Friday March 17, 2017

March 17, 2017 full episode transcript

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The Current Transcript for March 17, 2017

Host: Marcia Young

STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE

Listen to the full episode

Prologue

[Music: Theme]

SOUNDCLIP

In today’s executive order, I’m directing the EPA to take action, paving the way for the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.

MARCIA YOUNG: US President Donald Trump rolling back environmental regulations, as promised to his supporters. But the president’s proposed budget is chopping down the Environmental Protection Agency. Those who bleed green are seeing red. First up today, the fate of environmental policy under Donald Trump, the fate of the planet and whether Canada should follow suit in rolling back regulations to be competitive. Plus, in search of a beloved fitness fanatic.

SOUNDCLIP

[Sound: Crowd cheering]

VOICE 1: Hi, everybody.

VOICE 2: I met him in 2012. I wanted to tell his story way before any of this happened. The fact that he disappeared like he did just kind of made it more urgent.

MY: Missing Richard Simmons may already be on your podcast playlist. The serialized show attempts to uncover what’s been going on with the celebrity diet and exercise evangelist extraordinaire after he mysteriously turned away from the public eye a few years ago. The podcast is a hit, but some people are questioning the ethics of its prying and saying, “Just leave Richard alone.” That story is due up in our feed in half an hour. And also today, Dr. Steven Hatch was one of the brave doctors who travelled to Liberia at the height of the Ebola epidemic in 2014.

SOUNDCLIP

I cannot say which way things are going right now and whether we’re winning the battle or not. But I think that this is something that we must do, not only for the people of Liberia but for all people around the world.

MY: He’s my guest with his new book, Inferno, in an hour. I’m Marcia Young and this is the Friday edition of The Current.

Back To Top »

U.S. climate change policy shift puts pressure on Canadian government

Guests: Alexander Kaufman, Michelle Rempel, Bill McKibben

SOUNDCLIP

VOICE 1: Let me ask you one other thing, just to get to the nitty gritty: Do you believe that it’s been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate? Do you believe that?

VOICE 2: No. I think that measuring with precision, human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no, I would not agree that’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.

MY: That’s Scott Pruitt, the newly appointed administrator for the US Environmental Protection Agency or EPA. Those remarks questioning the role of carbon dioxide in causing global warming came in an interview last Friday. While his skepticism made some environmentalists furious, there was something disheartening in store for them yesterday. President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would slash EPA funding by about a third. Of course, Donald Trump did not campaign as a champion of the environment, but as his presidency approaches the two-month mark, some environmentalists’ worst fears appear to be coming true. In a few moments, we’ll ask what this might mean for Canada. But first, Alexander Kaufman is an environment reporter for the Huffington Post and he’s in our New York studio. Hello.

ALEXANDER KAUFMAN: Hello. Thank you for having me.

MY: You’re welcome. Thanks for being here. Now the new budget cuts one-third of EPA funding. What parts of the program are targeted?

ALEXANDER KAUFMAN: That’s right. So there are really across the board cuts. This budget actually axes out about 50 different programs. More than that, actually. There’s the eradication of environmental justice programs, different programs to deal with climate change and carbon emissions. It defunds the Clean Power Plan which was President Obama’s signature policy to actually reduce carbon emissions from the utility sector and actually meet the commitments made for the Paris Agreement. So these are some really sweeping cuts.

MY: Is there anything about it that Donald Trump likes?

ALEXANDER KAUFMAN: Well, he actually is increasing the fund that gives money to states through grants. So this is in line with some conservatives here have said, which is that we need to devolve more powers from the federal government to state environmental agencies.

MY: And he also likes the weather service that comes with the EPA apparently. But how does it affect the EPA’s ability to monitor actual climate change?

ALEXANDER KAUFMAN: This actually really cripples the EPA’s ability to not just monitor it but enforce any of these policies. The original budget, when it was just going to be 25 per cent cuts called for one in five employees being laid off, which means there really isn’t any ability for the agency to adequately enforce the regulations that are in place. I mean they really didn’t have the funding to do that as it was, so this will really kneecap their ability to do anything like that.

MY: And how does that affect damage to water resources?

ALEXANDER KAUFMAN: Well, there are a lot of different ways that these cuts and several other executive orders that the president has made will affect water. It now allows coal companies to begin polluting streams and waterways. A separate executive order takes away the EPA’s ability to regulate over different streams and waterways throughout the country that it couldn’t previously do under the Clean Water Act.

MY: Alright. So that’s water. What about emissions?

ALEXANDER KAUFMAN: For emissions, there are a variety of things that are being scaled back. The biggest thing is the Clean Power Plan. The president is expected sometime either today or next week to sign an executive order that would instruct the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, which would have reduced the emissions from power plants by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. So without that, there actually is no serious plan for the federal government to reduce carbon emissions for the country overall.

MY: And then consumers are directly affected by changes to the auto efficiency rules. What’s being proposed there?

ALEXANDER KAUFMAN: That’s true. So earlier this week, the president went to Detroit and he announced that he was going to repeal an EPA ruling from January that found that new fuel efficiency upgrades were feasible and affordable for automakers. Now, various studies have come out that have backed this up, but the president is saying no, this assessment was done too early. In fact, we’re going to go with what was originally planned, do this assessment in April of 2018 and decide then. And a lot of people fear that that means this administration, as business-friendly as it is, will defer to what the industry wants which is lower fuel efficiency standards.

MY: And not what consumers might necessarily be interested in.

ALEXANDER KAUFMAN: That’s true.

MY: Now all of these changes are coming under Scott Pruitt. He’s a Southern-born lawyer from Kentucky, Republican now in Oklahoma. What more can you tell us about him?

ALEXANDER KAUFMAN: Well, so Scott Pruitt really came onto the national stage in his last position as the attorney general of Oklahoma. In that position, he sued the EPA more than a dozen times to block different clean air regulations and other regulations, often on behalf of oil and gas companies. In perhaps the most egregious incident that a lot of folks talked about around his confirmation was back in 2011, he actually allowed a large gas company in Oklahoma City to write a complaint to the EPA on his letterhead and then signed it and mailed it himself. So he is really, really closely coordinating with the polluters that he’s supposed to be policing now.

MY: Who stands to benefit from most of these EPA policy changes?

