude. I like that she was struggling.
For a lot of people listening— I don’t know what everybody outside of Mississippi has heard, or not heard, about the south Mississippi Delta flooding situation for the last several years. But it has been a real kick in the balls, man, if you’re a duck hunter or a deer hunter or anything. Last year, 2019, our deer hunting season was closed around January 1st because of backwater flooding. And I don’t mean a little bit of water, I mean a lot of water. It ended up backwater flooding somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 acres until mid-August. Which means when the water came off it was all just bottom-of-the-lake mud, and a little bit of grass came in. But no seed bearing, no nothing. Then, basically all that mud flat got covered up by water again, come right around duck season. Right now, deer season was slow. Deer season was slow. There was no nutritive value on the half million acres that covers a lot of property in South Delta, Mississippi. When the duck migration, what little did come down, there was no habitat value whatsoever. It was just like hunting a big old lake. There was just nothing to it. It’s been really tough and discouraging. So I’m glad y’all were able to get out there and kill, to have a couple of good duck hunting days.
Sam Pierce: Yeah, well, I really think that played a large part of why we did so well over in Louisiana and did not do well in Anguilla. I think that Anguilla, while technically it was out of that flood zone, it’s not far north of where that line was, that 550 thousand acres that was underwater for damn near nine months. I think that shifted the birds a little bit. A little further west, to be honest with you, up in Louisiana, where they didn’t have that problem, they still have pretty good habitat. But it hurt us last year, hurt us a year before. When you’re trying to localize birds on 550 thousand acres of water, it’s a little tough.
The Day the Bombs Dropped Duck Hunt at Willow Break
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, it’s a little tough. It’s hard to get around it. The birds can go anywhere, if they’re there to speak of. Sam, speaking of flood, how long ago was it that you and I and our buddy Derek shared that hunt over in Ohio duck hole? Would that have been twenty years ago?
Sam Pierce: It was damn close. If it wasn’t twenty years ago, it was probably eighteen. I got in Willow Break about eighteen years ago. I got out this past season. But it was probably my second or third year in there, so it was probably sixteen, seventeen years ago.
Ramsey Russell: I can’t remember if you were a senior at Ole Miss or just starting med school, but I’ve known you since you was in college. We’ve been buddies since you were in college, going all the way back. I had a conversation with Big Water not too long ago. And we were trying to cipher through— It was so weird how, pre- Instagram and Facebook, there were these things called chat rooms. But MS Ducks was so different versus all the other ones that were around because it was like everybody kind of convened in the mornings. It was like a coffee room, almost. The level of conversation was incredible. Then, outside of that, we were going to pizza houses. We were going to hunting camps and getting together. It’d be like one or two hundred people assembled. You really made lifelong friendships like ours.
Sam Pierce: You did. I’ve known Big Water since I met him on MS Ducks, and I’ve known him since then. We stay in contact, and he’s a good friend of mine. I have met a lot of good friends. Hell, that’s where I met you. My best friends are from that spot. It really is amazing. I was a member of a lot of duck hunting chat rooms. That was the only one that we did that with. It was an amazing thing back then. I think they still keep it going on Facebook, now. It’s morphed into a much bigger group, but we still keep in contact.
Ramsey Russell: Now that I thought of it and broached subject, I got to tell folks, anybody listening—hey Mom—I got to tell anybody listening this story of the first time we hunted together. Because even when we said that we were going to talk on the phone today, record a podcast, the last thing on my mind was the very first time that you and I hunted together. I remember I knew you, and we were going to get together. We’d done some habitat. It was good habitat. It had not been flooded during the growing season. But then, right after duck season started—it was still December—a big, it may have been Hurricane Rita or something, tropical depression floated over the state of Mississippi. Dropped an unprecedented amount of December rainfall.
The Mississippi River got high. The major tributary, the Yazoo River, got high. They shut the structure on Collins Creek. We caught a lot of water, and you couldn’t get around this big old property except by boat. You sure couldn’t get around with ATVs or nothing else. I do remember, at the time there was still a significant amount of agriculture north of this property that had flooded before they could harvest all the corn. I know, talking to the former state waterfowl biologist at the time, that thousand acres of half-harvested corn that got flooded all of a sudden was holding about half the number of ducks in the state of Mississippi. Then a big old cold front hit, and all that water turned to ice, which meant the ducks came down. So we decided that we were going to go out and try this body of water we’d seen some ducks kind of funneling into. I had never hunted it, at the time. I recall that I had not hunted it much, and now it’s one of our top duck holes, if the ducks are down.
