Gretchen Case, Director of the Center for Health Ethics, Arts, and Humanities
Way up high, near the ceiling of most theatres, many theatres, there's a series of metal catwalks, and those are meant so that you can get to the lights and the electronics and everything. They're very narrow metal grates and they're not particularly safe. So of course when I was 16 and away at a theatre summer program, I took advantage of an unlocked window in the light booth in the back of the theatre to go up on the catwalks.
I was thrilled with this new view of the space. I was maybe 50 feet above where you are now, and I walked quickly and silently because I didn't want anyone to hear me. But what I didn't know at the time is also in most theatres that have catwalks, the catwalks in the house where you're sitting and the catwalks backstage are separated by a large break so that the curtain can come across. So as I walked quickly, silently, I suddenly stepped out into nothing. Darkness, emptiness.
Friday the 13th, March 2020, I was sitting in the atrium of the Health Sciences Education building, if you know the Health Sciences building up there. I teach here, I teach at the U Health Sciences, mostly medical students. I was sitting with a bunch of my colleagues, also teachers. It's a very strange time to be in healthcare, it's a very strange time to be in healthcare education. Here I am.
If you know the atrium, you know that the space is four storeys high of glass and there's a big glass ceiling, and it's meant to be a space full of light and air, but what my friends and I felt was something enormous pressing down on us, because we had just heard that we would be teaching medical school online.
We would be teaching medical school online on Monday. We would be teaching medical school online, and that had to happen over the weekend. So we knew something big, something important was coming, but of course, we didn't know what, but we stepped out into nothing. Darkness, emptiness. And we wouldn't return to that building, that atrium for more than a year.
Right away, I became kind of an air traffic controller. I gathered all the electronics I could. My laptop, my old laptop. My monitor and my old monitor, my phone, my old phone, and I moved from my office up in the School of Medicine and the basement, to the basement of my house where at least I had a window, and I gathered all my screens around me.
Immediately, I came up with some kind of Zoom personas. So teacher on Zoom, colleague on Zoom, parent on Zoom. As a teacher when I was teaching on Zoom, I went for very calm and professional, with the shoulders and the head, the little box. Meanwhile, my fingers were madly going across keyboards, I was making sure PowerPoint slides were going, that guest speakers were speaking, that faculty and students were talking to each other.
And then below those frantic hands were my legs, which were in pajamas. Because I learned really early on that all you have to do is though a scarf and a necklace over your pajamas or your sweats, and you look just fine to teach on Zoom.
So as a colleague on Zoom, and I have to say it's really hard to be an extrovert during a pandemic, I kind of turned into a class clown. In every meeting I would put jokes and disruptive comments in the chat, I would use the filters for comedic effect. In one meeting, I performed a pandemic parody that I had written of, "I dreamed a dream" from Les Miserables. And to be clear, that was not my task for that meeting. Nobody wanted that.
When I was Zooming, I was also parenting and when I was parenting, I was also Zooming, so I became expert at blocking the 65-pound child who was coming at me hard while I was trying to have a conversation, and I could do that without missing a beat. Except when I did miss a beat and the 65-pound child crashed into my lap and the conversation went on anyway. Everybody had a child or a dog or a cat or a Peloton in their screen too.
So many of us, we're living our lives, doing our jobs inside our screens, inside our houses. Maybe this is what happened to you. Nothing really. Maybe you're thinking, "Gretchen really happened to you." I'm a historian by training, and so when something big, something historic, something momentous happens, I want to know the stories. I ask people for their stories, I wanna know what's happening out there on the front lines in the hospital, in the clinic, in the streets, and so I asked people for their stories.
And so in many of these Zoom meetings, I ended up listening to death and suffering. I recorded some of them for posterity, with permission, and others would just well up, crashing into another conversation. I listened to death and suffering all day and replayed it in my head all night.
I was spared the worst, I was never in the room with death. I was left with the worst. I was never in the room. I offered witness and comfort and condolences, but it was always distant, remote, because I was always on the other side of a screen on the other end of a signal. I was never in the room.
So I spent my days listening to death and suffering, and then I heard people who didn't believe, maybe because they weren't in the room, who didn't offer condolences, who didn't offer witness. And I wondered, "Maybe this isn't real." I mean, there's lots of other things going on and the sun is shining, and the rain and snow are falling, and the plants are cycling through their seasons, the children are growing, and certainly the news was full of lots of other things. Lots of other things. My friend Donna calls it the "divine reset of 2020". So maybe none of this was happening, there was nothing to witness.
