COVID, Primary Care and Vaccine-Preventable Disease

By Russ Herring, DNP, FNP-C, FNP-BC

Hi, my name is Russ. Somewhere in my signature block is the word “doctor”, but I answer to Russ. I’m a family nurse practitioner at Great Falls Clinic Northwest. Many of you know me. I know many of you. In a community the size of Great Falls, I’ll see patients just about any time I leave my home. The grocery store, restaurant, the gym – I love seeing patients at the gym… I tell patients that if they need me, they know where I live, meaning right there at the Northwest clinic. It’s not literally true, but there are weeks when it feels that way.

I’ve had patients find me online, they’ve called me at home, at work, wherever. I don’t take offense. That is what being a family doctor means, we’re part of the family, sometimes for decades. I view this as an enormous honor. I’m currently titrating a patient’s insulin via secure message updates. We just started him on insulin after his infection with COVID caused his diabetes to rapidly spiral out of control and we had to progress to daily insulin injections. He butt-dialed me the other day while I was lifting weights in my garage. I was playing music via the phone’s Bluetooth, when it transitioned to a phone call, and the music went quiet. I answered the phone call and chuckled while listening to the rustling and talking in the background wherever he was – at heavy metal volume through the garage speakers.

Hanging up, I sent him a quick text – “John, did you butt-dial me or do you actually need anything?” (His name isn’t John)

“I view primary care, and my evolution from bedside nurse to advanced practice nurse, to be the practice of prevention of disease, and improvement of health and wellbeing.”

Part and parcel of being a nurse, rather than an allopathic physician, and something I take dearly to heart, is the prevention of disease and doing whatever I can to improve health and wellbeing, rather than simply treating disease. I view primary care, and my evolution from bedside nurse to advanced practice nurse, to be the practice of prevention of disease, and improvement of health and wellbeing. I tell patients, particularly those who are somewhat leery of coming to the doctor, ever, that I don’t want to see them when they’re ill.

Ideally, anyway.

I want to see healthy patients and do whatever I can to keep them that way. I tell healthy 40-year-old men that my goal is to ensure the oil is being changed and the tires are being rotated. I tell them that my role in their life is to see them once a year for routine maintenance, and nothing more. I try to see my own patients if they fall ill, or for anything else which may require my services, but the best-case scenario is that I see them once a year, and to think of these visits as synonymous with routine automobile maintenance.

Your car may run magnificently without changing the oil, ever… Right up until the pistons lock up.

You can’t feel your colon cancer. If we’d known about your cholesterol and blood pressure problem earlier, we may have prevented your heart attack (in the business we call them myocardial infarctions). The entire point of routine screening labs and exams is to find the things you can’t feel. I try to explain to people who refuse lab work, colonoscopies, mammograms, etc. that the entire point is to find things that you can’t feel, while they are still small enough to treat easily.

“I don’t need a colonoscopy, I feel fine.”

I’ve tried to explain the broken logic in this statement so many times that it makes my head spin.

15 pack years smoking and fewer than 15 years since you quit equals a low-dose chest CT annually, until you’ve gone 15 years without lighting up. We recently found a breast tumor on a chest CT for one of my smokers. A tiny breast tumor. The report from the CT said, “mammogram to confirm”. Conveniently, the patient already had her annual mammogram scheduled for the following week (if not the same week). The tumor was confirmed, she had surgery within the next week or two, including several lymph nodes in her armpit (axilla, if you prefer). The lymph nodes were benign, clear – they contained no cancerous cells. We found the tumor when it was very small, and before it had the opportunity to move anywhere. I told my patient that she was the absolute poster child for successful screening exams. She’d developed a cancer, but we’d found it very early and the treatment was straightforward and, thus far, appears as though it will be uneventful.


COVID was made up by the democrats to win the election.

The COVID vaccine is being used by the government to sterilize us.

I’m not worried about COVID, it’s just the flu.

