Annus horribilis hope from a good doctor | Chuck's World


Last updated 12/2/2020 at 11:56am

“I have good news and bad news,” the young woman said, and I had to smile at that alone. I think I’ve found the perfect 2020 line.

I don’t know if there’s an original source for this cliché, or if it’s just an obvious way to describe the dichotomy of everyday existence, and I’ve decided I don’t care. I’m that way now.

The young woman was fictional, by the way, played by Anna Kendrick in a show called “Love Life” (HBO Max). I had no business watching it, but I don’t care about that, either. It’s about young people navigating New York and romance, neither of which I relate to in the least, but I like Anna Kendrick and I’m pretty desperate for entertainment.

But this calendar year, which cannot be over soon enough, feels overwhelmingly negative. There are jokes and memes now about this horrible year, which is kind of depressing considering we’d just eased off talking that way about 2016.

I’m not surprised I found myself wanting to push back. I like to think of myself as a realist but I definitely lean toward the optimistic side. I’m always on alert for silver linings, and I always find them.

You can’t be distracted by shiny objects, like that mysterious monolith that appeared in the Utah desert, then just as mysteriously disappeared (neither sound particularly mysterious, actually). That’s not a silver lining; it’s a novelty, like the Denver Broncos having to play an NFL game without an actual quarterback, something to distract us from drudgery.

But actual good news? It may be hard to come by these days, but it’s there.

A vaccine for this novel coronavirus has been developed with astounding, staggering speed, and it seems promising. The end is starting to appear on the horizon, although the pain and suffering is expected to get worse before it gets better.

I’ve noticed other, smaller things. In some ways, it feels as though our collective hearts have grown three sizes; there have been amazing acts of generosity during this awful time, personal but also very public.

Movements have been formed and awareness increased. Our technology was humming along quietly in the background, preparing the future we would need very suddenly. While the early data suggests that distance learning is not ideal at all, a lot of folks aren’t going to be returning to the office, or at least not nearly as often as in the past.

Traffic is better and the air is cleaner.

The pandemic, like other challenging times in history, has produced some remarkable art, often by necessity. And while the ways we entertain ourselves are likely going to change at least slightly (I suspect spectator sports, amateur and professional, will suffer the most), I was surprised to read the other day about film and television productions that are slowly getting back on track, strict precautions and all.

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One of those TV shows is “The Good Doctor,” an ABC procedural about a high-functioning autistic surgeon. It’s slick and smells like network money, and it’s definitely not my kind of television, and still I’ve been watching it for the past couple of years.

The show is set in northern California but filmed in Vancouver, B.C., and apparently in the summer at some point they resumed filming a new season. It cheered me up to learn this, always glad to see a glimpse of normalcy, but that was before Richard Schiff got sick.

Schiff, most famous for playing Toby Zeigler on “The West Wing” 20 years ago, has an important role on “The Good Doctor” (which was one of the reasons I decided to check it out). It was in Vancouver that Schiff and his wife, Sheila Kelley, were diagnosed with COVID-19.

They seem to be recovering, although Schiff had the worst of it and was hospitalized, and it sounds like it got scary for a time. His description of his symptoms and overall experience in interviews has been vivid and chilling, although we’ve heard this before.

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What was new, for me, was the way he got infected. Listening to him, I get the impression that he’s been just as paranoid and hyper-cautious as I have. I don’t scrub my packages or disinfect my desk constantly; I just don’t leave the house.

I’m not even particularly concerned about my own health and mortality with this. I just worry about being careless and spreading disease to more vulnerable people, so I always wear a mask and mostly stay behind the door.

The only difference I can see between the two of us is that Richard Schiff began working again, traveling a bit and seeing other people. He could be susceptible for reasons I don’t understand, or it could be lifestyle or other things, but it sounds to me like just bad luck.

I was seriously disturbed and angry last week. I suspected that a lot of people would be unable to resist risky behavior over Thanksgiving; I just didn’t expect to know so many of them. I was having trouble locating optimism.

But here’s my silver lining, after all. Listening to Mr. Schiff talk about his experience, and with apologizes to Nietzsche, I realized that what doesn’t kill us might make us safer. If a cautious person can contract this, we might all need to be more cautious.

“You don’t want this,” Schiff says, and I believe him, and I feel a little better.


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