December 6th, 2020

Getting Through a Grim, Dark Winter with Little Bits of Joy

Squirrel, from Edouard Joseph d’Alton’s Illustrations of Animal Skeletons (1821–1838).

The season’s first nor’easter came barreling through New England this weekend, bringing with it an added level of gloom to an already pretty grim time.

Grim because the virus sadly returned right on time, just like the other seasonal coronaviruses — and just like the virologists told us it would.

Short days, cold dark nights, wintry mix — never a fun trio. Add to that canceled vacations. Makeshift holiday “parties” that involve the computer. No hugs with extended family and friends.

And, worst of all, the rising toll of suffering, disability, and death, extending across our whole country. Ouch.

But — just as the world seemingly couldn’t get any darker, we now have a way out. With effective vaccines imminently available, there is genuine hope for putting this nasty virus in our rearview mirrors, or at least rendering it a minor nuisance. We just have to get through this winter first.

“We’re in the 7th inning”, said Dr. Michael Klompas, our hospital’s head of infection control, mobilizing a perfect metaphor — better than my rearview mirror one, so forgive me, Mike, for stealing it.

Every team gets 27 outs. Thanks to the tireless collaborative work of clinicians, scientists, researchers, public health officials, and study volunteers, the virus now has 18, and we (the home team) can take a slim lead with responsible behavior, broader access to testing, and widespread immunization.

Can we hunker down enough over the next few months to get the last 9 outs?

I’m proposing here that one key to getting through this winter is taking advantage of the little bits of joy that pop up periodically, reminding us that life goes on. Enjoying them. Being grateful for them. Sharing them.

It could be preparing a great meal with your family. Or, if you want to support your local restaurants, getting some special take-out, with a splurge on a bottle of wine. (Don’t forget the generous tip.)

Or take a wintry walk in the woods with a friend, all bundled up, taking advantage of the natural safety outdoor activities consistently give us when it comes to this pandemic life. Enjoy a properly distanced outdoor meal with another friend on an unseasonably warm day (they do happen) — have just discovered hot water bottles, they are miraculous!

Read that great but too-long book everyone has raved about for years. Middlemarch is particularly wonderful — doctoring and hospitals play a major role in the plot. If reading isn’t your thing, watch a serialized version of great literature — this Bleak House production is one of the very best things I’ve ever seen on television. Choose your favorite number 1 hit single. Or your least favorite, they’re just as fun. Enjoy some top 5-minute excerpts of Beethoven.

Random, little stuff too — here are a few more joy bits that came across my path this past week.

1. The brilliant cover to this week’s The New Yorker, with an extraordinary recreation. The talent and creativity of humankind never ceases to amaze. I’m particularly struck by the cocktail glasses — the color, fill, and tilt match so nicely!

2. My brother and sister-in-law’s new puppy, Zelda Fitzgerald. No further comment necessary.

3. How to make an AC/DC song in 30 seconds. Angus Young, the lead guitarist of the band, once said “I’m sick and tired of people saying that we put out 11 albums that sound exactly the same. In fact, we’ve put out 12 albums that sound exactly the same.”

4. Joe Posnanski’s latest baseball mega-project, the top 100 players not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Encyclopedic knowledge of something is impressive enough; combining it with such great writing makes it truly special.

5. Building a squirrel-proof bird feeder. It starts out as a war, but ends up as a triumph of human-squirrel collaboration and, amazingly, mutual appreciation — with some delightfully nerdy physics lessons thrown in as a bonus. Highly recommended.

Those are my joy bits. Anything you want to share?

Nine outs to go.

(H/T Susan Larrabee for the squirrel joy.)

11 Responses to “Getting Through a Grim, Dark Winter with Little Bits of Joy”

  1. Ben Sax says:

    Excellent addition of NEJM Journal watch.
    Especially the baseball article.
    Thanks for keeping it interesting an a little light. These have been tough days.

  2. Mimi Breed says:

    Good advice, Paul. My joie du jour was ordering new calligraphy pens. Can’t compare with a squirrel obstacle course, but fun for me. Calligraphy requires no travel and if it’s on an envelope to a friend, I might get a letter back. A text, more likely, but still…


    Do not forget the TNY cartoons, a reliable source.

  4. Sandy K. says:

    I loved the video on the squirrel obstacle course. I laughed all the way through it.

  5. Alex Chen says:

    I think baseball is an imperfect analogy. American football might be better. The virus is a lousy quarterback, but every time it has the ball, we’re offsides, committing pass interference, or some other needless foul, so we keep giving the virus the ball on our 1-yard line. Every time we get the ball, we fumble. If we could play good defense consistently, we could stop the virus (like in New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, etc). New immunizations should help our defense, but it will still take months.

  6. Chuck Hicks says:

    For those less inclined towards Paul’s culturally sophisticated (AKA Bostonian) suggestions, try watching the entire James Bond movie series in proper order, starting with the great Sean Connery in in “Dr. No”. Politically incorrect for sure, but great fun if you can overlook that….

  7. Marshall Dawer says:

    Great post
    Especially liked baseball HOF .. Hodges Oliva Madlock belong

  8. Lou Friedman says:

    Wow, that’s great. Didn’t think I had the staying power to watch the whole squirrel thing but somehow I pulled through. very funny. thanks!

    • Paul Sax says:

      I started watching it, glanced at the length, and initially thought — forget it.

      20+ minutes later, was still mesmerized! Should be on prime time TV, if such a thing still existed.


  9. Don Pachuta says:

    You are the #1 Comedian in the Harvard internal medicine course – you outdid yourself in the squirrel video.

  10. Janet Dubeck says:

    Thank for the recommendations.
    I tell all of my patients that Mozart violin concertos is getting me through the pandemic.

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HIV Information: Author Paul Sax, M.D.

Paul E. Sax, MD

Contributing Editor

NEJM Journal Watch
Infectious Diseases

Biography | Disclosures | Summaries

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