Sports, Star Trek and the meaning of life: Dr. Brian Goldman gets personal

In the Before Times, Mary Hynes and Brian Goldman were work pals. We called Dr. Goldman to talk about our Soundtrack for the Soul — the playlist of songs giving people life right now — but the script went out the window and the two started talking from the heart.
Tapestry host Mary Hynes and White Coat Black Art's host Dr. Brian Goldman during their Skype chat. (Submitted by Mary Hynes)

Do you ever wonder what CBC hosts sound like when the mics are turned off?

In the Before Times, when we were all working from the Toronto Broadcasting Centre, the Tapestry and White Coat Black Art offices were next to each other, and Mary Hynes and Brian Goldman were work neighbours. 

It's been more than 13 weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic began; months since the two long-time friends and colleagues shared a coffee break, or enjoyed one of their frequent hallway chats. 

Tapestry producers recently invited Dr. Goldman onto the show to reflect on his experience as an emergency physician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto during the pandemic, and to nominate a song for our Soundtrack for the Soul. 

But when Mary and Brian connected via Skype, the two quickly slipped back into their familiar rapport - and the conversation soon veered towards sports, Star Trek, and the meaning of life. 

Are you letting yourself have times when you just fall apart? Or are you more the stoic type? The strong, silent type going through all of this? 

Ah, I'm not the stoic type. I've always been somebody that shares feelings. You know that from the show and from our many conversations, right? Our hallway conversations. So you know, I'm not the kind of person to hide feelings. 

Dr. Brian Goldman is a veteran ER physician and the host of White Coat Black Art on CBC Radio One. He is also author of The Night Shift, Real Life in the Heart of the ER, which takes readers to the front line of emergency medicine and offers a compelling inside view into an often shrouded world. (CBC Radio)

Have there been moments of light - or glimmers of hope - for you, in the last little while? We've been kicking around the phrase "surprised by joy." Has that happened for you?

Oh yeah. Watching our little birdie Sky. You know, I grew up with budgies. Richard was the first budgie that we had, he was sky blue. And then Ziggy was brilliant emerald orange.

The thing about watching a bird do their thing - and who knows if they know you're there - but they have what the Japanese refer to as sonzai-kan, they have presence, where you find yourself thinking about them when you're not looking at them. And boy that little birdie has presence. Just watching her groom herself, pluck her feathers, check out her wings and make sure they work. Those are part of the little bits of joy.

And sometimes you get to play with toys. We got Alexa, we have an Echo. And what [my partner] Tamara and I discovered is that you can announce things with your app, phone in messages that will sound out on your Echo. So Tamara and I walked around the neighborhood and we made an announcement at full volume in the house - we weren't in the house you know - "Goldman and Broder" - that's Tamara's last name - "Goldman and Broder are halfway through their walk and the house better be in one piece by the time we get home." And you know, it's very hard to get our son Sasha out of bed in the morning and now we think we're going to sew an Echo into the mattress and just start issuing random announcements like "Get your butt off the floor! Get your feet on the floor!"

Oh that's devious! I was distraught to see you on Twitter saying, 'Okay, I've been very frank about this: I want a Do Not Resuscitate order if I get (COVID-19)' and it just floored me. Because I thought, 'Brian Goldman - don't you dare get this.' What goes into a decision like that?

You know, I guess what goes into it is recognizing the fullness of my life, that I would not want to hang on longer. I think younger people deserve their shot at this world. Volumes have been written about baby boomers hanging on too long and wanting to have eternal youth. That's kind of what I'm thinking about.

I'm thinking about the idea that what makes life precious is not that it goes on forever, it's that it ends. And I think a lot of people just don't get that. Maybe we're starting to get it, maybe we're starting to think about that.

I think a lot of people thought I was talking about the chances of success with a ventilator. I guess as I inch closer, millimeter by millimeter, to thinking about retirement, thinking about have I done all the things I want to do, would I want to stop and take course, read more books. You know, I'm starting to think about not wanting to just do something next, and instead maybe be an inspiration to other people, maybe mentor other people and make sure they have their shot. Because everybody deserves their shot.

Yeah - but you can't do that if you're not here!  I'm not trying to talk you out of this profound decision that you've made, but… Or maybe I am. That's exactly what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to talk you out of this profound decision that you've made. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. 

Let me clarify this. I think a lot of people believe that if you say what you want, should worse come to worse, that you're inviting that to happen. I'm not inviting COVID-19. I'm not inviting that I have a bad case of COVID-19. In fact, hey, you know, my dad - keneinahora, tu tu tu - lived to be 92 years of age and his dad lived to be about 89, so I think I come from a line of fairly long -lived individuals. And I'm not a quitter, I'm not inviting it to happen. I'm just saying that if it did come to that point, hey, I've thought about it. And really one of the reasons why I posted that tweet was that I think everybody should think about it. Just think about it. 

Let's talk about music, because I know there is a song that's been getting you through some of the tougher times.

Yeah, the song is an oldie but goodie. It's a really old song. In fact, I think it's about 93 or 94 years old. It's Blue Skies by Irving Berlin.

Why would I even think about a song like that except that as you already mentioned, I'm a Trekkie - or a Trekker I don't know what you call them. And Blue Skies was a musical theme in the recently completed Star Trek Picard series, which I adored. 

I dug out a recording of Irving Berlin playing it on the piano to a very sad violin. No words. And he wrote this in 1926, they think he recorded this circa 1927. It's two years before the Depression. And it's like he knows they're on the edge of an abyss, that society is about to completely unravel. And you can't help but see the parallels here. I heard this song during COVID-19 and I'm thinking, yeah, society's unraveling. And the blue skies that people are yearning for: are they a mirage or are they real? And so yeah, this is a song that makes me think deeply and allows me to express my feelings, allows me to feel sad when I'm sad.

So - television sound-track music or otherwise -  what would you say your soul is hungry for right now?

My soul is hungry for meaning, whether it's the meaning of existence, it's kindness, you know it's hungry for... Now are you asking cosmically or transcendently? Or are you asking for what TV series I want to watch right now? Or movies?!

This is why I love talking to you! This is why I miss running into you in the hall. 'Are you asking cosmically?' However you want to approach that question is what I want to hear.

I'm thrilled that the Toronto Raptors remain the reigning NBA champs and are likely to remain that way for a long time, unfortunately. And I still think that the Raptors could have surprised people in the playoffs this year, might have actually gotten out of the East. 

You know, what is wrong with the Toronto Maple Leafs? Like, and I know - don't lecture me Mary! Don't lecture me! I can just hear a lecture right now!

We're talking about the Leafs!  Of course I'm gonna lecture you - just like the old days, Bri!

You know what? They're never going to put it together. I know they aren't. And I know that 1967 was the centennial year and nothing else important happened that year. Let's just leave it at that.

Okey dokey. Nothing momentous about looking back to 1967. Oh man, I miss you Brian Goldman. It's really good to hear your voice. 

I miss you too Mary Hynes.


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