This is my opinion
Dr. Elizabeth Unger (AKA Beth) has recently been appointed to the permanent role of Chief of the Chronic Viral Disease Branch (CVDB) of the CDC, after almost 12 months fulfilling this position in a temporary capacity. She has snuck beneath many patients’ radars in comparison to her outspoken predecessor, the CFS antagonist- Dr. Reeves. Who is the enigmatic figure that is Dr. Unger?
The controversial figures within the CFS world have always maintained a certain mystique in my mind up until I have viewed their images. I somewhat expect them to be grasping a trident as their skin glows scarlet and horns protrude from their temple. I am always a little perplexed by their commonplace exterior. Dr. Unger is no exception. She somewhat resembles a version of Zoë Wanamaker, albeit one with tamed hair. Dr. Unger’s Bleu du Franc coloured eyes hide beneath her thin, wire-framed glasses that enhance her intellectual exterior. She often sports conservative collared, V-necked jackets atop a collared shirt. Her hair is predominantly of a Payne’s grey colour with pearl white streaks seeping through it towards her forehead’s hairline. Her hair is meticulously parted on the left and her stubbornness would dictate that each perfectly placed hair would not dare to move one inch. Her extra short crop hairstyle posits Dr. Unger’s somewhat androgynous frontage. Her diminutive physique minnows her omnipotent CFS reign.
The monotonous tone of her voice while discussing CFS contrasts the oscillating frequencies and passionate words that underlie her human papillomavirus (HPV) related sentences. These words poetically flow from her mouth as if she was reading Wordsworth. Contrastingly, her CFS speeches are stuttered and littered with midsentence ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs.’ Dr Unger’s most noticeable idiosyncratic tendency during speeches involves her fidgeting hands that are often unsynchronised from her words.
Elizabeth Unger’s Pennsylvanian childhood culminated with her attainment of a bachelor’s degree in the domain of chemistry while studying in Annville. Unger then moved to the University of Chicago to continue her tertiary studies. This prestigious University has produced some notable scientific alumni that perhaps ironically include Robert Gallo and Paul Volberding (co-discoverers of HIV) and Donald Hopkins (former acting director of the CDC.) It was at this educational institution that Unger achieved a doctorate in the field of ‘experimental pathology’ in tandem with a medical degree. ‘Doctor’ Unger as she would now be known, then began her residency in ‘anatomic pathology.’ She then returned to her native state to complete her fellowship and residency at Pennsylvania State University. During this fellowship era of Dr. Unger’s career, she developed groundbreaking methods of detecting HPV.
In 1997, following a blossoming HPV research career, Dr. Unger joined the CDC. This was the beginning of her metamorphosis that would make the changes experienced by Kafka’s Gregor Samsa insignificant by comparison. Although her initial CDC appointment was primarily focused on the molecular pathology of HPV, Dr. Unger’s dabbling with CFS would soon emerge.
There is no denying that Dr. Unger is a world expert in the field of HPV. She has worked in unison with the WHO and FDA on a broad range of HPV related topics from testing methods to vaccines. Dr. Unger is also a member of the HPV Scientific Advisory Committee of the American Social Health Association and has been involved with the establishment of HPV global reference laboratories. Her HPV resume is an impressive one, encompassing groundbreaking discoveries, pragmatic approaches to the virus and inroads into diagnostic accuracies. If Michael Jordan’s short-lived attempt at a baseball career taught us one thing, it is that being proficient in one field does not necessarily correspond to another field.
Dr. Unger’s involvement with ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ seems to have arisen partially by coincidence, due to the Chronic Viral Disease Branch of the CDC housing both HPV and CFS related research. Her scientific articles on HPV stem back to the 1980’s while in comparison, her CFS papers are all from the ‘noughties.’ 16 of her 23 ‘fatigue’ based papers were co-authored with her predecessor, the notorious Dr. William Reeves. Dr. Unger’s fatigue based studies cover the topics of; childhood trauma, stress, maladaptive coping, stress, the empiric definition of ‘CFS’ and more stress.