ALEXANDER KAUFMAN: Well, certainly industry. The oil and gas industry, particularly the fracking industry really has their guy in the agency now. And already last week, Scott Pruitt rescinded another rule that required oil and gas companies to report the amount of methane emissions that were coming from their drilling sites. Now, methane is a very potent greenhouse gas 40 times more potent than carbon dioxide. So this is a pretty big deal. So they benefit. Obviously auto makers benefit because they don’t want to have to pay extra money to upgrade their vehicles and their facilities. Farmers can benefit from this as well because they have less to worry about from the EPA coming after their runoff pollution into streams and waters. But consumers and people who like clean air and clean water certainly do not.

MY: Alright. We’ll have to leave it there. Thanks so much. Alexander Kaufman is an environment reporter at Huffington Post. He was in our New York studio. As the Trump administration rolls back environmental regulations, there are voices here in Canada asking whether the Trudeau government should follow suit in order to stay competitive. Michelle Rempel is the Conservative MP for Calgary Nose Hill and she joins me from Calgary. Hello.

MICHELLE REMPEL: Good morning.

MY: Good morning. What concerns you most about the US’ rollback of some environmental regulations when it comes to Canadian industry?

MICHELLE REMPEL: Well, I do worry about Canada’s economic competitivity over time. But I think this is really a signal that the Trudeau government has to come up with a plan that provides more stability and predictability for industry, especially given the job crisis in Alberta. I don’t think that there’s any Canadian who would like to see our environmental regulations water down. But my concern with the government’s approach to date, it’s just been very unpredictable and unstable. So you know rolling back the Northern Gateway decision after it’s been approved by a very stringent regulatory process, sort of taking away the uncertainty of timelines of reviews. Again, I don’t think that we have to resort to stringency of our reviews, but we have to send a signal to the industry that this is going to be done in a specific period of time. And with regards to climate change, my concern about their carbon tax proposal has always been that it’s not going to work and it’s going to add a burden both on Canadian families and industry. So I think that we do have to be cognizant of what’s happening in the US in terms of Canada’s economy, but I think that there’s some low-hanging fruit that the government hasn’t taken advantage of in terms of Canada’s brand as an environmental leader. Maintaining that, but also telling the industry look, just because we have some strict environmental regulations doesn’t mean that we can’t have predictability and stability in that. And I think that’s really what’s been missing.

MY: So you don’t like the carbon tax and you say there’s low-hanging fruit. Well, what’s that low-hanging fruit?

MICHELLE REMPEL: For example, the announcements that they’ve made around changes to the environmental assessment process. That basically sends a message to industry that Canada is closed for business. Canada already has some of the most stringent and very, very robust environmental assessment processes both at the provincial level and at the federal level. The whole principle that industry wants to hear is look, we don’t mind going through this process. It’s you have to tell us how long that’s going to take and when it’s complete, we want to make sure the government isn’t going to use that as a political decision and roll it back, like the Northern Gateway pipeline. When you put a tax on cigarettes, there’s an assumption that the good is elastic, right, that people’s consumption of the good is going to decrease and that’s what the purpose of the tax is. The government has not produced and data to show elasticity on carbon in different regions of the country that shows that their price point actually is going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

MY: Michelle Rempel, let me just interrupt you there. Isn’t it in the best interest of Canadian industries to be interested in the environment and be stewards of that environment?

MICHELLE REMPEL: Well, sure, but the assumption that you’ve loaded into that question is that they’re not already. And a lot, especially in our natural resource companies that are based in Canada, many of them have very strong corporate social responsibility programs. I know that this is one of the hot topic issues for public policy, but we have to be aware of what is happening on the North American continent and we have to make sure that our economy isn’t damaged while maintaining environmental integrity. So I don’t think anyone at the top of this interview said there’s voices calling for Canada to roll back environmental protection. I don’t think anyone’s calling for that. It’s just saying we need to be aware of what’s happening in the US and make sure that our public policy isn’t competitively disadvantaging us but also making sure that we’re maintaining a high level of environmental sustainability. I think you can do both, but we’re not doing that right now.

MY: How do you see the new EPA regulations then affecting us?

MICHELLE REMPEL: Well, certainly I think the carbon tax is a big deal. If we put in place a public policy instrument that is not going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and is going to put us at a competitive disadvantage, that’s not a good piece of public policy. I’m sure people who are listening to the show would say, “Well, what would you suggest?” I think that Canada needs to have a made in Canada approach that includes regulations, things like, you know when we were in government we did a lot of work on reducing the emissions in passenger vehicles, a coal-fired electricity sector, incentives around production of clean technology and adoption. And you know to me, the economics of a carbon tax don’t work. And I think on top of everything, there’s two things: it’s the carbon tax right now and then it’s the uncertainty that the liberals have placed in the environmental process.

MY: But Canadians do want clear air though, so we have to work—

MICHELLE REMPEL: Sure. And that’s what I was saying, you know there are ways to do this. We have to say right now, Canada has some of the most strict environmental protection laws as it comes to air quality in the world. We also have some of the best air quality in the world. So you know I think we’re in a good space, it’s just we can’t be wandering down a path where industry’s looking at us saying, “What are you doing?” and then not really having any change in environmental protection outcome. And I really think that that’s what the liberals have done in the last year and that’s my opposition to it. Especially as an Alberta MP, right?

MY: Alright. We have to leave it there.

MICHELLE REMPEL: Alright. Thank you.

MY: Thank you so much, Michelle Rempel. Michelle Rempel is the Member of Parliament for Calgary Nose Hill. She was in Calgary. We requested comment from the federal minister of the environment and climate change, Catherine McKenna. We received an e-mail from the minister’s office this morning which stated that Ms. McKenna met with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt yesterday in Washington and they both recognized the importance of strong environmental collaboration between Canada and the United States. Let’s pull back the perspective now and ask what all these policy changes are likely to mean for the climate itself. For that discussion, I'm joined now by Bill McKibben. He's an environmentalist, author and founder of the global grassroots climate movement, 350.org. He's on the line from Middlebury, Vermont. Hello.

BILL MCKIBBEN: Hello there. How are you?

MY: I’m good, thank you. Middlebury is a nice small town, quiet. Clean air, I bet.

BILL MCKIBBEN: Well, you know Middlebury exists on planet Earth and like every other place on planet Earth, it's going through convulsions. We've just had the hottest year in the history that we've ever recorded on this planet. It broke the record that we set in 2015 which broke the record we set in 2014. You in the north, you’re able to look just a little bit further north and see that the Arctic has about half as much sea ice as it did when Mr. Trudeau’s father was prime minister. You know the world is changing at an extraordinary and dangerous speed and that's the real context for these conversations.

MY: Then we get the cuts from the EPA. What concerns you most?

