08:04:03 am on
Tuesday 22 Sep 2020

The New Rock Stars
David Simmonds

When people dream of becoming physicians, they traditionally think about becoming cancer researchers, transplant surgeons or pediatricians. Public health hasn’t been near the top of the list. Courtesy of the present pandemic, public health experts, such as epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists, are our new rock stars.

Health experts are the new rock stars.

Exhibit “A” for the new profile of public health personalities is Dr Anthony Fauci, the American physicians that delivers the straight goods whether Donald Trump likes it or not. Fauci is so popular that he has inspired not one but two action figures, a bobblehead doll and a plush toy. There are even petitions to designate him the “Sexiest Man Alive,”

We have our own public health rock stars in Canada, First, there is Theresa Tam (above), our National Chief Public Health Officer, who goes to the microphones every day to roll out the latest grim statistics, but who sports a gaudy jacket to put a stamp of personality into her otherwise dry performances. A line of tee shirts bearing her likeness is now available. 

What of Dr Bonnie Henry, a British Columbia provincial health officer. She, with the support of health minister Adrian Dix, has been receiving plaudits for her calm and controlled presentations and her decisive interventions at long term care facilities. Dr Henry has been recognized with a tribute shoe.

Designer John Fluevog is launching a limited edition “Dr. Henry” shoe. It features a two-tone pink heel, patent leather accents, interlacing and a buckle, stamped with signature message, of Dr Henry; that is, “Be kind, be calm and be safe.” Proceeds go to Food Banks BC

Alberta chief medical officer, Dr Deena Hinshaw, is not far behind. She wore a dress bearing the periodic table of the elements. This led to a run on the item at the BC clothing maker that supplied her.

There are other public health personalities to pick out.

In Ontario, for example, there is the two-person team of David Williams and Barbara Yaffe doing a Clark Kent and Lois Lane routine every day. In Toronto, you have the earnest presentations and dire warnings of Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa. In Nova Scotia you have the folksy demeanour of Chief Medical Officer of Health Robert Strang. 

Two other figures have stood out to me for their willingness to deliver expert comment over the home-to-studio video links. Dr Isaac Bogoch, from the University of Toronto, seems to be everywhere and always to have something useful to say. Dr Lynora Saxinger, from the University of Alberta, always speaks to the point and keeps her good humour.

 Let’s celebrate our new crop of rock stars with bold initiatives. For example, why doesn’t Kelloggs publish a series of baseball cards featuring top public health officials and put them in its Corn Flakes boxes? We could then face the challenge to “collect all 25 cards” before getting sick of the product. We could do some old fashioned aftermarket trading in school playgrounds with our friends, assuming the time will come when schools resume, playgrounds can be played in again and we can engage with our friends at a distance of less than two metres.

Perhaps we could develop a line of public health action figures. I was in a toy store a while back and saw a librarian action figure, captured in the act of saying “shussssh.” If they can make action figures of librarians, we ought to be able to produce a whole set of public health action figures pouring over graphs, talking to computers while wearing earplugs and speaking to batteries of microphones at press conferences.

Maybe the CBC could develop a docudrama based on the events of this spring and featuring characters drawn from our public health personalities. Depending upon how long the pandemic runs, Coronavirus Avenue could have the staying power of Coronation Street. What character would live at number nineteen Coronavirus Avenue, the villain, maybe.

Let’s hope our public health personalities don’t rush to monetise their newfound celebrity status. It’s not as if they are expert athletes, who are expected to cash in quickly on their notoriety because success is fleeting. I don’t particularly want to see Bonnie Henry endorsing American Express cards or David Strang touting the benefits of Head and Shoulders shampoo.

Will the new health rock stars adopt a rock star lifestyle?

Let’s also hope that rock star status doesn’t put the idea in their heads that they should lead lives of wretched excess because that is what rock stars do. It would be anathema to their brand. It would take them out of service; a service we, including the cancer researchers, transplant surgeons and pediatricians very much need them to continue providing.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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