Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Though I call him the Good Doctor, he's not good. He's not a bad doctor, necessarily. Just a bad person who happens to be a doctor. Or a good person who found a way to opt into a bad system for glory and profit. Either way, the "good" is tongue-in-cheek, or ironic, or sarcastic, or sardonic. Perhaps all simultaneously.
The Good Doctor recently apologized for having repeatedly repeated Donald Trump’s irresponsible talking points that Covid-19 was no worse than the flu, calling it “a press-induced panic” from as early as February 4. On March 10 he mocked people for heeding New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s advice to avoid riding the subway. He continued to mock and downplay legitimate medical advice about avoiding exposure to the virus all the way until he gave a contradictory lie on March 31 to try to cover his ass, and only officially admitted being wrong in an apology via Periscope feed on April 4, less than a week ago. He’d had a change of heart. Or a change of mind. Or the facts changed. Or maybe he was simply making a minor tweak in a discrete component of the overall structure of his brand. I could’ve told him, when you echo whatever echoes in the rightwing echo chamber, you will make mistakes. This time it might turn out to have cost thousands of lives, we’ll never know, although we can assume the damage he did by boosting bad information will have been large.
I always wonder how a somewhat reasonable person transforms into a jolly rider aboard the rightwing bandwagon.
The Good Doctor was in fact a good person at one time. Or perhaps he was a bad person who happened to stumble into the business of helping people. He was a specialist in addiction and addictive personalities. Way back when. And in pursuit of that specialty, he had a clinic where he helped a lot of people, including people who couldn't afford to pay him. Poor people. He helped the poor, that's pretty good. And knowing what he's become, it’s hard to figure out why he was so helpful to those poor people, or to anyone. It was almost as if he didn't know anybetter. He didn't know he had the option to be a thoughtless, selfish person who happened to be a doctor. That's my current theory. The same reason a lot of young people get married and have kids without even knowing why, except that that's what's done, and when they find out later they had a choice not to be spouses and parents, some of them try to find a way out of those circumstances.
Not all of them succeed. But the Good Doctor succeeded in escaping his circumstances. I don't believe it was his intention to escape when he first stepped out the door. But once he'd traveled out of sight of his old circumstances, there was no question of his ever going back. Back to being good in some way.
Good and bad are subjective terms, we can all agree. And yet there are overlapping qualities any socially functional human being can point to. The lines may be blurry, the territory they mark out amorphous, but the boundaries and the territories are there, for most of us. By agreement. Still, the Good Doctor's journey from one territory to the other bears describing, if only to contribute to an understanding of where the boundaries between them might be.
Dr. Piktis is his name. He bears a resemblance, in the lineaments of his career as well as those of his physiognomy, to Dr. Drew Pinsky of radio and TV notoriety. But Dr. Drew is an actual, living person. Here we are discussing a fictional person who just happens, by pure coincidence, to evince those resemblances.
Why drape this fictitious façade over a real-life story? I wanted to add some made-up incidents that were important to the arc, basically. I honestly don’t understand what happened to turn the real Dr. Drew from a reasonable person to a right-leaning media bottom-feeder, but I found that, creatively imagining scenes behind publicly available information, everything fell into place.
Yes, I could have contacted him and interviewed him, trying objectively to weigh his version of his own tale, but that would have been dishonest. I harbor great hostility toward the man, and it wouldn’t be fair to him for me to pretend objectivity when I was researching what was bound to be a hit piece. And so, mostly to protect the real Dr. Drew Pinsky from me and my lies, I’ve gone to the trouble of inventing a fictitious, somewhat parallel, person.
Andy David Piktis, MD, is his name. He goes by the name Dr. Dave now, one of the few media figures brandishing the label "doctor" who is in fact a member of the American Medical Association. He came from a good Jewish family who would never think of misusing the title the way "Doctor" Terri Toynbee and "Doctor" Neil Edwards (both also fictitious) have. Andy was always going to be a doctor, a medical doctor, from the start.