BILL MCKIBBEN: Well, I think yesterday the director of the budget said spending on climate is “a waste of your money” and so it won't be happening anymore. We're going to be shutting down some of the satellites that even try to evaluate how fast the temperature is going up, how fast the sea level is rising, how fast the glaciers are melting. We're not going to be doing anything about it, just the opposite—freeing up Detroit to start building gas guzzlers for all it's worth. We’re making the job of future historians extremely easy. The first chapter of every book about what happened on the planet will begin with the scene set in Donald Trump's Washington in the early days. But that said, Donald Trump is a fascinating dumpster fire to watch, a kind of car wreck by the side of the road. It's not as if he's doing it by himself. Canada, among the biggest economies—the twelve biggest economies on Earth—Canada is by far the biggest carbon extractor that there is per capita. It extracts twice as much carbon as the United States and now that you want to build new pipelines, Energy East and Kinder Morgan and things, you'll be running that total up even more. So I mean it’s not as if pointing the finger at Washington is particularly useful either.

MY: It may not be, but in Washington I mean there is a directive and Scott Pruitt is a climate change skeptic. How concerning is that to you?

BILL MCKIBBEN: Well, to call him a climate change skeptic gives him more credit than he deserves. He's a creature of the oil and gas industry. When he was attorney general in Oklahoma—and Oklahoma became one of the centres of fracking in this country—in his tenure Oklahoma went from the least seismically active place in the continent to the most earthquake prone place in North America. There are now two or three earthquakes a day because they're injecting so much waste water back underground from fracking. I mean it's literally [cut off] a planet to be taking the position they're taking except that these are precisely the positions that the oil and gas industry want. And again, Pruitt’s a concern but so is everybody else. It was Justin Trudeau who last week speaking at an oil and gas executives meeting in Houston who said that Canada, he said no country would take the 173 billion barrels of oil that are in the tar sands of Alberta and leave them underground, for which he got a standing ovation. If Canada digs up that 173 billion barrels of oil and ships them out to the rest of the world to be burned, that’s about 30 per cent of the carbon budget that would take us past the 1.53 warming mark that Justin Trudeau himself said was the world's goal. So Canada is as irresponsible as anybody else in all of this.

MY: Well, Bill, what about the lakes? The Great Lakes are also a huge concern. They’re the largest freshwater system. How will they fare now?

BILL MCKIBBEN: The EPA is going to cut back all the work that it's doing on Great Lakes. They’re taking the program that was funded at $300 million last year and they're cutting it to $10 million, so in effect ending it. This, as you know, has been a cross-border decades-long effort to bring the Great Lakes back and it's beginning to have success, although again, it's thwarted by the lies in temperature which is beginning to overwhelm the biology and hydrology of the Great Lakes. And this is particularly ironic because of course, it was in those Great Lakes states like Michigan that Donald Trump won his victory. I predict this will play badly with all concerned.

MY: Canada is making an attempt to do something about the environment and regulations around carbon. The US, not so much. Do these cancel each other out? Can we find a way?

BILL MCKIBBEN: I'm going to disagree with your basic premise. As long as Canada is building Kinder Morgan and Energy East and things, it's talking a good game about the environment but not doing very much. I think it's basically a partner with the US in the ongoing heating of the planet.

MY: Thanks so much, Bill. Bill McKibben is the founder of 350.org, a global grassroots climate movement. He was in Vermont. The CBC News is next, then whatever happened to Richard Simmons? We’ll puzzle over a hit new podcast attempting to solve that mystery. I’m Marcia Young and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.

[Music: Sting]

Back To Top »

'Missing Richard Simmons' stirs questions about ethics of mystery podcasts

Guests: Jessica Brown, Bob Thompson

MY: Hello. I'm Marcia Young and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.

[Music: Theme]

MY: Still to come, we head to the frontlines of the West African Ebola epidemic.

SOUNDCLIP

Twenty cases yesterday, 40 cases today and you know that tomorrow it’s going to be 70. These are real people with real stories and real lives.

MY: The real stories of fighting back against the Ebola epidemic from an American doctor who was there. Dr. Steven Hatch joins me to talk about his new book Inferno in half an hour. But first, sweat and the ethics of missing Richard Simmons.

SOUNDCLIP

[Sound: People singing “Burn, baby, burn”]

VOICE 1: I’m going to burn some fat off of you today and that’s a promise. Get ready to sweat. Give it all you got. Here we go.

[Sound: Cheering]

VOICE 2: Do you do drugs before the show?

VOICE 1: No.

[Sound: Laughter and cheering]

VOICE 1: I see that some of you do. No. You know life to me is a drug. I love to teach. I travel 300 days a year and I teach classes and I love people and I like to see someone who, you know, they come to me and they don’t feel good about themselves and their self-esteem is down and they come to my studio, Slimmins, and they work out and lose weight and they feel good about themselves. And I think everybody in this audience and everybody watching, they want to feel good about themselves. Am I right?

VOICE 3: That's right.

[Sound: Cheering and applause]

VOICE 1: Take a walk. And out, out, in and hike it out.

MY: Richard Simmons—half man, half Energizer bunny, 100 per cent American cult icon. That was what the fitness evangelist sounded like back when he was a fixture on TV. But these days if you're talking about Richard Simmons at the water cooler, it probably has a lot more to do with this.

SOUNDCLIP

VOICE 1: It didn’t make any sense. It was like someone that was so consistent for so long all of a sudden just stops showing up. It’s just like something has to be really wrong if you all of a sudden just stop showing up.

VOICE 2: He straight up got up and disappeared.

MY: That's a bit from his new podcast all about the fitness guru and his recent disappearance from the public eye. Here's the podcast host to explain.

SOUNDCLIP

I’m Dan Taberski. Three years ago to the day, Richard Simmons completely and inexplicably stopped being Richard Simmons. And I want to find out why. Why am I doing this? I think he’s important, so much more so than his goofball public persona lets on. And also because a lot of people who know him and whose lives have been changed by him, they're worried or angry or full of grief. Some want to save him. Some just want to know he’s okay. So over the course of this series, I'm looking for Richard. I'm reaching out in any way I can and exploring every theory. The goal isn't to drag him back. It's to find out why someone like him would ditch the world. This is Missing Richard Simmons.

MY: The Missing Richard Simmons podcast has definitely captivated listeners with its mix of nostalgia and mystery. It's a serialized mystery podcast like This American Life’s spinoff, Serial and it seeks to answer a single question—why has Richard Simmons retired from public life to live reclusively? According to some the wildly entertaining format of the podcast also poses some very serious ethical questions about this type of storytelling. For more on this, I'm joined by Jessica Brown. She's a freelance writer in London, England. Hello.