I remember we had to go put in at the old Collins Creek because there was no way to navigate over levees and whatnot from where we launched the boat, unless we went into Collins Creek. We had to run probably twenty minutes up that creek. Then veer over, get out of the boat, pull it over a levee that was now underwater but not bad. Don’t hit that structure, you’d tear up the boat. Then kind of go off and hide. It was just one of them mornings the wind was howling. Boy, I remember the wind whipping so badly that it was very hard to throw out decoys and stay in position and get everything just right. We were chunking them left and right, and it was just gale force. We kind of tucked up in some cover. Just typical hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry. We were sitting there at the boat ramp. Sitting there, launching the boat, getting everything done, get the plug in, get this. Derek says, “I don’t feel good. I got to use the bathroom.” I said, “We ain’t got time to use the bathroom. We got to go. We got ducks waiting. We’re burning daylight. We got to get shooting. Man, there’s ducks galore. We got to go.” He’s like, “No, no, no. I don’t—” “Nah, you’ll be fine, you’ll be fine. Man, you’ll be fine.” Remember that?
Sam Pierce: I do. Derek, I’m sorry, buddy, but this story has got to be told.
Ramsey Russell: “We’ve got to go. We’ve got to go.”
Sam Pierce: “We got to go. We got to go.”
Ramsey Russell: So you, who knew enough about small engine repair— It was a very cold morning, it’s a clunky old Johnson motor. You finally get the outboard going. I don’t know why Derek didn’t take care of business before we got started. Well, we cranked the motor, and off we go, flying down Collins Creek. We finally get there, and it’s not shooting time, but it’s light enough you can see the ducks just swarming like somebody kicked a beehive. We’re chunking out decoys. We get parked. We pull up that portable blind, and life is good, and we start shooting ducks. Then it hits.
Sam Pierce: Derek— His first words, after we threw out all those decoys and tied the boat up was, “You got to take me to the bank.” You and I look at Derek and said, “We ain’t going nowhere. If you got to go to the bathroom, you’re going to have to hang it off the side of the boat.” If we had known what was going to happen, we would have taken that son of a bitch to the bank!
Ramsey Russell: Oh, we’d have gone to the bank. But how can you— I mean, “Come on, dude, hold it. Put a plug in it. The ducks are flying. Are you kidding?” What I’ve learned in all the many, many years, many, many places of duck hunting is, some days are that day. It is that day. Then, some days, you can’t buy a duck. There’s a lot of days in between, but this was that day that you can’t leave. You got to put a cork in it. Are you kidding? Look at these ducks flying, man! They’re coming in dumb. They would sweep around that hole. They would lock in. They knew they wanted to be up in that protected water. Here they come! Bam, we’re swiping them. I remember shooting a blue-winged teal, which is kind of a trophy back then, for Mississippi. I remember shooting mallards, gadwalls, pintails. Well, I never will forget, Derek is hanging over the side, and— I didn’t even know you smoked cigarettes.
Sam Pierce: Yeah, back then I used to smoke.
Ramsey Russell: But I just remember you chain smoking to get that cloud going—
Sam Pierce: Just trying to keep the smell away, man. It was horrible. If the wind was blowing, I was downwind. Hell, lung cancer be damned, it was better than passing out from the foul odor. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t help it.
Ramsey Russell: You had to do something to survive. Luckily, the draft was kind of going towards you, not me.
Sam Pierce: Yeah, it was bad. It was bad. It wasn’t just one time. Whatever he ate the night before, it got him good. He hung his butt off the side of that boat at least ten times. While we’re shooting ducks. We shot three limits of pintails, mallards, blue-wings. Anything you could shoot, we were shooting. I don’t know that he— It was bad. He was in bad shape.