I heard a guy died in a motorcycle accident and they classified that as a COVID death.

I heard you guys get a kickback for diagnosing COVID.

You’re not putting a tracker in me.

I can’t breathe through a mask.

It isn’t healthy to wear a mask all day and breathe all that carbon dioxide.

Masks don’t work anyway.

How can I make anyone believe that I don’t want to see sick patients, and my only goal is to keep healthy patients? I don’t want to see you when you’re ill, if possible. I’m recommending you get the same COVID vaccine that I gladly took in my left shoulder 7 months ago. The first shot stung, and I had a headache and mild fatigue for 3-4 days. The second shot did nothing at all. No pain, no headache, no fatigue. Nothing.

This is backwards from the average experience, which would be a mild illness after the second shot.

“Actually, I’d say the statistical average for most of my vaccinated patients is no reaction whatsoever.”

I’m sick of the masks. I’m sick of the restrictions, just like you are. I really, truly am. But there are too many dead people. Too many patients have died. Too many have lost loved ones. I’ve consoled wives, fathers, mothers, brothers after their loved ones have died from COVID-19. I’ve talked to colleagues who go home and cry after losing five patients in a single shift. These friends, families, loved ones then have to hear that this is a conspiracy, that it’s about politics, that masks are bad for you.

Do you think I could be that heartless? Do you think I would intentionally place any of you in harm’s way? The train is coming. You’re standing on the tracks and I’m already crying because I can’t seem to convince you to move to safety. Several times, every day. Several times, each day, I get to listen to some combination of conspiracy theories and lack of concern, not only for personal well-being, but for the well-being of everyone else.

It’s heartbreaking.

I don’t want to lose patients. I don’t want chronically ill, long-hauler patients. I don’t want to comfort patients after the loss of friends, family, loved ones to a VACCINE PREVENTABLE DISEASE. We have several effective vaccines. They’ve been given over 3 BILLION TIMES ( The incidence of adverse vaccine reactions PALES COMPARED TO THE OUTCOMES FROM COVID INFECTION. Even the worst vaccine reaction I’ve seen to date, from one of my patients, seen with my own eyes, was a week of mild flu-like symptoms. I have patients who have died from COVID-19 – no, not motorcycle accidents classified as COVID-19. Good, loving, husbands, fathers, wives, who died on ventilators in an ICU of pneumonia and multi-system failure. Great Falls residents who died because modern technology could not get them to breathe, could not get their hearts to pump, could not stop the blood clots, the strokes, the pulmonary emboli. I have a friend in Billings that has been enrolled in a COVID “long-hauler” study because COVID left her with no memory and no explanation as to why. A professional adult, with a master’s degree who cannot remember what happened 5 minutes ago, who cannot remember how to do her job.

These are the things I’M TRYING TO PREVENT.

In your right hand you have vaccines that have been given over 3 BILLION times, with excellent safety records. In your left hand you have possible death. Why is this even a conversation? Get the shot, please. Please let me go on treating healthy patients. Please tell me the stories of how sore your shoulder was, and not the stories of how you lost a loved one.

We’re in this together. Protect yourselves, protect your neighbors.

Don’t die a preventable death. Don’t live with the fallout of a long-hauler infection.

Get the poke. Come to the Great Falls Clinic Northwest and tell me it hurt and you had a headache.


Russell HerringAbout Russell Herring, DNP, FNP-C, FNP-BC

Russell R. Herring, DNP, joined the Great Falls Clinic in 2018 and is among the newer healthcare providers in the State of Montana. He works alongside Drs. David Engbrecht and Dr. Carey Welsh in Family Medicine at the Great Falls Clinic Northwest location. Russell specializes in diagnostic, preventive, and therapeutic healthcare and treatment plans for acute and chronic illness, and in education and guidance of patients regarding disease prevention and health promotion. He is currently accepting new patients at the Northwest Clinic, 1600 Division Road, Great Falls. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 406-268-1600.