JESSICA BROWN: Hello.

MY: Richard Simmons is not really missing, so what is this story about?

JESSICA BROWN: So the podcast is a one-man mission by filmmaker Dan Taberski to find out why Richard retreated from public life three years ago with no explanation. And it follows Dan as he goes on a trail to find out what happened himself. So he has a stakeout at Richard’s house in Beverly Hills and he goes up to the front door and he speaks to Richard's maid and he tries to get inside and figure out what's going on. He also interviews friends of Richard’s and women who he's helped along the way, helped to lose weight—all of whom are very confused and disappointed. And it also has clips like we were shown at the beginning of this, where you get a sense of what Richard Simmons, who he was and what he was like. And it goes into the rumours that are in the media at the moment as to why Richard's done this.

MY: Now what are some of those rumours?

JESSICA BROWN: So probably the most tame one is that he had problems with his knees. There was a really strange rumour that he has been held hostage by his maid. There's another rumour that he had a lot of dogs that he loved and when the last one died, the speculation that that was the last straw and he just fell into a deep depression because of that. And there's also a rumour that he is transitioning and he's having a sex change to become a woman as well.

MY: Isn’t there also one about black magic?

JESSICA BROWN: Yes, that his maid is a witch. That was on a recent episode. Yeah.

MY: Are any of these theories credible? Black magic aside.

JESSICA BROWN: Yeah. Of course they are, but they’re completely groundless apart from the fact that his dog died and he maybe went into a depression because the podcast does talk about the fact that Richard was prone to bouts of depression. So that's possibly credible but as far as I know, the other rumours are completely groundless.

MY: So that may be hitting a little close to home. How is he treated as a subject?

JESSICA BROWN: The way that I write about it in the article—that’s why I wrote an article about the podcast and why I find it really insensitive. I write about how it comes across like a true crime podcast in that Richard’s used as a subject for entertainment and almost as if he isn't alive anymore and almost as if he has committed a horrible crime and that gives people permission to talk about him in this sort of way. But obviously Richard is still alive and this podcast could have repercussions. And he's also spoken about as if he's done something wrong. A lot of the interviews, they have a tone of disappointment. And I understand if your friend just disappears off the face of the earth with no explanation, you will be disappointed but there's an onus put on Richard, almost like he had a responsibility to really say something. Because he helped loads of people, he had a responsibility to not to not just go away and not say anything. It doesn't put him across in a very good light.

MY: What did you first think when you heard it?

JESSICA BROWN: I only lasted about twenty minutes. To be honest when I first heard the first episode, I didn't really understand how this was happening and before I listened to it, I barely knew anything about Richard Simmons. I didn't really know who he was. I didn't know that he'd retired from public life. But I just found it astonishing that this was a was a podcast and that it was really popular as well.

MY: So who is telling the story?

JESSICA BROWN: The story is told by Dan, who's making the podcast but it's very much propelled by the friends that he speaks to of Richard’s and the rumours. There's not really any massive story line. What Dan does at the end of each episode, he’ll kind of give a sneak peek of what's coming up in the next episode and the thing that I think propels a story on is that he does things like ring Dan’s agent. He goes unannounced to visit Richard's brother. And he kind of makes the story go on that way in almost quite a tabloid kind of a way.

MY: But Richard Simmons as a celebrity. I mean he's been around since the American President Gerald Ford. Is there any public good in pursuing the details of his private life?

JESSICA BROWN: I don't think so. I think when you are in the public eye, you've made a decision to do that and therefore you can expect to be written about. You can expect to be gossiped about. But Richard’s made a decision to step back from that and I think Dan does say that he's a friend of Richard's and I think if you're a friend of somebody and you’re genuinely concerned, this isn't how you would go about it. You wouldn't air all of this publicly and kind of do the exact opposite to what Richard has said himself, what Richard’s agent, what Richard's close family and friends have said, which is that he is retreating and he just wants to be left alone. And if you're a true friend, you don't do the exact opposite of that and bring more attention to him.

MY: Has he responded himself, Richard Simmons, to all of this?

JESSICA BROWN: Richard did. He spoke on a radio show and that's the only thing that he's done. And that's also, apparently that's propelled the rumour that he's had or going through a sex change because it was a radio appearance and it wasn’t a TV appearance. So you can see the weakness of these rumours. But he did give one very brief interview where he explicitly said, I'm okay, I just want to be left alone. I've been doing this for a long time. I'm tired. But unfortunately, Dan doesn't accept that as a reason. That's not good enough for him.

MY: Now this podcast is currently one of the most downloaded on iTunes. Why do you think people are tuning in now?

JESSICA BROWN: I think it's human nature that we're really curious and I understand why people are listening and I don't blame people for listening. It is interesting and it is put across in a way that it's not harmful. A method that Dan seems to employ all the way through as he'll say this isn't any of our business. This is up to Richard. This is his private business but—and then he will delve into anyway. So he did this on the last episode when he was discussing the rumour that Richard’s had a sex change. He says this is Richard's business, but—and then goes on to talk about it anyway. So on the surface it does come across like well, I'm not I'm not doing anything wrong listening to this. This isn’t an invasive podcast and I think Dan does that very cleverly.

MY: In full disclosure, I'm starting to binge listen now. What do you think listeners like me and other people who will go and check this out should know or should think about?

JESSICA BROWN: I think it's worth bearing in mind that this person could have mental health problems. I think listening to it isn't going to do massive damage but the more popular becomes and the more people that listen to it, we don't know what Richard is up to. We don't know if he knows that this is going on. We don't know if he's—it could be making—and I don’t want to speculate myself but it would be quite stressful if you've made a decision to step away from public life and all of a sudden there's a podcast about you, number one on the iTunes chart. And I think one thing that is sort of not really delved into all the way through, it's mentioned that Richard, it's hinted that he has emotional instability. In every exercise lesson, he would break down and cry and when people told their personal stories, he would do the same and he talked a lot about depression and body image. And so I think it's just worth bearing in mind that this is a person who is very possible that he's not in the best frame of mind. So just to bear in mind when we listen to it and we're talking to everyone else and telling our friends to go listen to it too.

MY: Thank you so much, Jessica.

JESSICA BROWN: Thank you.

MY: Jessica Brown as a freelance writer in London, England. The Current requested an interview with the host of Missing Richard Simmons, Dan Taberski, but we did not receive a response.

SOUNDCLIP

VOICE 1: You cannot provide energy and positiveness for people unless you have it yourself. So where do you get all your energy?

VOICE 2: I guess because I call 40 or 50 people a day and I travel. I kiss and hug more people than the Pope. I have to sometimes soak my lips in Epsom salt.