Ramsey Russell: He was having a bad morning. That’s just one of them mornings. He probably should have stayed in. But here’s my favorite play of the morning. It was a little bit of a balancing act. We were in a fifteen foot long by 42-inch wide jon boat, a little bit bigger than a standard jon boat. We got a little bit of stability. It had wooden floors. We had just a little more stability. But with Derek hanging off one side, we were kind of having to adjust the weight to the other and shoot at the same time. We had the flip-up top on that boat blind up. I think that was an Avery Quick-Set blind. So the top flipped up. It was cloudy. We didn’t want them to see down in there. And Derek just had this thing for pintail. About that time, a flock of pintails set up, and I said, “Pintail! Take them.” And, me thinking he was just incapacitated at the time because of his precarious situation off the side of the boat, I didn’t expect him to jump up with his waders down around his ankles, grab his gun, and shoot. So I throw the top down. He comes up, which throws the top back up. As I’m coming down and you’re coming down, he’s coming up. The bar of that blind hit him straight in the forehead.
Sam Pierce: Square in the forehead!
Ramsey Russell: And nobody killed a duck. Just a complete and utter cluster at the moment.
Sam Pierce: That’s right, that’s right. That was something. Was that our first hunt together? I think you’re right. It was our first hunt.
Ramsey Russell: It’s the first hunt that I can recall. We may have gone blue-winged teal hunting because we did a lot of blue-winged teal hunting in September, at the time. It’s possible. Sam, that would have been about the time that we had the first, or second, annual MS Ducks blue-winged teal hunt. We may have hunted together, back in those days, but that was our first big duck hunt that I can recall.
Sam Pierce: That was a hell of an inaugural duck hunt. It’s literally unforgettable. I can still smell it now.
Ramsey Russell: We’ve been good friends ever since. It’s like I’ve always said, the best of friendships are forged in the foxhole, right?
Sam Pierce: Yeah, that was a foxhole, buddy!
The Decoy Hunt at Willow Break
Ramsey Russell: That was a foxhole moment, but we did come back with some ducks. That was a heck of a duck season for a high water year, man. That was probably one of the most memorable duck seasons in the past twenty years I’ve ever had in the state of Mississippi. We were flooded, but we could get around, and the folks were doing good. Do you remember, that same dark season, the ducks started getting shy, started getting a little stale? We had ducks, we still had a lot of water. But do you remember, a lot of the ducks were gathered up north of us? They would still kind of traffic over us, and we knew because there were so many ducks.
Sam Pierce: Oh, yeah. The Decoy Hunt.
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember that? How many decoys did we put out?
Sam Pierce: We had probably five Rangers and ATVs loaded down with decoys, and each one of the Rangers and ATVs was pulling a trailer. Loaded down with decoys. I’m talking, five or six big bags of decoys on each trailer. I remember putting the tarp over the top of them to keep mud off of them on the way there. We threw out decoys for two hours before it even got daylight.
Ramsey Russell: That was a heck of a good duck hunt.
Sam Pierce: It was.
Ramsey Russell: It took seven or eight of them.
Sam Pierce: It may have been more than that.
Ramsey Russell: It was a crowd of us. It was up on the north end of Big Hole.
Sam Pierce: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: And I remember we had to recruit a crowd to get all those decoys out in the field.
Sam Pierce: What was more important was to pick them up.
Ramsey Russell: For anybody listening, it’s one thing if you pull a big, white trailer in the middle of a barley field, and you go throw out 300, 400, 500 decoys. Full-body decoys or silhouettes, that’s one thing. We all do that, and that takes a while, and more hands are better. But when you’re driving three miles— First, we couldn’t just drive from camp to where we wanted to go. We had to go, clear away, twenty miles around to the north end, come in through the north gate. Then, unload the bikes and get all the decoys loaded up and go out to the Hole. I’m going to say, conservatively, we covered about a half-acre of land surface with decoys. But it worked.
Sam Pierce: It did work. I’ve got a picture of that hanging on my wall. My old dog Reagan sitting in your sneak boat, that was his perch, and we’ve got a ton of ducks hanging behind him. Just me and him. I think you took that picture. It was either you or Ian Munn, one of the two.
Ramsey Russell: Go hard, or go home. Go big, or go home. That’s what I say.