No single incident led to Andy's interest in addiction, but we know his mother was addicted to caffeine. That might seem a little silly. Poor woman, caffeine, you might snort haughtily. But Mrs. Piktis got terrible migraines when the java ran out. A kind of pink, luminous foam would begin lathering at the periphery of her vision, accompanying a pain like having a trowel shoved into the base of her skull. The foam would bubble like acid, burning the edges of her sight until all she saw was its blistering effervescence. Even a slight underdosage of caffeine could bring a spell of migraine. Andy witnessed his mother several times, screaming, heels of her palms pressing hard into her eye sockets as she wandered blindly through the house, scattered as it was with used coffee cups, acrid dregs stagnating in the bottoms.
Don't tell me there was anything particularly good-hearted about his choice of specialty just because it was inspired by his mother's pain. He had to pick a specialty at some point. It's more a testament to his lack of imagination than his empathy that he went into addiction medicine and opened his clinic in Oakland, CA. All he did was latch onto the first human weakness he could understand. It could have been anything.
Andy got married fresh out of undergrad, took the MCATs and passed the first time, as did his wife. They both did their rotations at Rush Presbyterian in Chicago. The mutual support they displayed during those years was admirable. In academics and work ethic they were an exceptional couple. It's tempting to believe that anyone who can maintain such a marriage must possess some inherent goodness. But that would be mistake. Again, it's more likely a semi-conscious conformism and a barely-suppressed fear of loneliness were at work in both the husband and wife than any rarer virtue.
Who is good, then, by these definitions? you might demand. And well you might. I understand your frustration. It may appear to you that I'm merely attaching the worst motives to actions of which the real ones are unknown to me, to avoid admitting the goodness of the Good Doctor. Could be, could be. But read on, because whatever virtue Andy seemed to display in those years, and the ones immediately following, he either lost or jettisoned or never really possessed. Myself, I would find his story far more tragic if I thought he'd ever had a truly virtuous cell in his body.
His wife joined a psychiatric practice in Oakland, and Andy set up shop as a GP, all the while with an eye to turning it into an addiction clinic. Little by little he referred his non-addiction patients to other GPs. They in turn funneled their addicts his way. The local lifestyle in Oakland and San Francisco at that time offered more than enough grist for his mill. Heroin was everywhere, and then crack came up from Los Angeles. Business was booming; within a few years he was getting research grants and hiring his own staff. After publishing a few entertaining articles in the Chronicle, he was offered a syndicated column. It ran in only three papers, but they were the LA Times, the Guardian, and the Bakersfield Tribune, so he developed a respectable readership from the Bay all the way down to Marina Del Rey, and eastward to the edge of the Inland Empire.
By then he had adopted his well-known clean-cut look, that crew-cut and those little glasses. His face was simply clean. (His radio and TV partner, Mel Kinolla, would later say of him, "He's the kind of guy who's handsome because nothing's wrong with him. Kind of like a prototype human waiting for its warts and stuff to grow in.") He had the boyish face that recalled Radar O'Reilly, but leaner, a little less naïve. But naïve nonetheless, because of his Mr. Spock-style clinic-speak. He was disarmingly earnest and unpretentious in public, and those characteristics translated surprisingly well to radio.
He was solo on the radio at first. He did his show for free at the leftwing Pacifica radio station, KPFA. He had by now realized how much young persons’ needs to feel part of a social group impelled them to risky behavior. And more than just trying to fit in for fitting-in's sake, a young adult longed for, and feared the absence of, sexual companionship and the approval of a sexual partner. Dave’s call-in radio show became as much about escaping bad relationships and avoiding STDs as it was about addiction to drugs and alcohol.
It was at this point that a producer for a commercial station in LA heard about “Dr. Dave” (as he had begun to call himself) and had one of those ideas that are "so crazy it just might work." Dr. Dave would field calls from troubled teenagers, many of them drug abusers, victims of sexual abuse, engaged in risky behavior and harboring untreated infections. All the program needed was someone, a sidekick, to bring out the hilarious potential of such misfortunes. That’s where we’ll pick the story back up in Part Two of this 4-part exposé.
This had been the Moment of Truth. Good day!