[Sound: Laughter]

VOICE 2: Because sometimes I go to a mall and there's 4,000 people there and I stay and I kiss and kiss and hug because a lot of people just need to be hugged.

MY: Richard Simmons speaking with Donny and Marie Osmond about the lengths he goes to please his fans. Perhaps it's no wonder people are missing Richard Simmons. And certainly many people have no problems with the podcast. For some it's a celebration of a man they really adore.

SOUNDCLIP

What I like about it is that it feels to me as much a kind of celebration of the man as it is an attempt to get him out of hiding. I think all Dan Taberski wants is a reason. I think he just wants Richard Simmons— even if it was a one line email—to say I've decided to go away for whatever reason. So what I really enjoy about it, the moments that have touched me most in this podcast, are the stories of his incredible kindness. I think what you're getting is a really deep picture of a very, very warm and genuine human being and you know it's almost as the other aspect of it, the kind of mystery aspect is the thing that intrigues me least. I just like hearing stories of a guy who's obviously far more than he's been made out to be for the last 40 years. He's a lot more than a punchline.

MY: That was Darren Richman, a writer for The Telegraph. Well, later this month, the creators of Serial are releasing S-Town, a spinoff podcast set in a small rural Alabama town. It begins with an investigation into a murder based on a tip from a fed up local.

SOUNDCLIP

Something’s happened. Something has absolutely happened in this town. There's just too much little crap for something not to have happened and I’ve about had enough of [expletive] town and the things that goes on.

[Music]

Ahh, you’re beginning to figure it out now, aren’t you?

MY: For more on our fascination with this type of storytelling and where to draw the line as mystery podcasts hit the mainstream, I'm joined by Bob Thompson. He is the director at the Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University and he joins me from Syracuse, New York. Hello.

BOB THOMPSON: Hello to you.

MY: So here at CBC, our true crime podcast Someone Knows Something is one of the most popular here. What about that format is so appealing?

BOB THOMPSON: Well, it's such a basic dramatic element and by the way, when we don't have enough stories to tell about these true crimes in reality, we make them up. I mean the mystery, the crime drama is one of the biggest across media and has been for centuries. So this idea that something has happened—something interesting, sometimes something terrible—and we're going to get to the bottom of it. And it's especially good for these serials because as you peel away the mystery, you've always got a cliff-hanger until you've actually solved it or in some cases haven’t.

MY: Well, Richard Simmons is a real person and he's not really missing. Is Missing Richard Simmons defensible?

BOB THOMPSON: Well, I think first of all, that that title obviously has double meaning and I think its strongest meaning is that people are missing him, namely Dan Taberski is missing him. And I think it very much is as much a blog or a series about Taberski as it is about Simmons. I mean a lot of what's going on here may have ethical issues but it's nothing new. This is the kind of thing that gossip reporting does, that TMZ does, that these where are they now documentaries. Any unauthorized biography of a celebrity does this kind of thing. This just happens to be a podcast as opposed to gossip pages or a magazine or a TV show. There are some weird things about this. First of all, Taberski comes right out and says three years ago, Richard Simmons stopped being Richard Simmons. That's the basis of this mystery. Well, of course that's a ridiculous statement. Richard Simmons is still Richard Simmons. He just stopped being the Richard Simmons Dan Taberski thought that he was and that maybe he should become again. And then of course he goes into this whole bit about interviewing people and trying to find out why.

MY: Journalists love the interview and we have a saying you know, “Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable.” Does it make sense to hold podcasts like this up to traditional journalism standards?

BOB THOMPSON: Well, this isn’t I don't think a piece of journalism as we normally would consider it. First of all, he says things like, “Oh, Richard was my friend. I'd been to his exercise class a million times.” Now if this was a piece of good solid journalism, you wouldn't use a phrase like that. We'd actually want to know the relationship he had with this guy and how many exercise classes he’d been to would actually be relevant. And I think it was probably considerably less than a million. So this much more is something else that's got reportage. He does do interviews. But I wouldn't call this journalism. If we do by the way hold this up to journalistic standards, then there'd be a lot of issues I think we'd have to come up with.

MY: Alright. Well, let's look at the ethical guidelines then that should govern this type of storytelling. What do you think those are?

BOB THOMPSON: Celebrity is an interesting thing. Richard Simmons lives in that big house that Dan Taberski showed up to, thanks to the fact that he entered into this relationship one has with the public when one becomes famous. The advantage is that you become famous. You get the best tables at restaurants and you often make a lot of money. The disadvantages are that paparazzi follow you around. They speculate about you in the tabloids and oftentimes you lose a good degree of your privacy. Richard Simmons did create this persona. We all knew who he was. He was on TV in a lot of different forms for many, many years and that brings a degree of curiosity. And then when suddenly he does disappear the way that he did, I suppose it's natural that we would expect people to investigate that. And I don't think Missing Richard Simmons ever crosses any real ethical lines. He goes to the door but he doesn't continue to hound him. He's not going through his garbage. For all of the what appears to be dogged approach to this story, he's really quite mild, much more so than any paparazzi worth their salt.

MY: You do talk a lot about a celebrity and that it takes work to be a celebrity. So you've got to tweet, you've got to be out there. You've got to let yourself be seen living daily life and Richard Simmons has decided to do none of that at the moment. So shouldn’t we just sort of like turn the lights off and go somewhere else?

BOB THOMPSON: Well, I think we should. In the best of all possible worlds, we let people live the life that they want to live. Richard Simmons has absolutely no obligation to explain what he's doing to anybody and if he’s helped a lot of people in the past, they should be thankful that they've gotten his help and if he doesn't want to do it anymore, that’s certainly his right. On the other hand, in that best of all possible worlds that would happen, we can't expect that to happen in the world that we actually live in. Richard Simmons did create this persona and interest from which he benefitted a lot and the idea that people aren't going to investigate the “what are you doing now” angle of things is probably overly optimistic.

MY: So this has really turned into a true crime genre type mystery series. How did Dan Taberski actually do that when we’ve got a real-life guy?

BOB THOMPSON: Well, I mean he does it with kind of a sleight of hand. And he keeps saying this over and over again, that Richard Simmons is not in fact missing—there is a body and it’s still breathing—but the idea that he can't be approached, no matter how many times he tries he can't actually get to the person himself, that's where the mystery comes in. That in the fact that Richard Simmons behaved in a certain way for 40 years and then he suddenly quit behaving. And strangely enough, as much as murder mysteries of course have got the most basic dramatic element, this is ultimately a story about a guy who really craved attention and then he stopped. He doesn't anymore. And in this weird celebrity culture we live in, perhaps that's the biggest mystery of all.