The-Time-Reagan-Got-Motion-Sickness-While-Breaking-Ice Duck Hunt
Sam Pierce: Speaking of memorable hunts, when you called and asked me to come on and do the podcast, I was thinking back on some of our hunts. The one that stuck out in my mind—it wasn’t about killing ducks. It was also a high water year. It was cold as hell. We had probably half an inch of ice on the water. We put in the duck hole with your boat, again. Our idea was to go out there and spin around in the middle and break us up an open spot and get those ducks to funnel in there. By the time we got to where we were going to start spinning circles, Delta had peed on your jacket. My dog, Reagan, got motion sickness in the boat and puked on the front of the boat. When we finally got set up and started killing the few ducks that the coots weren’t pulling away, Reagan made the most athletic move I’ve ever seen a dog make and vaulted over the top of that Avery Quick-Set blind onto the ice. Went through the ice, pounded out through the ice, and picked up a blue-winged teal.
Ramsey Russell: I do remember that.
Sam Pierce: Then bringing that bird back. I’ve got that one hanging on my wall. Just busting onto the ice with a blue-winged teal in his mouth.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’ll say this for people not listening. Two things that are critical to this story. Delta peeing in the boat. That’s the best lab I’ve ever owned. I cried for three days and locked myself up when that dog died of cancer at age nine. Best dog I’ve ever owned. Loved her like nothing else. But she had hunt tested and done a lot of things very seriously. When I would let her out in the morning, she would not do her business. When I let her out in the morning, she wouldn’t run off in the shadows and do her business. She got on that four-wheeler because she knew what the game was.
Sam Pierce: Game time.
Ramsey Russell: Bless her heart. And my sons—little boys at the time, babies at the time—who would ride on the deer rack with the dog while I’m driving the four-wheeler, they still tell stories about her taking a dump right in the middle of the road. Because it’s like a hunt test dog going up to the line. If they got to go, they got to go. But they are game on. She was in the game. So that was always to be expected. She’s going to do her business on the line.
Sam Pierce: Unfortunately, that time it was on your jacket.
Ramsey Russell: The most impressive thing about Reagan— You were sitting in the bow. I was sitting back by the outboard in that fifteen foot jon boat. The most impressive thing about that lab jumping clear over that Avery Quick-Set blind was not the fact that he did it, but the fact that we’re not talking about a normal sixty to seventy pound lab. We’re talking about a Shetland pony-sized Labrador retriever. He and his son Cowboy— How much did Reagan and Cowboy weigh? A hundred or more?
Sam Pierce: Reagan weighed 110 pounds, and he was solid muscle. It wasn’t fat.
Ramsey Russell: Solid muscle.
Sam Pierce: Cowboy was a little smaller. He was about 85-90.
Ramsey Russell: You know a lot of the real big labs I have seen, they’re not built like a bird dog like those two dogs were. Those two dogs had form like a bird dog. They were solid muscle. But just the fact that, to get out of the back of the blind, he jumped over me, out the blind, over the outboard, and landed on the ice. Busted the ice, and fought his way out to that blue-wing.
Sam Pierce: It was surprising, for sure.
Ramsey Russell: No, those are good memories. We’ve had some good times. You and I have sure shot some ducks around together, haven’t we?
Sam Pierce: No doubt. No doubt about it.
Ramsey Russell: If I had to guess, there’s probably still a place out there in Ohio that nothing will still grow, based on our first hunt.
Sam Pierce: There’s no doubt about that. There’s a fair spot out there, on the east side of that hole, that just will not grow grass.
What’s your informed medical opinion about COVID-19?
Ramsey Russell: Well, Sam, those days we met, you were in med school. You since have become a doctor. You’ve become my doctor. It’s not like I’m a fit bill of health, so, thankfully, I’ve got a good doctor that I can communicate with. You know what’s important to me? I will say this, I will never forget many, many years ago when I was a young man. One of my uncles just gave me a little fatherly advice, he was talking about banking. What he said is, “What’s more important than just shopping the absolute bottom interest rate is that you have a relationship with the people that you deal with.” I’ll say this to the world, and to you, Sam, if I’ve never said it to you before. It’s important to me that the person I trust to give me a medical consultation and take care of my continued health is a friend. Somebody I trust. It’s not just going into a Quik Stop and buying a pack of—you know? It’s somebody I’ve got a relationship with, and I would say that—stemming from MS Ducks—my doctor; my insurance guy; bankers, when I use bankers; heck, my lawyer; everybody. I’ve got a real, long friendship with these people. But I’ve got a professional relationship with them, also. But, Sam, you have gone on to become a doctor. Now, not to discount your being a doctor, but I have learned, in the last ten days, that I’ve got about 120,000 acquaintances on social media that are apparently part-time epidemiology experts.