For months and months, I went to sleep with tears in my eyes, and I woke up with tears in my eyes and I dreamed of an escape, and every time I woke up back to whatever this was, wondering if it was real. Most of those deaths that I heard about weren't mine, they were someone else's story, but some of them were mine. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Eight of my people dead. There were no funerals. One Zoom memorial. In the midst of this nothing, darkness, emptiness, I still can't see the holes that they left.
When the vaccines arrived, I was first one in line. As soon as I was eligible, I got an appointment, and then I reacted badly to the vaccine and ended up in the emergency room, emergency department. So then I worked with my doctors 'cause I was darn sure gonna get vaccinated and we tried again, and I was worried then about is the virus or the vaccine gonna make me sicker? And I joked about this with the nurses and the EMTs who were watching me like hawks, like bored, exhausted hawks as I tried to get the vaccine again.
I still don't really know what my immune system's up to. Am I fully vaccinated? Am I high risk? Am I just weird? So I just keep waiting and watching and testing. Two years in now, and I haven't tested positive yet. Nothing. A whole lot of nothing has happened to a whole lot of us. Nothing is not nothing.
If you've ever jumped or fallen from a significant height, you know there's this ridiculous moment in the middle where you're kind of trying to claw yourself back up to where you from. Or maybe you're more dignified than I am. But I basically turn into a cartoon character and my arms and legs are going full speed as I fall into the water or whatever is saving me below. But in those moments, I don't scream like some people do, I'm silent. My lungs are the only things that are still.
There's this moment of transformation, it's thrilling, terrifying suspension. I know it's going to end, but I lose the ability to count the seconds as I flail downwards. Along with many of my friends, I've publicly counted the days of this pandemic. It's a way of cheering ourselves on. This is day 741, 741 days since Friday 13th, March 2020.
But privately, I count the hours. It seems more reasonable when I'm dealing with so much nothing, darkness, emptiness. Maybe the next hour will hold something, anything. Maybe I can hold on for one more hour. Maybe emptiness has edges. Maybe I can catch one and pull myself back up.
Back in that long ago theatre, somehow my hands were still on the rails of the catwalk, and I gripped on hard and I pulled back and I caught my toe on the edge of the grate, and I dragged myself back up to the catwalk. I stood up, turned around, walked back to the light booth, climb through the window and left theatre. I hadn't made a sound the entire time. It was a long time before I talked about that moment because first of all, I knew I would get in really big trouble.
0:20:49.3 GC: But also because I wasn't sure if it had happened or what had happened. Nothing happened. It was nothing. It wasn't nothing. Thank you.
Terri Berg, Patient Relations Specialist
The beginning. March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. March 13, 2020 President Trump declares Coronavirus pandemic a national emergency. March 16, 2020 Salt Lake County Health Department today declared a public health emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Immediately following the declaration, Salt Lake County Health Department issued a health order effective at 11 o'clock PM today, March 16, regarding business operations in the county, including specifics for the food and beverage industry. All retail and service-oriented businesses are required to implement social distancing measures and exclude symptomatic workers from working. Social distancing should include at least 6 feet between customers in the establishment. Workers symptomatic with respiratory illness or fever must not be in the business. No exceptions.
I'm a patient relations specialist at the information desk at University of Utah Hospital. I had wanted to be on the team as a patient relations specialist for many years, and I had to wait until there was a position available. I love my job and I love helping people. A few of my team responsibilities pre-COVID, greet visitors, direct and escort to patient rooms, deliver flowers to patient rooms, visit patient rooms to offer newspapers, to offer word puzzles, colouring pages, and we had many other amenities. I really have missed this. We would also shuttle patients to appointments on campus if they had shown up at the hospital, and their appointment was elsewhere.
Monday, March 16 was the first day changes were made reacting to the pandemic within the hospital and clinics. On my way to work that day, I remember there were no cars on the road, and I drove past a sign that said a no visitor policy was in effect. It was such an eerie feeling and it gave me a lump in my throat.
I was shaking, I was sweating. My heart was racing. I felt like I was in a dream and that it just can't be real. No valet. No shuttles. No chairs at all. In the lobby, in Starbucks, or in the cafeteria. The lobby gave me an eerie feeling. No piano playing by our volunteer pianists. It's very strange to see a place that's usually hustling and bustling with people, their chatter, the music from the piano, to nothing. No one. Silence.