MY: Alright. So yeah. This is a weird celebrity culture and I've been listening a little bit to this and one of my suspicions is could Richard Simmons be complicit in putting this whole thing together?

BOB THOMPSON: Well, I suppose. Remember the comedian Andy Kaufman who did all kinds of these performance art sorts of things. Some people think Andy Kaufman never died, that it's just another one of his acts. I suppose that's a possibility. I certainly don't have any information that would say that isn’t. I don't think it is. I think probably—and we learn some of this in the podcast—that for any number of reasons, Richard Simmons was emotionally no longer desirous of doing the things in the public eye that he was doing before. I guess this could all be part of a big vast thing to put him back into the public eye and then in fact, his disappearing is for the opposite reason. But that would be a pretty complex complicit act.

MY: Okay. What about opportunism? I mean Richard Simmons is still top on iTunes for his workout videos and his diet. How is Taberski kind of capitalizing? Or is he?

BOB THOMPSON: Well, I mean he certainly brought Richard Simmons back into the public conversation in a way that he hadn't been until he disappeared. I mean Richard Simmons’ disappearance is what made him famous again in a big way. And I think in many ways, of all of the people that are benefitting most from this, it's probably Taberski. How many times have we said his name in this conversation? I watched The Daily Show and some of the other things that he was on but until this podcast came out, I didn't know the name Dan Taberski. I know it now.

MY: So does everybody else. Thanks a lot, Bob Thompson. He is the director of the Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University. He was in Syracuse, New York. If you'd like to hear more about Missing Richard Simmons, tune into CBC Radio's Podcast Playlist next week on March 25th. And we'd like to hear from you. If you are addicted to mystery podcasts or do you think that they sensationalize stories that might be better left untouched, let us know. Tweet us @TheCurrentCBC. I’m Marcia Young and you’re listening to the Friday edition of The Current.

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An American doctor's journey into the inferno of the Ebola crisis

Guests: Dr. Steven Hatch

MY: Hello. I'm Marcia Young and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current. It was a virus that put the world on edge in 2014.

SOUNDCLIP

VOICE 1: Ebola—an infectious disease that spreads through contact with bodily fluids including saliva and sweat— has an extremely high fatality rate and is currently wreaking havoc in West Africa.

VOICE 2: This is the epicentre of the outbreak. In a city of a million, almost 50 new cases are reported every day. Liberia's tiny band of health care workers are throwing everything they have at Ebola.

VOICE 3: Listen, if people refuse then there is no space. There is no death. [unintelligible] It is dangerous for us.

VOICE 4: And that’s how it spreads further.

VOICE 5: Ebola is a deadly disease. You must [inaudible].

MY: A bit of how it sounded to be there in West Africa at the height of the Ebola epidemic. For months doctors, nurses and health researchers were on the front line of a battle they had no guarantee of winning. The foe was an unbelievably cruel virus. It spread like fire through the population with a death rate of up to 90 per cent. More than 11,000 people died of the Ebola virus in West Africa and nearly half of those were in Liberia. My next guest was one of those who took up the fight and travelled there to help. Steven Hatch is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School where he specializes in infectious diseases. He writes about his harrowing experience in Liberia in his new book, Inferno: A Doctor's Ebola Story and Steven Hatch joins me from Boston. Hello

STEVEN HATCH: Hi, Marcia. Thanks for having me.

MY: Oh, you're very welcome. Thanks for joining us today. Tell me about this crisis in Liberia and what happened when you arrived.

STEVEN HATCH: Well, I think for readers, sorry for listeners, they should know that I had come to Liberia prior to the outbreak just as part of an introductory visit to the country as I was getting some work up in sub-Saharan Africa. And then when the outbreak had started six months later, I found myself knowing these people, several of whom got infected and a few of whom died and so I had resolved that I was going to go back to Liberia to do what I could to help them out. And I went to Bong County which is in the northern part of the country, near the border of Ivory Coast and Guinea and I worked in the Ebola treatment unit of one of the international aid organizations known as International Medical Corps and I was there for about five weeks.

MY: So how was this outbreak of Ebola different from past outbreaks in Africa?

STEVEN HATCH: That is one of the main themes of the book, is to try to understand what was different that led to this massive outbreak of unprecedented proportions. Prior to the West African outbreak, there had been about 20 Ebola outbreaks dating back to the late 1970s, all of which were fairly small by the standards of the West African outbreak. The largest outbreak up until then had been about 450 cases and the total number of cases of Ebola that we know of was about 30,000 in the West African outbreak, although that's probably an undercount by some number. And it was interesting that in the run up, you mentioned that the foe in the West African outbreak was a virus and one of the things that I try to do in the book is to highlight how there were actually historical factors that were just as much a foe in the situation as the virus itself. The virus took advantage of conditions on the ground that had been shaped by events that had taken place not only years and decades, but really centuries before. And a lot of it deals with our relationship in the West to Liberia and West Africa and in particular the relationship between Americans and Liberia, its former colony.

MY: Well, that's part of the reason why you went over there. Tell us a little bit about that.

STEVEN HATCH: Yeah. I didn't know a lot about Liberia when I went over. I knew that there was a relationship between Liberia and the United States but like many Americans, I was under informed and I knew that there was a guy named Charles Taylor and I didn't really know a lot about him. And then when I got there, I started learning about Liberia. I started talking to Liberians about their history and the way they perceive their relationship with the United States. And as I learned more, I felt very much a sense of kinship with them in the same way that when you go abroad and you come back to your own country, you feel a sense of I'm among people who are my family and I felt like Liberia became an extended part of my family. And so there was a sense that although I would have gone to Sierra Leone which is a former British colony and I would have considered going to Guinea, it was really important for me to return to Liberia because I feel a sense of a special relationship with them as my brothers and sisters.

MY: What was it like to see your first Ebola patient?

STEVEN HATCH: When I first entered the Ebola treatment unit as part of what is known as a hot training exercise, so the goal was just to go in and see how the Ebola treatment unit works and we had done training exercises in simulated conditions, but this was the first time I had entered the ETU. Literally upon walking in, we found a patient in what was known as the suspect ward where people had blood tests that were still waiting to come back. But this gentleman was very clearly infected and we were just waiting for the blood test to show what we already knew. And he was lying lengthwise across the floor and he was obviously very, very ill. He had vomited and so there was the fluid of his vomit on the floor and his clothes were soiled and so it was not only the sensation of seeing a patient that we had heard so much about in terms of the run up. I was just like everybody else, that I had heard a lot of media coverage at the time but also it was an almost immediate realization that he posed a threat to other people in that suspect ward because there were people in that suspect ward who may not have been infected. And we would later come to find out that about half of the patients who we admitted on the suspicion of Ebola turned out not to have Ebola. So there were a lot of things going through my mind at that very moment.