Sam Pierce: Right. Everybody is nowadays.
Ramsey Russell: Like I said to start with, everything that I know about that— It’s like, if I opened up a brand-new snuff can, it’d fit in that can along with it. I don’t know anything about it. I’m just a regular guy, and honestly, Sam, my head is kind of swimming. I hear the presidential administration. I hear the surgeon general. I hear CNN. I hear something out of a Snopes proof report on social media. I hear some unknown expert talking about it. Everybody’s got an opinion. Sam, most people I know right now are social distancing. We’re exercising a little bit of caution, but we don’t know what’s what. I’m curious, Sam. Based on some conversations I’ve had with you via text message, what would you tell anybody listening about the coronavirus? Is it Chicken Little, the sky really is falling? Is this going to be the Spanish flu of 1918? Or can I shrug this thing off, like the common cold and flu? What’s really going on? What do I need to know?
Sam Pierce: So the truth of that is it’s somewhere in the middle of all that. It’s not the apocalypse, the end of time, but it’s not something you certainly shrug off, either. When we look at when this thing started and how fast it took off, it certainly seems like it is more infectious than the flu. The consequences—while, if you look at it from a strictly numbers standpoint, compared to the regular flu, it doesn’t look as serious—it is certainly more volatile when it gets in the older population, or people who are sick or have comorbidities or multiple medical problems. I think, if you look at how people are handling the social distancing and some of the lockdowns happening in big, populated areas, it looks pretty serious. But you look at a place like little old Mississippi, where we are, where everybody lives far apart and the biggest city has a million people in it. Not five, ten, fifteen, which you see in some of these cities.
Ramsey Russell: The whole state of Mississippi has 3.5 million people.
Sam Pierce: Right. That’s right. So, less than New York City itself. So when we look around us, we don’t see that many people getting sick. I mean, hell, I have tested a lot of people. I haven’t had a positive test come back yet. I have some people I think are going to be positive, that I don’t have the test back yet. But in Mississippi we kind of sit back and watch the rest of the country and say, “What the hell is going on? Why are we taking this so seriously?” But if you look at what’s happening, and how quickly it took off, it’s a big damn deal. Like I said, it’s not going to be the end of times, but it’s certainly not something you want to shrug off. It’s somewhere in the middle. I think that what the administration has done, as far as trying to get people to stay apart, do the social distancing, is a good thing.
Hopefully, we won’t end up like places like Italy and Spain and the UK where they have a serious problem. That’s a lot of people packed into tight spaces, there, and it’s really taken off. There, people probably feel like it is the apocalypse coming because those people are sick and they’re getting sicker. You even got young people that are having problems now. I think, from that standpoint, it’s something we need to take seriously. We need to stay safe distances away from each other as much as we can. It’s an inconvenience for regular life. Hell, everybody knows that. That’s the problem. That’s why a lot of people are treating it like it’s nothing, but it is a problem. It is something we need to take seriously. The people who aren’t taking it seriously are probably the ones that are not going to get the bad disease, but they’re going to be the ones that give it to somebody else, and they get sick.
Ramsey Russell: Give it to somebody that is vulnerable, somebody that’s older, somebody that has a preexisting condition.
Sam Pierce: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: In your doctoring, your day-to-day work, have you seen anything that concerns you? Have you dealt with any patients that may have this that are having complications?
Sam Pierce: Yeah, I’ve got a guy in the hospital right now. I’m pretty sure he’s got it. We don’t have the test back yet, but he was really sick at first. We got him through it by using the magic combo that Trump’s touted so much, we started him on that early. We don’t have the test back yet, but he is better. He came off the ventilator fairly quickly. But he’s a guy who has a tendency to get really sick. He has multiple medical problems. Obviously, we will have that test back in a couple of days, and we’ll know for sure. But I felt like we did the right thing by starting to treat him early. I’ve got a couple of other people that I saw in clinic that are younger that I think probably have it. They happened to travel to places where the virus is known to be in large quantities, and they had the symptoms that fit the bill. I think they’re going to be positive. I think it’s only a matter of time. I think a lot more people, even in Mississippi, have the virus, but they’re not symptomatic, so we’re not testing them. Once we start testing more and more people, once these tests get ramped up and we have to supply to do so, we’re gonna find that probably half the population of the US is going to be affected with this disease. Whether that’s mild symptoms, or completely asymptomatic, ranging to death.