During the middle of 2020, there were some exceptions to allow family visits... Sorry. There was a visitor policy in effect. Okay, I'm so sorry. [chuckle]
I'm back on track.
March 18, 2020. Two days later came the earthquake. It was very surreal, which added to my anxiety and wonder about the future. "Will there be more earthquakes? Will I get sick? Will I lose people that I love and care about to this?" And these thoughts were constantly in my mind.
Something I've always loved is grocery shopping. I would get inspiration for cooking new recipes and buying some new ingredients from all the grocery stores. I would go to several grocery stores in a shopping visit. I remember after staying home, several days and needing to go to the grocery store. We all wore masks. People were standing 6 feet distancing or more because we were afraid. Many shelves were empty. I had anxiety and my experience had changed drastically. It had become an incredibly stressful chore. I broke down in tears when I got into my car.
Going to the grocery store had become stressful and was no longer fun, and my work at the hospital, which was customer service-oriented, had become more challenging. There was a visitor policy and screening process for patients and visitors as well as employees at each entrance, with just a few entrances that were being used. Our team grew from 28 to 41 people to accommodate the changing responsibilities. We were essential employees.
The visitor policy was no visitors in the very beginning. Mothers giving birth could only have one support person. No other visitors were allowed. We, my team and I, had to ask families to wait outside. They were not allowed inside. The extreme temperatures of winter and summer made it really difficult to tell them that they could not be inside. We would offer them water and granola bars just to help.
Several clinics had cancelled their appointments, elective and non-emergency surgeries were cancelled. The emergency department was divided into two separate departments. There was one screening area that was in a big tent outside. Once they were screened, they would be directed either to the emergency room or the emergency department area for people with COVID. These processes have changed as needed as it's evolved. To this day, we still have a strict visitor policy in effect.
During the middle of 2020, there were some exceptions to allow family visits to say goodbye to loved ones. A patient in his 70's was passing from COVID. His wife and children came to say their final goodbyes. This was during a time that COVID patients were allowed to have family members by their side while they were passing.
He was being moved from the COVID surge floor to the medical ICU. I happened to be at the information desk when the family came in and was able to escort them to the patient's room. His family had recovered from COVID, but he was not so fortunate. This was something I was grateful to be able to do. I have compassion and feel like I'm able to communicate well with them, given the difficult situation they're dealing with.
I guided them onto the unit and as we were nearing the patient's room, the patient was being wheeled into his room. It was heartbreaking. I was grateful that I had been able to help them and sad to witness these painful moments. As I left them and I walked off the unit, I was so emotional, I broke down in tears.
I had thought about all the people that were experiencing this. I hadn't known anyone really close to me to be very sick at this point, even though I had known some people that had tested positive. Shortly after this experience, my mother and father who live in St. George tested positive. My father had mild symptoms. My mother was very sick for weeks and was hospitalised as her kidneys were shutting down. We almost lost her. She was very fortunate and made a full recovery.
In February of 2018, I lost my son, Seth, who has a twin sister, to an alcohol-induced suicide on his older brother's birthday. I had attended a bereaved mother's retreat a few months after that, and met a group of mothers who had also lost children. For my birthday on March 17th, my children had given me the opportunity to attend a bereaved mothers retreat reunion in Moab, one of my favourite places on the Earth. I was looking forward to this and need the continued support. This was cancelled, and they have not yet been able to re-schedule.
Years before my son had passed, I had volunteered for The Inn Between, a hospice for homeless, and had started to volunteer for the No One Dies Alone team when it began years ago at the hospital. This program is to provide compassionate companionship for patients alone at the end of their lives.
I took some time away after I lost my son. It was just too difficult at that time to hold someone's hand and be present in a way that they deserved while they were passing. I began to volunteer just before COVID hit. The volunteer program was placed on hold for four months, and they're still working on adding programs back slowly. With nine programs back, they're phasing in another three between April and July. There are 25 in total.
Being home with the exception of work and a few grocery store runs, came the realisation that my marriage was not healthy for either of us. I had kept myself so busy not wanting to be at home for so many years, even before the pandemic. I found the problems I had ignored were no longer easy to ignore, and I filed for divorce in 2020.