The position within the CDC that Dr. Unger has inherited would be the envy of the staunchest of sadists. The criminally intrepid relatively recent proceedings that have occurred within the CDC’s CFS branch resemble a fictional espionage film with overtones of prejudice akin to the 18th century slave trade. The very fact that Dr. Unger would wilfully bequeath the CDC’s decimated CFS empire is particularly striking. It is doubly striking that at the expense of the patients, Dr. Unger has perpetuated the status quo legacy of her predecessors such as Dr. Reeves. She has spent far too long within the four walls of the autonomous and sheltered CDC, removed from the wider CFS scientific community. Darwinist processes in which scientific articles contribute to a general consensus are at the expense of this isolated vs. scientific community dichotomy. She sits atop an ivory tower, caged within a faraday chamber, impervious to the realities of this tragic disease. One must visit and indulge with patients at ground zero in order to understand the face and breadth of human suffering.
Many CFS patients and researchers have contacted the elusive Dr. Unger to no avail. It seems that obtaining a response from Dr. Unger may be rarer than achieving a signature from Santa Claus. As far as the CFS patients are concerned, Dr. Unger may almost be a fictionalised creation devised by the inner sanctum of the CDC, like Orwell’s Big Brother. I may well personally be a subscriber to this conspiracy theory if it wasn’t for her mandatory appearances at the infrequent and token CFSAC meetings. Despite her ‘shallowness’ at these meetings, I don’t believe that she is a hologram or the latest attempt at an authentic humanoid robot, straight from Japan- although this may explain her lack of empathy and dubious moral standings relating to CFS.
Dr. Unger’s futile and hopeless CFS related work is reminiscent of Sisyphus ceaselessly rolling a boulder to the top of a hill, ad infinitum. The broad, all encompassing criteria used by Dr. Unger results in a heterogeneous study cohort and psychosomatic research that independently produce futile, hopeless and Sisyphean research that CFS patients wish was the stuff of ‘mythology.’
Janus, the two-faced God is representative of Dr. Unger and her plight. The first of her faces is focused on reaping the optimal outcomes for HPV patients through establishing bourgeoning research funds and purely biological research initiatives. Dr. Unger’s secondary, melancholic face is preoccupied with the nitty-gritty peripheries of the CDC’s Empirical definition of CFS. A definition that is fundamentally flawed due to it being; polythetic, overly-broad, non-distinguishing and used nearly exclusively by the CDC. Despite having totalitarian rule over the largest annual CFS budget within the world, Dr. Unger’s second face has made no inroads into the enigma that is CFS. Only negative outcomes have resulted in the fields of; public perception of the disease, disability support, recommended treatments and misspent precious research funds. This Jekyll and Hyde division is highly transparent to the helpless CFS patients. Like Janus, Dr Unger stares both back into the past and towards the future. At this critical juncture, she has the free-will to determine the posterity of CFS and hand tens-of-millions of CFS patients around the world their lives back. With somewhat ‘God’ like power, the future is in Dr. Unger’s fidgety hands.
Dr. Unger’s rose-coloured glasses may very well be transfixed onto a mirror, as she at least ‘superficially’ seems ignorant of her erroneous reasoning and actions relating to CFS. The reality of the situation is that she is loathed by the very patients that she is paid a generous sum of money to help. To paint the situation in a ‘civil’ manner that this Pennsylvanian native can comprehend- As far as the patient’s are concerned, this is the Battle of Gettysburg all over again.
This Mephistopheles of CFS seldom consults with CFS experts beyond the confines of the CDC, which suggests that she does not consult with CFS experts, period. The inclinations expressed in Newspeak on the CDC’s CFS website outline the current psychosomatic CDC-CFS paradigm. Dr. Unger has insidiously echoed these sentiments during the most recent CFSAC meeting, in an encrypted manner labelling CFS as “psychosomatic” and specifying “a mind-body connection.” The foundation of the CDC’s abuse of CFS itself outdates this individual’s tenure by quite some margin. All blame should not be heaped on Dr. Unger as a plethora of ex-CDC staff in tandem with Dr. Reeves and the establishment itself would all be reeled off in an Oscar’s speech that would exceed the maximum time period. Dr. Unger is this era’s poster girl but is she puppet master at the CDC, or is another scheming individual controlling the Unger marionette?
Although the Dr. Unger dynasty is only in its infancy, if her CFS career continues on its present trajectory, history will judge Dr. Unger rather cruelly. Her HPV discoveries and pragmatic HPV related advocacy achievements will be dwarfed by her negative CFS outcomes based on hedonistic calculus. If Dr. Unger stands up against the tide of preserving the status-quo, insurance companies and vested interest institutes, then she will be immortalised in every CFS patients’ heart…..no matter how impaired it is at pumping blood around the body.