Ramsey Russell: I was talking to a physician last night. Very smart guy. He’s a family member. We got to talking last night and, somehow or other, ended up talking about this. Everybody is talking about this right now, at some level. But he was telling me that the virus itself is not killing people. He said, “Ramsey, here’s what you got to understand. Just think of evolution and survival of the fittest.” I’m kind of ad libbing, those are not his words. He talked a lot more intelligently than I do. But he was saying that the goal of this organism is to live and to pass on its offspring. If it’s overaggressive and it kills its host, then there’s a dead end. He said that, really and truly, there’s a chance it’s going to come back in upcoming years, but it’s most likely to evolve itself into being more like the flu or a common cold than it is to be something that’s going to kill its host.
Sam Pierce: Right. That’s true, and— Sorry to interrupt you. You go ahead.
Ramsey Russell: No, go ahead.
Sam Pierce: What I was going to say is, that’s true. Any virus, the reason that it makes you sick is because of inflammation. It’s not because of the virus itself. It’s because of the inflammation of your body trying to fight the virus.
Ramsey Russell: Right, that’s what he was saying.
Sam Pierce: Yeah, that’s where the problem comes in. It’s not from the virus trying to replicate in your body. It’s your body wanting that virus out. The fever and the illness comes with the inflammation in your body. If the virus, like you said, kills its host, it has not done its job. Because that’s a dead end situation. A virus just wants to proliferate, and it’s main job is to move from one person to another to keep that virus going. So that’s right. It’s just the inflammation that causes the problem.
Ramsey Russell: He was using big words like “cytokines” and “cytokine storms.” He said, “Ramsey, it’s mass inflammation.” If you look at a lot of preexisting conditions that it’s affecting, it already involves the body’s immunity. They’ve got preexisting conditions that makes the body’s immunity generate these inflammatory particles. Well now, that body that’s preexisted, to have this environment with these inflammatory things— Imagine it like a thunderstorm and then, all of a sudden, Hurricane Katrina blows in on top of it. That’s kind of how he described it. Which made me kind of feel better. It’s not like some disease that’s targeting me to kill me.
Sam Pierce: That’s right. It’s not like a bad bacteria that eats away at tissues and can eat away at different things. Its job is to replicate. That’s right. The reason why it affects people with heart failure and diabetes and all these things more than others is, they’re already living with all these diseases. You’ve got chronic inflammation due to those illnesses. With diabetes and heart failure, your body just has this chronic, low-level inflammation. It’s already there. So when you get this virus in there, your body ramps it up even more, and a lot of times it becomes intolerable to life. Your lungs fill up with fluid. You got a fever of 105º. That’s when the bottom drops out, right there.
Ramsey Russell: As a medical professional that’s on the front lines— I mean, you’re a guy that can’t stay at home for two weeks and ignore it and watch the news. You get up in the morning—you’re a health care provider—you get up, and you deal with it. What precautions do you take, personally, to mitigate any effects?
Sam Pierce: So, really, the same as anybody else. I could probably do a lot more. Washing the hands. Make sure you’re not touching things you don’t necessarily need to. Keeping your hands away from your mouth is a big deal, as ridiculous as that sounds. It sounds like I’m talking to a two-year-old when I say it, but you want to keep your hands clean. When I’m in the office, I wash my hands after every patient, even before this. Now, I’m washing after every patient, and then I’m washing them before I go into the room. Or I’m using hand sanitizer. I’m doubling down because I’m scared that something I touch outside of the patient’s room may transmit it into the patient’s room if I’ve come in contact with somebody, or if somebody in my office has come in contact with somebody. Then, of course, when I get home, due to the nature of my job, I have to drop my scrubs right there at the door. Throw them in the washing machine, and I go get in the shower before I say hello to Mom and play with my kids.
Ramsey Russell: Well, that’s something I hadn’t really thought of. When you’ve been out in the outside world, whether you go into a shopping market or kind of expose yourself. Especially if you’re high risk, what we ought to be doing is coming in the house, not just taking our shoes off but undress, wash the clothes, go take a shower, get cleaned up, and then come on into the house. You know, as a tobacco user for way too long, I wish I could quit it, but I can’t. I don’t get many bad habits, but that is one of them. Kind of tough to keep my hands out of my mouth, but I do wash my hands. They’re cleaner, probably, than they’ve ever been, for the last few weeks.
