Tim Whyte | They’re Just Built That Way

Tim Whyte
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I was talking to my 18-year-old daughter the other day and we, like many, found the conversation turning toward COVID-19. 

The one up side of quarantine is I get to spend more time with one of my kids. Brooke came home from college after Washington State University shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Her older bother, our son Luc, 24, so far has stayed in Oklahoma. The University of Oklahoma graduation ceremony has been postponed until August, yet he’s chosen to stay in Norman while he squeezes every last ounce out of his senior year as a Sooner before heading to law school next year at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. 

Yeah, we’re proud, but get ready, because that’s only the first “brag” about my kids you’ll hear today.

Brooke and I have talked about many different things these past few weeks, often late at night when I’m done working. In the quarantine bucket of lemons, these conversations have been the lemonade — for me at least.

In those late-night talks, Brooke and I have covered everything from our Mount Rushmore of the best sitcoms ever (mine is “Cheers,” “M*A*S*H,” “Friends” and “I Love Lucy”), to politics, to astronomy and her sincere desire that the Orion constellation star, Betelgeuse, will go supernova during her lifetime because it would be a helluva light show in the sky.

I’d love it if she and I could witness it together.

And, of course, we’ve talked about the COVID-19 crisis. 

Here’s the next “kid brag” — Brooke is a nursing major at Wazzu, and in fact she’s in the Honors College there and was one of only 10 freshmen this year to be granted a “direct admit” into the nursing program. I’m new to all this, but it’s a big deal, getting a direct admit into such a highly competitive program.

Yep, we’re proud. As a dad, I feel like I’m batting a thousand.

But also as a dad, while the coronavirus has altered all of our lives, I got a little worried. The health care profession is a scary place right now — at least from where I stand — and my little girl is on a collision course with it.

“I’d worry so much more if you were a working nurse now, being exposed to all that,” I told her one night. “And I hope science and medicine learn a lot from this pandemic to make it safer when you get into the profession. So, I’m glad you’re a student right now.”

The kid didn’t miss a beat.

“I’m not,” she replied. “I wish I was working right now.”

And that right there, folks, is the difference between most of us and people who go into professions like health care or being a first responder. While all I could think of was, “I want my kid to be safe,” what Brooke was thinking was, “I’d rather be helping people.”

People who go into those lines of work, by and large, are wired differently than the rest of us. In a good way. They run toward trouble because they want to help, while a lot of us would be content curling up in the fetal position and watching “I Love Lucy” reruns.

I know there are a lot of people like that who are making a difference right now for people who contract the virus that causes COVID-19. And some are having quite a bit of success. In particular, and I say this not just out of a sense of local boosterism, but as someone whose job is to follow the numbers and inform the public, we owe a debt of gratitude to our local health care professionals in the Santa Clarita Valley, and in particular the front-line folks at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.

Why? In short, fewer people are dying here than you would expect, based on broader statistics. I think, intuitively at least, it means the quality of care here is excellent. If you look at the numbers, based on the countywide death rate among confirmed cases, we’ve dodged a few coronavirus bullets.

That doesn’t make any of the local deaths any less tragic. Every one of those victims is more than a number. Each of them is an actual person, with actual loved ones who care about them.

People. Not numbers.

And the people who are caring for them are doing something most of us would rather not do. It’s risky. It’s frightening. Their own loved ones worry about their well-being, being in such close proximity to a highly infectious, deadly virus. 

I know I would worry, if my kid were among them.

But they do their job, not because they have to, but because they want to. They’re wired that way.

Thank God they are.

Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column usually appears on Sundays.

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