Many years of hard work in therapy, and with the support of family and friends I am making progress in becoming my healthiest self that I've ever been, physically and mentally. I've dedicated time to several suicide awareness and prevention classes and events to help support me after the loss of Seth.
My time during COVID gave me the time and space that I needed to grow, and I'm so grateful for that. I have since been able to enjoy my time alone, I've made my home mine again, and love being home. I've realised my time is precious, and I'll choose carefully what I do with it. I've learned to like myself and who I am.
As I begin to get busy and back to life again, I can only hope that I will remember to slow down a little. I want to enjoy my family, grandchildren, and my close friends that I've missed for the past two years. And I'm in a new relationship with an amazing man. We are in this together, and being in contact with people who enter the hospital while still following masking and other continued policies, I find that we are learning to appreciate and respect our differences. We are resilient, and I hope we can all grow from this. Thank you.
James Mwizerwa, Manager, Support Services
Hello everyone. So if you see me enough, I'm used to smile. [chuckle] So my name is James Mwizerwa. I moved from Rwanda. I moved to the United States of America from Rwanda, a very small country in East Africa. And I moved by the end of 2011, and got hired as a custodian here at the university hospital by the beginning of 2012.
Since then up to now, I'm still employed within the same Environmental Services Department, but now as a supervisor. Thank you, thank you so much for this great opportunity to be here today in order to help you stepping into the shoes of custodians and the whole EVS team. This will be to help you learning a little bit about what keeps us stay resilient and persevere through our demanding work.
We are talking about resilience today, because we as human being, we as healthcare workers, we as custodians in the ambiguous situation of COVID-19 face fear. We face stress, we face challenges, hardship, crisis and so on. As healthcare workers, the only option we have is to overcome and quickly adapt to the current station.
First of all, I would like to ask every one of you to put yourself in a position of a custodian, a custodian who is assigned to empty and transport tons of soiled linen, infectious and irregular waste. I know it may not be easy. I guess many of you don't have experience with hospital cleaning. But try to put yourself in a position of a custodian who is assigned to clean a precautionary room, let's for example, a COVID positive room with precautions such as droplet, airborne, and contact.
Let's go back and think about custodians and what they do every day. These are employees who come to work every day with the same routine, moving, lifting heavy things and using every part of their bodies to accomplish their duties. Most of the time, the task they perform, to provide a clean and safe environment, they have to do those tasks, the same task repetitively in a single day.
Obviously, there is a secret that can prove you why there are so many custodians and EVS staff who have been doing this job for so many years, so I'm gonna share that secret with you, so it's not gonna be a secret anymore.
I've been working at the university hospital for 10 years and 42 days, and I've seen many custodians and EVS staff who have been working there longer than I. I've seen many who were able to get their retirements after working there for more than 20 years. If you ask everyone here about resilience, everybody can talk about resilience differently, but as an EVS employee, let me tell you where our resilience comes from.
Like anyone else, there are two interactions that happens in our daily routine between two sides, the negative experiences that we face every day and positive outcomes. It's a kind of fight between these two and only one needs to win. When our brain only focuses and thinks about all the negative experiences that we face every day, our resilience scale looks terrible. That's when we only think and focuses on something like, "This is an entry-level job, a custodial job. It doesn't pay big money compared to some other positions."
You have to deal with precaution complexities such as dealing with a COVID positive room, cleaning a COVID positive room, or cleaning any other room which has different kind of infectious diseases. And then that's when you think about some other family problems and so on. But as custodians and EVS staff, these undesirable character of someone who is a looser, a fixed mindset person and a discouraged person, doesn't define who truly we are. We are better than this.
Just think about that COVID, that dirty COVID positive room that I was talking about. See how it looks. Very messy, dirty, infected. And think about how it looks after the whole process that we go through to clean, disinfect and make it ready for the next new patient admit, without any cross-contamination.
Think about patient feedbacks who can appreciate our effort and recognise the environment as clean, safe and comfortable for them. Think about feedback of our colleagues, clinical staff who can offer encouragement to us and appreciate the healthy environment that we provide. To be honest with you, there is one thing that we balance our resilience scale, when seeing our patients and business partners happy, being happy, that's the number one that will balance our resilience scale.