Sam Pierce: Right. Right. Yeah, that’s something that people don’t realize. You chew on things, put the pen in your mouth, and stuff like that. All that stuff can have the virus on it. Like I said, for most people it’s going to be mild symptoms. It’s not going to be bad. So, you think about getting it yourself, it’s probably not going to be a big deal. But the big deal is when you pass it on to somebody where it is going to be a big deal. Your grandma, your grandpa, your mom, your dad. That kind of thing.
Ramsey Russell: Sam, do you think that the American government, or the world, overreacted?
Sam Pierce: If there’s one question that everybody asked me the most in the situation, that’s it. My response now is a little different than when this all started. When this all started—when it first popped up over there in China, and we first started worrying about it here—I thought it was a little bit of an overreaction. When it first started, I didn’t think it was going to kick off like it did. It pains me a little bit to say that, being a physician, but I just didn’t expect it to take off like wildfire here in the US, but it did. So my response to that is, I would rather us look back at this six months or a year from now and say, “Wow, we overreacted,” than look back at it and say, “Man, we really screwed that up.” So when you hear people say, “Oh hell, we’re just overreacting”— Well, that may be the case. We may be overreacting, but overreaction is a lot easier to deal with than just completely screwing the pooch with this deal. And having not only the economy fail, which I think a lot of people are worried about, by the overreaction—but, also, the economy is going to fail if we let this thing get out of hand, anyway, and we’re going to have more people die than we need.
Ramsey Russell: Well, then we won’t have the financial resources.
Sam Pierce: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. You hear people say, “You got to flatten the curve. We got to flatten the curve.” In the medical world, that means a lot to us, but when you talk about lay people, they don’t really get that. So overreaction is what helps us flatten the curve. What we’re trying to prevent with flattening the curve is overwhelming the hospitals. Let’s just do some simple math for a minute. When you look at the entire population of the US: 331 million, or whatever it is, let’s just round that to 300 million. Let’s say the infection rate is going to be 40-70%, so let’s just make it 50%. It’s going to be 150 million people that get sick. Out of those 150 million, 80% are going to be fine. They’re going to have mild symptoms, they’re not going to have any problems. 20% of those are gonna get really sick. 20% of those are going to need hospitalization. So that’s 23-25 million, right there, that are going to need to be in the hospital. We’re talking about 23-25 million people in the hospital over a two month span. That’s a lot of people. It will overwhelm the system real quick. You take that even further, and say, of those 23 million, 5% of them are going to need to be on breathing machines, ventilators. Well, that’s one million people. So, that one million, while it seems like a relatively small number, compared to 331 million—we’ve only got 200,000 ventilators in the entire country. That’s a ventilator for one in five people.
Ramsey Russell: Now your medical professionals are playing the hand of God, deciding on who gets it and who doesn’t.
Sam Pierce: That’s exactly right. Then you’ve got guys like me in the ICU saying, “Well, this woman is 89. She’s got five or six diseases. Her life expectancy is two or three years from now, and we’ve got a 45 year old guy who’s got his whole life ahead of him. Who do you pick?” It’s not an ideal situation. So the idea of flattening the curve is not to stop the virus. The virus is going to get out there. It’s going to do what it does. But it’s to stop the curve from being so damn steep that everybody comes in at once. So you can take that million people and extrapolate it over three to four months. That way, it doesn’t overwhelm the system. You can allow people to get well and get out before the next wave comes instead of having a million people that need to be on ventilators, all at one time, across the country. That’s what we’re trying to prevent by this “overreaction.” It’s trying to keep that number of hospitalizations down all at one time.
