S2-EP12: Debbie & Sam on the Coronavirus, Magical Thinking, and Aging

Mar 19, 2020


Debbie Weil and her husband, retired physician Sam Harrington, talk about the Coronavirus pandemic and how the evolving situation is impacting older Americans. They talk about how they are navigating uncertainty and unknowns differently; magical thinking about what lies ahead; and what it really means to be older (they are both 68) and to face the possibility of illness and death.



Debbie Weil interrupts regular programming to address the Coronavirus pandemic and how this evolving situation is impacting older Americans. She is joined by her husband Sam Harrington, a retired physician, and a recurring guest on the show. They talk about how they are navigating uncertainty and unknowns differently (Sam as a physician, Debbie as a non-physician but with a new hunger for charts and numbers); magical thinking about what lies ahead; and what it really means to be older (they are both 68) and to face the possibility of illness and death.

This episode was recorded on March 15, 2020 so the number of positive Coronavirus cases Debbie cites is already sadly out of date. The pandemic in the U.S. continues to worsen: one of their greatest concerns, shared by many others, is that the U.S. hospital system will not have enough ICU beds for those who need them. Older Americans are worrying that medical triage of the critically ill will begin, with the elderly being passed over in favor of younger and potentially stronger patients.

The conversation is not about specific guidelines or statistics related to COVID-19, available elsewhere. See Resources below. It is about the psychological aspect of the pandemic. Debbie and Sam talk about how aging and ageism are interwoven; the way social distancing might impact different age groups; and the lingering question of how best to navigate these uncertain and confusing times.


What they talk about:

  • The “herd” of elephants in the room: anxiety over who will die, the importance of flattening the curve and the reality of social distancing over a long period of time
  • How members of Debbie and Sam’s immediate family have been responding differently to the pandemic (the physicians vs. the non-physicians)
  • How doctors deny their own mortality when they go to work in a public health crisis
  • Being old – or at least older – during the Coronavirus pandemic and how that feels
  • Magical Thinking: nonsensical, perhaps, but a way to manage uncertainty and unknowns
  • What Debbie and Sam’s biggest fears are
  • Why the U.S. is not set up for “slow motion” uncertainty


At a time of crisis, it felt important to share a conversation between an older – yet young at heart and mind – couple. As Debbie says, there’s a lot of meaning in the words: we are all in this together. She sees a ray of hope in that phrase. Whatever we can do to comfort, to inform or even to entertain each other is useful. Podcasts are having a moment – to do just that. Which is why Debbie decided to go ahead with this episode even though it is not definitive, nor does it address everything.


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Thanks to our media partners

Encore.org, our newest media partner, is an ideas and innovation hub tapping the talent of those 50+ as a force for good. Founder and CEO Marc Freedman is an award-winning social entrepreneur and author, most recently, of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations. Looking for a great gap-year transition program? Check out Encore Fellowships, which match skilled, seasoned professionals with social-sector organizations in high-impact, paid assignments.


Modern Elder Academy is a program dedicated to navigating mid-life transitions. MEA, based in Baja California, Mexico, provides the place and the tools to start reframing your lifetime of experience. Grow whole, not old. Founder Chip Conley is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning hospitality entrepreneur and a rock star of the mid-life transition movement. His newest book is Wisdom @ Work: the Making of a Modern Elder.


Next For Me is an important new resource for the 50+ crowd focused on rewriting life. Taking a gap year or timeout may be the best way to figure out "what's next" when you're in this stage of life. Founder Jeff Tidwell explains, Next For Me "connects and inspires our generation to evolve our post-50 lives through new work, a new purpose, or a new social contribution."