Then when we think about some other positive outcomes such as the salary that was not even stopped during that crazy time of COVID-19, when many of other companies were closed, the great working environment and healthy work environment with leaders who care. When we consider all of this, it shows like our balance became like the negative experience, so light and meaningless, knowing that we contribute to the good patient outcome. That itself makes us... Makes a sense of pride in the work that we do.
So I want to, today is the day to share a story, and I would like to share today two stories, while I'm about to conclude. So when we are talking about leaders who care, doesn't mean leaders who are always thinking and focusing on the salary increase of the employees or any other monetary recognition. Don't get me wrong, that's also very important.
But leaders who are taking time, who are investing the effort in mental health of the employees, leaders who are taking time to listen to their employees, and leaders who are proactive, are always the best. These leaders don't only help employees to be happy, engaged, productive, but they also help employees to be more resilient.
Between two to three years ago, before COVID, our leaders started what they called "value culture huddles". We usually call them "rocks in the shoe sessions", where employees can help to identify those small programs that can add up to be a stressful environment. Employees also can participate to remove those rocks in the shoes, so that they can work in a very good environment. Our leaders were able to discover a very important thing, that employees want to be heard.
It started with leaders, and now it's at the custodial level. In my team, we are counting about 35 problems that were identified from the employees. Not a single problem is to be ignored, so we work together to remove those rocks in the shoes. As the result of this, we recently participated in our quarterly wellcheck survey. My team had a participation rate of 79%, and we scored higher than 2021, than 2020 in all categories. It's great to have leaders who have vision. This happened before COVID. It was much easier to keep our staff more resilient.
The last story. Between four to five years ago, I don't remember the date, so we had a big incident where patients from the emergency room had to be evacuated from emergency room to different inpatient units, and some patients were in the hallways. The main steam line in front of the hospital had burst. When the incident was clear, we were asking to make sure that the emergency room is cleaned within 45 minutes. Just in that range.
It was tough, but we got help. We have a very good communication, we had help from all environmental services teams to come and help. I'm telling you the truth, within that time, during that time, at the end 45-minute, the whole emergency room was cleaned, disinfected and ready for patients.
I don't think you can imagine how happy we were, celebrating with a big smile on our faces. So what that shows you, our happiness comes mainly from the care that we give. That's the number one that would keep us coming to work every day. We know money is very important in life, but with what we do every day, it's more about passion than anything else. It seems to us that we are fighting a good fight, and we are celebrating and finishing our races every single day. Thank you so much.
Kavish Choudary, Chief Pharmacy Officer
So thank you for the opportunity to speak. I've not really put together much of a story, I have a couple of reflections looking back over the last two years. COVID have been interesting for a lot of us. When I spoke with Robin and and Megan about this earlier this week, when they asked me to present, they said, "Oh, you're the only speaker that had a kid in the middle of the pandemic." Wasn't the best idea, but it's definitely been worth it.
I look back over the last two years, and I know most of you know me from my role working on the vaccine clinics, and I'm definitely very proud of that and thrilled that it probably helped vaccinate most of all you in the room, or direct you through the vaccine clinic. But I look back and it's a lot of things I learned from COVID in general, and a lot of it starts actually before the pandemic even came into place in the States. I think back of, in November of '19 and in December 2019, just thinking about how we were...
We've heard about this virus in China, and we were trying to figure out, "Is it gonna impact us? What's our plan?" And I look back over the last couple of years and I think about, "What have I learned?" Well I learned that expect the unexpected. I learned that there is actually inherent good in people. I also learned that, what are your priorities?
So look over the last two years and recognise that personally, when assigned a task or there's an opportunity to help my fellow person, I wanna jump in. Unfortunately, at times I may have that tunnel vision and I may forget about what's actually truly important. So I look back at the pandemic, and as I mentioned, I kinda go in chronological order here.
So late 2019, we start planning. Myself and my colleagues in the pharmacy department started figuring out what drugs do we need to start stocking up on, what supplies do we need to get, where we're gonna store it? You fast forward a few months into early 2020, we start getting reports from our friends in New York and our friends in California about what to expect, so we start stock up on midazolam, start stocking up on propofol, start talking up on Fentanyl.
So we start doing that. We start planning for something we think is gonna hit us, but we don't know how hard it's going to hit us. Again, the laser focus and the tunnel vision on what we need to do to care of our patients. As I mentioned, we were expecting. So looking back in November and December 2019, is when we found out we were gonna have a beautiful little girl, and we didn't know at the time it would be a girl, but we found out we're expecting in July of 2020. But all my intention was going towards COVID.