Ramsey Russell: Talking to friends worldwide— You’ve got a reaction like South America, right now. A lot of those countries are absolutely hunkered down, for the worse. We’ve got—whatever you said—200,000 ventilators in America, and they don’t have a fraction of that, but a lot of people. Forty million people. I’ve got friends over in the Netherlands, and throughout Europe, that are absolutely—under the European Union—they are in absolute quarantine, hunkered down, and they’re scared to death. Oh, there’s Sweden, however. Not a member of the European Union, that I’m aware of, but a socialist government. They never skipped a beat. They’re like, “No, it’ll be fine. We’re going to have just healthy, day-to-day protocols, but the stores are open. The groceries are open. People are free to go work. Just maintain some social distancing and behave and try to protect yourself.” And right now, they’re not, yet, having a severe reaction, that I’m aware of. So the response varies, and, I guess—in my little layman opinion—I’m kind of encouraged by what our administration appears to try to be doing. It’s like, “Hey, let’s do this. Let’s take the vast resources of the federal government. Let’s take our military mass units. Let’s take our warships that are hospitals. Let’s take advantage, if we need, of Carnival Cruise ships that aren’t sailing right now. We can we can use them. Let’s mobilize it. Instead of just an absolute coast-to-coast lockdown, let’s go and treat the hot spots as this thing progresses over time.” It’s almost like—in my layman way of thinking about it—let’s take all these resources and mobilize them, like an ambulance going crisis to crisis, and let the rest of the country continue to work and be productive because that’s the American way. I know this coronavirus is not AIDS. It’s not the flu. It’s not the cold. Nonetheless, there are some pretty serious health issues that exist, and have existed for a long time, that we’re able to function as a society and, yet, mitigate, just by healthy protocol. I find comfort in that. I hope it’s the right thing.
Sam Pierce: Right, and when you look at Sweden, they’ve got a pretty tight border, already. They kind of lock that down pretty quickly. The other thing that’s important for them, and why they have had such a muted response to this, is—not the response of the government, but the population—is they’re pretty damn healthy, as a population. That plays a large role in it.
Ramsey Russell: They sure are.
Ramsey Russell: That plays a large role in how hard it affects their country. It’s how healthy they as a population are. They’re the Colorado of Europe. They all stay healthy. They all stay active. They all have good genetics. It’s a pretty closed system over there.
Ramsey Russell: They got healthy life habits. They’re not near the percentage of smokers and tobacco users that we are here in America.
Sam Pierce: Yeah. One thing that you said, that I just want to kind of point out there, is you’re talking about the common cold. You know, the coronavirus, as a family of viruses, is very common. The coronavirus has been around forever. Hell, it’s one of the most common causes of the common cold. But this particular strain is much worse than those. So when you talk about the coronavirus, and when a lot of people get tested—they get tested for multiple coronaviruses. We’re looking for the COVID-19, which everybody’s seen on the news and everything else. I have patients that, when their tests come back, they test positive for multiple different coronaviruses, but the COVID-19 is negative. So, yeah, the coronavirus has been around forever. It’s just that this has mutated, from some guy over in Wuhan, into that. To be something much worse than it is.
Ramsey Russell: Very good. Sam, I appreciate you, buddy. I really do. It was great to hear from you. It was great to catch up. I look forward to crawling in a duck blind with you again, future duck hunts. We always have a good time, whether it’s a bunch of ducks or not. We have not, since, had a catastrophic event like the first time we hunted.
Sam Pierce: Thank God.
Ramsey Russell: I really do appreciate your time. I appreciate you coming on. Sam, one thing I’ve learned, and I believe this with my heart of hearts— I’m blessed to have traveled and seen a lot of the world, and I know you have, too. We’ve been to a lot of the same places. It makes me feel very good to be American. To have freedom, to have the comforts and the prosperity that we enjoy. I guess just being a product of the Deep South, where we have hurricanes, we have major storm events, we have tornadoes, we have some pretty big catastrophic events—I always marvel at the spirit of America. I do not need a certain president to make me feel that America is great. Every time I see any form of crisis—be it localized or in my hometown, be it in my state, be it in a regional area—nothing makes Americans rise to the cause of America like a crisis. I just always felt that. I’ve always felt like I see the very best in people, the very best of Americans, in the face of adversity.
Sam Pierce: Yeah. I agree 100%. I think that shows every time we have a major event. No matter what background or who you voted for, they all seem to pull together.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. But folks, thank you all very much for listening. Dr. Sam Pierce from Vicksburg, Mississippi, a good, close friend of mine. He’s on the frontline. He’s dealing with this. He’s got a very, very keen inside perspective. We appreciate y’all listening. Duck Season Somewhere. One thing I do know, folks, there’s going to be a tomorrow. We’re going to get through this. There’s going to be a tomorrow. We’re going to be back at the duck blinds. Life will resume as normal, probably sooner than later. Thank y’all very much for listening. Ramsey Russell, GetDucks.