MY: You are an expert in infectious diseases and so you hit the ground. Did you realize that you had misconceptions?

STEVEN HATCH: Almost out of the starting gate. The original name that Ebola had been given in the scientific nomenclature is Ebola hemorrhagic fever and that was further ingrained in the popular understanding in a series of popular culture pieces, both fiction and nonfiction, the most famous of which in the United States was a book by Richard Preston called The Hot Zone and The Hot Zone is about a series of Ebola outbreaks that had taken place in the 1980s and 1990s, in which he describes bleeding as the principle manifestation of the illness. And it was led in part by that name Ebola hemorrhagic fever and there's a group of viruses that were given the name hemorrhagic fever viruses of which Ebola was the most lethal. And as soon as I started working for a couple of days in the Ebola treatment unit, I discovered that hemorrhagic fever really wasn't so hemorrhagic and that what was really driving the mortality of most of the patients was in fact fluid losses from diarrhea and vomit. And it made me realize a variety of things. First of all, in terms of as a doctor what we could do for the mortality was just simply give them fluid replacement. It didn't require space age technology in the biomedical industry but it could be something actually much more simple that we've been doing for over a century. The second thing was part of a longer thought process I had about why Ebola is so fearsome in the West and I think that its reputation is at some level very well earned. It is in fact an incredibly dangerous virus. But on the other hand, I also felt that there was something else that was extra and the hemorrhage was part of a sort of horror fantasy that people have about this particular virus. And so the bleeding that people had and in particular, bleeding of African patients, it hit upon racial anxieties that I think people have in the West and I wanted to point that out in the book.

MY: How did you overcome—I mean you are a white doctor. Did you have any racial anxieties?

STEVEN HATCH: I think any white Westerner has to come to terms with the fact that they have racial misconceptions, even in ways that are subconscious, even in ways that we may not be fully aware of and I think we're all obligated to constantly examine our assumptions. I tried in the moment and I try sort of as a governing principle of my life to—and this may sound sort of overly simplistic—but just simply to always look at a person as who they are and not try to think about, to let other metaphors about groups of people dominate thinking. And so when I went there, I reminded myself on a daily basis: these people are just like me. They have hopes. They have dreams. They have fears. They have ambitions. The physical conditions of their life is very different from the physical conditions of my life in the United States and those conditions are in fact shaped by a lot of historical factors that have nothing to do with who they are as people.

MY: How were you received there?

STEVEN HATCH: Incredibly well. Liberians are remarkably warm, giving, friendly people with a great sense of humour. They have a very ironic puckish sense of humor and it was one of the reasons that formed part of my motivation to go back. I really loved Liberia. I haven't actually been back now in just under two years and I miss the place and I'm hoping to find a way back. I think Monrovians in particular have a great way of looking at the world. They had been through a tremendous apocalyptic experience even before the Ebola outbreak in their civil war which lasted 15 years and they were just coming out of. And yet despite all of the damage that the civil war had wrought, they were an incredibly hopeful people. They're optimistic and I really took a great deal of comfort in that and so I always felt welcomed. I always felt that I was part of the crew.

MY: So when you decided to go, you knew that you weren't going to you know a vacation spot necessarily. What did your family and your colleagues think about that decision to go to Liberia at a time when they were having an Ebola outbreak?

STEVEN HATCH: My family was not surprised at all. This is part of our family structure of what we think you're supposed to do in the world and how you're supposed to behave. When people you know find themselves in need, then that's incumbent upon you in that moment to go. So nobody in my family was particularly surprised. My colleagues on the other hand were quite surprised and I relate a few of the more humourous anecdotes when some of my colleagues asked me in a completely direct manner if I was completely out of my mind for wanting to go there. I was a little surprised by that because in particular the infectious disease doctors, several of whom—actually the majority of whom were quite supportive, but I was a little surprised that there was not a similar sense among some of my colleagues that this is an infectious outbreak, like we should want to go there.

MY: Before you left, there was a massacre in Guinea. What about your own safety?

STEVEN HATCH: Yeah. The massacre you're referring to was in a village called Womey, in which a group of dignitaries—for lack of a better word—had gone to one of the areas that was particularly hardest hit. And the idea was to educate the local communities about ways in which you can stop the transmission of the virus or reduce its transmission by hand washing, by minimizing contact with people who were either infected or at risk of infection or suspected of infection. And when they showed up to this gathering, the villagers attacked them with machetes and eight people were killed and that story reached the outside world about 48 hours later and it happened about 10 days before I flew to Liberia. And one of the things about that story was that I realized especially after I had spent a week or two in Liberia, that the much bigger risk in terms of my safety was actually going to be violence rather than picking up the infection. It was very clear by the time I got there in October 2014 that it was actually pretty hard to pick up the virus if you worked in the unit because of that protective gear. The protective gear wasn't perfect but it was pretty good and violence was something that you couldn't predict and could come from anywhere at once. So if I was worried about anything, I was more concerned about the specter of violence and what would happen if the social fabric ripped apart and the trust that people had in one another would fall apart.

MY: I’m Marcia Young and I'm speaking with Dr. Steven Hatch. He's an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Dr. Hatch, tell me, what did that tell you about some of the hurdles and risks for medical workers in this area? In Liberia?

STEVEN HATCH: I think the most important part and previous work in what we call resource limited settings, places that just have a standard of living very different from that of the West, is you can have surprises come at you in ways that you couldn't possibly anticipate. And so it required a level of being nimble in the face of a fast changing and fast moving outbreak. I had really the relative luxury of just having to show up for work, taking care of patients, going home at the end of the day. The people who ran the Ebola treatment unit had to anticipate those kinds of things I think perhaps a little bit more than I did. They had to think about supply lines. What would happen if the supply lines got stressed? What would happen if the workers decided to go on strike? What would happen if the unit was attacked? We were lucky in that our Ebola treatment unit was really quite remote. It was a mile and a half up a jungle road. The Ebola treatment units in the larger cities of Monrovia, Conakry, Guinea and the capital city of Sierra Leone which is Freetown, those were operating in places where the population is incredibly dense. The paranoia was high. They had to think about those things all the time every single day. So my experience was at least a little bit more ordered than the people working in the bigger cities.

