May 15, 2020

Patriotism and Piggery, Stoicism and Panic: Together Again!

This is a very strange time, said Obvious the Columnist

By Ed Goldman

Apparently, there’s a fine line between commendable stoicism and abject terror.

“Amid massive drops in the numbers of heart attacks and strokes treated at local hospitals, doctors are worried that patients are avoiding the emergency room out of fear of catching Covid-19,” reported Felicia Alvarez in the Sacramento Business Journal, one of my almae matres.

My first take on a statistic like that would probably have been that the pandemic has made all of us a little braver, that we’re all trying to grin and bear it: “Chest pains? Nah, I’m fine. Must be those frozen enchiladas I ate before bedtime. I definitely have to start heating up those suckers.”

But are we being that brave? If you check out Facebook, the two central tropes during the national house arrest have seemed to be whining and dining—as in, “Oh, Lord, will this shutdown ever end?” and “Look what my hubby Bart made for supper tonight, all on his own: frankfurter quiche!”

Ed behind a mask.

Then there are those who post pictures of themselves in groups, defiantly disobeying social distancing edicts on the grounds of personal freedom. I’m amazed when people confuse personal piggery with patriotism; they’re saying, in essence, “America gives me the right to cause the illness and death of anyone I feel like.” I’m not sure the Founding Fathers wanted the constitution to guarantee life, liberty and the pursuit of beach brewskis. (If they had, they’d have called themselves the Founding Dudes.)

To get back: “Heart attacks, the article continued, “as recorded by the Sutter Heart and Vascular Institute, appear to be down between 30 percent and 50 percent since stay-at-home orders were implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to Dr. David Roberts, the institute’s director. He added that it still may be early to determine ‘hard statistics’ on heart attack rates.”

A bit more: “Roberts said that in the short term, more sedentary activity at home or less stress from work might reduce the number of heart attacks, but not enough to cause the extreme decline that he’s observed in recent months. ‘There’s no question these people are having heart attacks. They’re just not coming in,’ he said.”

I’ll admit that I’ve frustrated a roomie or two by laughing off the thought of visiting a hospital—even once when I was bent over in such intestinal pain I thought my eyebrows would pop their moorings. The doctor was on the line telling my now ex-wife that my tests had come in and she had to get me to the emergency room. But she, my daughter and I were watching “Jeopardy!” and the final answer was about to be provided (for which players would have to provide the question; I just thought I’d explain that if you’re one of the seven or eight people in the continental United States who’ve never watched the show). I asked my wife to tell the doctor we’d head over right after the last segment, called “Final Jeopardy.” 

The doctor shouted so loud into the receiver I thought we’d left it on speaker phone: “You tell him that if he doesn’t get to the E.R. immediately, HE’ll be in Final Jeopardy!!” That got my attention—and so did the radiologist who soon discovered I had osteomyelitis and said I’d have died in the next seven or eight days if I hadn’t come in and gone into surgery.

Again, my rather misplaced heroics and humor played out. “Well,” I rasped to my doctor when I was in the Intensive Care Unit after the operation, “if they weren’t sure how many days I had left, couldn’t we have split the difference and let me check in the following afternoon?”

Let me take a moment now to tell you why I was behaving like a complete jackass but deluded myself into thinking I was being cool. I was scared. So scared that when I was talking to the docs, nurses, family and friends, I had to fight to keep my usual baritone from squeaking so high it could summon barnyard animals.

And that—fear—is what’s driving most of our behavior, somewhat literally. For example, the CHP is saying we’re all driving too fast, which strikes me as something you do when you think something’s after you but you’ll be safe once you buy your groceries at hyper-velocity and tear back home.  My feeling is that besides narcissism and stupidity, fear has been what impelled people to defy warnings and eventually, orders, to stay the hell at home if you and your work weren’t considered “essential.” 

That word also might have set people’s teeth on edge, head on crooked and logic on “Tilt.” No one wants to feel what they spend 40 hours or more of their lives doing each week is non-essential.

I don’t think Governor Gavin Handsome is helping matters when he says something like, “Let’s re-open the state but not really, but yes, let’s, but only a little bit, and does anyone wonder why my hair still looks perfect when stylists are considered non-essential to the economy?” 

Don’t get me wrong, I still think the guv’s done a commendable job; but something I figured out since moving to California in 1958, and Sacramento in 1976, is that nobody really governs this state. Jerry Brown got a full 16 years to figure it out but still couldn’t quite balance his battle against climate change with his embrace of fracking. Pols get a little goofy when they get into The Golden State of mind—or let its contradictions and allures sap their resolve.

Well, it’s been a strange time, to say the least. When I heard that the price of a barrel of oil had slipped into the negative zone, I envisioned the following conversation taking place when I went to fill my tank after five weeks of not needing to:

ATTENDANT: That’ll be $62.

ME: Okay. I’ll just put this on my credit ca—

ATTENDANT: Would you like me to give you that $62 in tens, fives or as a credit?

ME: Oh, hell. It’s the mask, isn’t it?

ATTENDANT: I think I’m having a massive heart attack. Maybe I should just stay home tomorrow.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).