Fast forward to, I think the date has been said a couple of times, but I do distinctly remember March 13th. I remember I had a team meeting. We talked about, what if we have to go remote, what if the school shut down? What is our plan? It's a beautiful plan. We wrapped at the meeting at 3 o'clock. 03:15 the governor announces we're shutting down the state. Called.
Called to be back in. We meet and say, "Okay, let's come back with new plans. We'll meet on Sunday night." Over the weekend, a few of my colleague and I have been executing our plans for what we've been doing over the last few months of stocking up on product. Started calling of our off-site locations, all the community clinics, and start bringing back the product to the main hospital.
We spent the weekend carrying product back and forth, getting all the second level of the ACC, or Area E. On Sunday night we meet as a team. We have a virtual call and go through, what is our game plan? We were able to push about 40% to 50% of our staff remote very quickly. We're able to shuffle around schedules and identify what was truly gonna be the essential staff members that had to be physically at a hospital campus or any of the pharmacies. We executed pretty well. Again, tunnel vision, and we had a laser focus on this.
As we start pulling all the product into Area E through the weekend, and then to Monday and Tuesday, I remember it was St. Patrick's Day, and we were all joking that none of us were wearing green, we pulled in about 300 pallets, weighing each about 5000 pounds into the south corner of the second floor of Area E. So just a quick math, that's 1.5 million pounds in a very small space. After we got done moving all the stuff in, realised, "This is a really bad idea."
So we call Jerry North, our friend in Facilities. Jerry comes running up and he goes, "Oh yeah, this is a really bad idea."
So we then spend the next eight hours, I am calling my wife going, "I will be home very late tonight." Again, focus on the work, focus on the patient care, and I call her saying I'm not gonna become coming home for a while. Jerry, myself and Russell Finley spent the next eight hours moving 300 pallets away from that space.
Get done about 10 or 11 o'clock that night. We all just laugh and go, "Wouldn't it be funny if there's an earthquake? This thing would have fallen in." Next morning, 07:15, earthquake happened.
So we realise, "Well, we did the right thing," felt validated for staying away at the hospital way too late, but we did the right thing. We also spent the next few weeks just planning for what was unknown. I'm a pharmacist by training, numbers are big for me. The number that always jumps out to me during the pandemic has been 56 million. So 56 million. Any guesses? I can't see anybody.
So 56 million is the amount of milligrams of propofol we would need to treat 174 patients that each weight 75 kilograms, or an average of 75 kilograms for six months straight on a ventilator. So in our minds, we had to get around 56 million milligrams of propofol. That was our to-do list.
So we did a lot of work to do that. We didn't get 56 million, so nobody from Finance yell at me for blowing our budget. But we worked with our colleagues across the system. We called anaesthesiology, we called our surgeons, "What can we do to switch things out?" We went to old school in the ORs. We went to gas.
Again, we had this collaborative agreement and people rising to the occasion and people wanting to do their best, people wanting to help out. We were fortunately able to mitigate some of the challenges other hospitals in the East Coast saw. We had enough propofol, we were able to run our ventilators. Earl Fulcher and the group in Respiratory Therapy did some incredible things in learning how to daisy chain respirators together. We were fortunately able to take care of our patients.
But my wife was pregnant, I wasn't around. The pandemic is inching on and she's slowing down. We are fortunate that her father was able to come out and help us out. So due date's in July, my father-in-law Mike, who's here tonight, was able to come out and help us out, starting in the middle of May.
We were very fortunate having him around because he realised that with two kids or a son-in-law and a daughter in healthcare, they're not resting, so he helped us out with our now five-year-old, and helped us keep down the fort at home. Again, we both, my wife and I were struggling with our priorities. She should have been taken care of herself, I should have been taking care of her, but we were not.
July comes, we have a beautiful baby girl. She is my everything. I'm just blown away, and I know many of you guys have seen her on Zoom calls, and the infamous vomiting on me and many calls has been well-documented.
But she is absolutely incredible. But I look back at the pandemic and I realised I missed out on a lot. So we get through the summer, and again, I was planning on taking my paternity leave a little bit later. So we had plenty of family in town to help out. Appropriately of course, they all quarantine in a hotel for a week before they moved in with us. Rotating grandparents. It was great.