MY: Before we get up that long jungle road, let's talk about the paranoia first and how that affected the ability to treat people. The paranoia of Liberians.

STEVEN HATCH: Yeah, and the paranoia of people in general. I mean in the United States, we saw a few people become infected that led to huge amounts of paranoia that lasted for months. And I think just the word paranoia implies a disproportionate understanding of what actually constitutes risk and the Liberians were no different. And moreover, there was a real large Ebola outbreak going on. In the United States, there were only a small number of people who got infected on American soil. In Liberia, there were tens of thousands of people. You didn't know whether your neighbour might be at risk. So one of the things that was really critical for how we used to operate in the unit was trying to minimize those fears. Also the government response and the response of the international aid organizations was to try to lower that sense of anxiety in the midst of what was a real outbreak in which there were real warnings that needed to be issued, but not to exacerbate that underlying paranoia. Certainly the most important thing I could do with my patients as a doctor was simply treat them like they were patients and patients who happen to have an infection. And so I didn't put Ebola front and centre in the conversation between me and them. I just talked to them like they weren't feeling well and I think that that gradually helped patients to deal with their own anxieties about what they had.

MY: So March in Liberia can often be rainy or cloudy and hot, very hot. You went to an Ebola treatment unit in a county called Bong and you suit up. What's that like?

STEVEN HATCH: In a word: sweat. The polymer suit that forms the most critical piece of protective gear does not allow for fluids to penetrate. That's the whole reason why you wear it, is so that you don't get infected when you get splashed on your body by the fluids of your patient. But what it also did was trap you inside what was really a sweat suit. And I used to sweat so much that when I would come out of a spin—usually my spins were about two hours—I would take the boots that I was wearing and I would just undo the boot and just pour the water of what had been my sweat out. It was great. I lost 25 pounds in five weeks and I would like to lose some of those pounds again. But it was physically taxing and so two hours doesn't sound like a lot of work, but in terms of what it did to your body, it took a little while to get it to get adjusted to the physical stresses. And we generally were putting in fourteen hour days and usually rounding twice per day in the unit and that really took a toll on you.

MY: You wrote that there were no medical emergencies in the Ebola treatment unit. What did you mean?

STEVEN HATCH: So it relates to the dangerousness of Ebola itself and the risks that you had in potentially contracting the virus by letting your normal instincts as a doctor or nurse take over. Doctors and nurses are trained to react quickly when a person's life is in danger. In an Ebola treatment unit, you can't do that because the risks of either a needle stick injury or of not putting on the protective gear in the proper order that it needs to happen, all put you at risk of potentially acquiring the infection which makes you in turn a danger to others. And so we were always in a conscious “we are not in a hurry” mode in the unit. The example I give in the book is if somebody had a seizure in the West, everybody in a hospital would come running until we knew that there was enough personnel to take care of that patient. If someone had a seizure in a Ebola treatment unit which is a life threatening moment, even in the Ebola treatment unit in Liberia—we had medications that could treat seizures—we would not come running. We would slowly carefully put on protective gear which can take up to ten minutes in time to do that and then go and take care of the patient as best we could. But you just didn't risk your own infection and you didn't want to put other people at risk as well.

MY: So you're worrying about that because ultimately you're a doctor and if you're alive, you can help more people. You're consciously thinking about your own safety What about nerves? I mean how do you calm your nerves if you're constantly thinking about your own safety?

STEVEN HATCH: So that actually was the easiest part of doing the job, is after that first day I went in, you kind of get over the screaming “Ebola” in your head. And it doesn't mean that you take the task casually to the point where you could do anything risky but you just realize that it's part of the rules of the road and once you do that, you approach patients with the attitude of “I'm a doctor, you're a patient. I know how this works.” And it took me about 24 to 48 hours until I really realized that this is a hospital just like any other hospital and I've been working in hospitals now for 20 years and I know the rhythms, I know what I'm supposed to do in a hospital as a doctor. And so it became part of the routine. You were still fully conscious that the rules in this particular hospital were different but you went about your job in the usual way that I would do it in the States.

MY: And one time in the book, you tell a story about when you kind of forgot yourself when a taxi showed up. What happened?

STEVEN HATCH: Probably the biggest mistake I've ever made in my medical career and I'm lucky that I did not become infected as a consequence. There was an unusual situation in which a woman had been taken through a taxi which was really just a station wagon and she was in the back seat and she had delivered a baby and the baby was still alive but she had bled very severely after the delivery. And the family had accompanied her and I was trying to look into the backseat to see how she was doing and this was before they had been taken inside the safe area where we would suit up and properly evaluate a patient. And so I was just trying to sort of get my head over the window so that I could see but the window wasn't coming down enough and so I opened the door to take a look just so that I could see how this patient was doing and how she was faring. And I should never have opened the door. I should have taken out that woman—in the car I would have told the driver to drive into the safe areas so that I could suit up. Instead I was relatively unprotected. I had gloves, I had a mask and I had eye goggles but I didn't have the suit on me. And so in opening the door and trying to sort of inspect what was going on, I got far too close to that woman. That was one of the more unusual situations in which it wasn't like things were drawn up in the playbook. Fortunately that was an exceptional situation, but what it did show me—and that happened in about the first week or two—was that you really had to be extremely careful and you always had to be aware of the possibility for infecting yourself. One of the things for instance that we did not do was we never touched anyone else outside the unit, none of our colleagues, during that entire time.

MY: So what are the lessons for the medical world? What can we learn from what happened?

STEVEN HATCH: I think there are a variety of lessons, both in terms of the physiology. There are certain lessons for doctors. There's the lessons of international health and international response. And I think more broadly there's a set of lessons that at first don't look like they have anything to do with Ebola, but I would argue that they do and I'd like to start there, which is that viruses can often substitute as metaphors for other kinds of discussions. Particularly in the United States in the fall of 2014, a sub-Saharan African virus ended up standing in for a conversation that the US was having about anxieties about immigration. And we are now seeing, I would argue we are seeing you know dramatic effects from that conversation and the Ebola outbreak contributed heavily to the anxieties of a lot of Americans that enabled the rise of what hereto for has been a fringe political viewpoint in United States politics. And I think that when you actually take a look at the factors that undergird that view of Ebola and the Ebola story, I would say that's part of the nefarious effects of not recognizing the virus as a metaphor.

MY: Thank you so much for sharing your story. And the book, Inferno—available—A Doctor’s Ebola Story by Dr. Steven Hatch. He was in Boston. And that is our program for today. I’m Marcia Young with the Friday edition of The Current. Stay tuned to Radio One for q. Tom Power’s up next.

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