Dr. Fauci’s Christmas Eve: “Soon the darkest days will be over”

From a Washington Post story by Joel Achenbach headlined “Fauci’s Christmas Eve: Turning 80 and fighting the pandemic”:

Anthony S. Fauci celebrates a big birthday on Christmas Eve. He’ll be 80. He says he has worked every day since January, often late into the night, laser-focused on fighting the coronavirus pandemic. He enters his ninth decade with remarkable vigor, and attributes his youthful appearance to genetics. His father lived to 97 and never looked his age.

To deal with the demands of his job, Fauci says he relies on the muscle memory from his days as a young doctor working crazy shifts in a big New York City hospital, often all through the night, triaging patients with life-threatening injuries.

“There is no option to get tired. There is no option to sit down and say ‘I’m sorry, I’ve had enough,’ ” he said. When fatigued, he recalled, he would tell himself: “I’m gonna dig deep and just suck it up.”

Which is kind of what he’s been advising the whole country. . . .

Not everyone loves him or even likes him. He’s been derided by critics as apocalyptic. The criticism at times has been venomous, and scary. The fact that Fauci and his wife, Christine Grady the chief of the bioethics department at NIH Clinical Center require constant security is one of the countless dismal elements of this wretched, wrenching year. Even their three adult daughters have received harassing messages.

“On the one hand, I’m being adulated as this, you know, iconic figure, this person that everyone recognizes now, and knows. Which is fine. I can’t be distracted by that,” he said in an interview. “On the other hand, people have threatened my life and have harassed my wife and children and are still doing that. Public health measures have been swept up into the divisiveness of our society,” he said.

The only way Fauci gets through is by focusing on his job, he said — which includes speaking clearly to the public about the virus, the vaccines and what science does and doesn’t know.

But when he reflects on 2020 he’s amazed.

“I could not have possibly made up a year as complicated as this,” he said.

The pandemic will compromise Fauci’s Christmas Eve celebration. For nearly half a century he has marked the event with a traditional Italian meal at the home of his sister in Alexandria, Va. Not this year. Fauci will stay home in Washington with his wife. . . .

Fauci has been warning people that this is no time to mix households. In a recent call among Fauci, Grady and their daughters, Fauci expressed concern that it might look hypocritical if anyone in the family traveled home for the holidays. Before he could even complete a full sentence, the kids said, “We get it, Dad.” So the Fauci family will have a Zoom Christmas. . . .

Fauci said he focuses “like a laser beam” on doing just that and telling the public what he knows — and what he doesn’t. But his blunt assessments have not always been well-received. Fauci’s grave warnings about the coronavirus — in White House task force meetings he tended to be “the skunk at the picnic,” he said — have put him in conflict with President Trump. Fauci remembers Trump asking why he couldn’t be more positive about the virus. Fauci said he responded: “I’m trying to give a correct interpretation of what’s going on.”

Fauci maintains that he and the president remained cordial this year, even after the president insinuated that he might fire him. Fauci certainly heard Trump when, in an October call with campaign staff, the president said of public health officials, “People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots” and pointedly remarked, “Fauci is a disaster.” The next day, Trump mocked Fauci’s botched ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day at Nationals Park.

When he next saw Trump, Fauci said, the president was friendly. Fauci cites a similar origin: Fauci is from Brooklyn, Trump from Queens.

“We’ve kind of had a little bit of a New York bond, if you want to call it that,” Fauci said.

Fauci says he does not enjoy the way the news media keeps pitting him against Trump in stories. But he is unwilling to tell people something that isn’t true simply because that’s what they want to hear.

“When [Trump] started to say things that were outright incorrect, I could not just stand there and shake my head and say it’s okay. I had to go to the microphone,” Fauci said. “I didn’t intend to be anti-Trump. You know? I maintained my apolitical position. But I couldn’t stand there and not say anything and being complicit in things that were completely untrue.”. . .

Some of the biggest moments in Fauci’s personal life have taken place at NIH. In 1984, Grady was a new nurse at NIH and could speak Portuguese after working in Brazil. Fauci was treating a Brazilian politician who had a leg injury and wanted to return to his home country. Fauci said he would discharge the patient only if he promised to stay home and keep his leg elevated.

The politician told Grady, who interpreted, that there was no way he’d do what Fauci wanted, because he wanted to go to the beach and to parties. Grady translated that as, “I’ll do as you say, doctor.”

When he later asked her to visit his office, she feared she was in trouble. Fauci asked her to dinner.

“It was sort of love at first sight,” he said.

She moved into Fauci’s house a couple of months later and the couple has been there since. They are runners, or were until age caught up with them. They now power-walk along the Potomac River.

They ran two marathons together, stride for stride — almost. She doesn’t mention what happened at the end of the first marathon, but Fauci does: Right before the finish line, she said, “See you later” and sprinted ahead to beat him.

As Fauci turns 80, the country is in the midst of the fall and winter surge that had long been predicted and feared. More than 18 million Americans have been diagnosed with coronavirus in 2020 and more than 321,000 have died. But soon the darkest days will be over.

The vaccines work. Their rollout may not be perfect and there may be setbacks, but Fauci’s tone, while sober as ever, carries a hopeful note. “It’s not all despair,” he said recently in one of his innumerable television interviews.

He and Grady will spend their free time in the coming months walking together by the river, not merely exercising but also watching the change of the seasons, looking for birds, enjoying the healing power of nature.

“Clearly what drives him is his work, his mission, his feeling that he’s got really important things to do and he can contribute to them,” Grady said. “But I think what’s interesting about Tony that people may not know is that the things that make him happy are pretty simple things.”

She said her husband has become delighted with a houseplant. It’s a hibiscus. He didn’t think it would make it through last winter, but it survived, and they’re optimistic it can make it through this winter as well.

Joel Achenbach covers science and politics for the National desk. He has been a staff writer for The Post since 1990.

Speak Your Mind