So my wife had support at home, I was able to focus on stuff at the hospital, and then I was planning to use my paternity leave going into late October, early November. I note as many of you guys know, I have a sister that works in healthcare as well, she's at the FDA. She was on Operation Warp Speed. So my parents are kind of floored going, "Oh wow, my daughter is working on the vaccine, my son is working on giving the vaccine." If you know Indian parents, they're never proud, but they were kind of proud for that for a second.
They didn't really say it, but you saw that nod, so we felt some validation with that.
We moved through... My wife goes back to work, I started taking some time out to be home with the baby, and I'm loving it. We're calling in a decent amount, but then I get a dreaded phone call. So as I'm planning for the vaccines, planning for the monoclonal clinics down at South Jordan, I get a dreaded phone call, I remember it was about 6 o'clock in the morning, and my mum's calling. My mum never calls. Never calls at 6 o'clock in the morning either.
It's not my mum, it's a physician. My dad, he had to have a test for him, his test was actually going to the cath lab, he didn't tell any of his kids about it. He had four blockages, he needed to have quadruple bypass. And so I'm like, "I gotta get home." So fortunate Mike, my father-in-law comes to the rescue again. I call him like, "How how fast can you get out to Utah?" He takes the next flight out, helps us out.
I fly back home to Ohio and with my dad, and the Indian part of me, the Hindu part of me comes out going, "Oh man, is this gonna be karma and dharma and the circle of life all coming together at once, where I gain a beautiful daughter and lose my father?" I don't know. Fortunately it didn't happen that way. I was with my father, he got the surgery, it went well, he's doing great now.
But I realised when I was there with him, I wasn't really there. I was focusing on, "How do I roll out a mass vaccination clinic? How do I roll out a monoclonal infusion clinic?" I wasn't there with him, I was missing out on the time with him. I was freaking out that, on the flight there to be with him, but when I was there with him I was not cherishing the moment, 'cause it could have been the last time I saw him.
He gets home after a couple of days. I did share with some of our hospital leaders that my dad was in and out with a quadruple bypass in five days, so we have some work to do in regards to our turnaround time at the hospital.
Again, he was at a... He was in an academic center, so it was... I'll leave that alone.
So dad gets home, I hand him off to my sister who then relieves me so I can get back to Utah. All I remember is hugging my dad really tightly going, "Wow, that was close." I get back on the flight, fly back home, hug the kids pretty tight that night when I get home, but I go back to work. I don't even think about taking my paternity leave. I put it on pause, going, "This is not my priority right now." So I was wrong.
We get through the initial stages of the infusion clinic. I think when the monoclonal got approved, I think we did our first confusion within 72 hours of getting approved, so we're pretty proud about that, we're able to keep those patients out of the hospital. Very quickly pivot from that to working back on the vaccines.
Again, myself, Dr. [1:02:26.6] ____ and a number of us have been planning for this for months, so we knew it coming, we just didn't know the exact date. We had, I think eight or nine plans, I can't remember, I presented to our leadership going, "Well, if we have it come on this day, we'll go here. If we have come on this day, we'll go here." It came on the worst day possible, so we had to do it in a tent in the middle of the back of the ED, in a snow storm.
But we pulled it off. I have a sense of pride in doing that, but then realising my friends and colleagues who've been fighting this for months, this is their hope. What can I do to help them? So a handful, it's myself, Russell Finley, [1:03:02.5] ____ and others, we poured everything we possibly could into that clinic, we never left.
So from December 14th through probably about the middle of February, I don't recall leaving. I was there five or six days a week from open to close. I don't know what my job was at that point in time, but I knew I had to be in the clinic. So I missed out on things. I was prioritising our patients over everything else.
My wife, she's a trooper, many of you guys know her, she did everything at home, with the little kids, at that time a four and a half year old and a daughter was at that time to six to seven months. A lot on her plate without any help in the middle of winter. I would leave before the kids would wake up, I come home after the kids come to sleep. She asked the only thing I do is that I'd strip the dirty clothes, leave them in the hamper, and that I'd take [1:03:53.2] ____ with the little girl, 'cause she was still getting a bottle in the middle of the night. That's not a problem. Happy to do that. I have no problem falling back to sleep.
During the pandemic I realised I hadn't shaved in a while. The beard's a bit gruffer than it is right now. So one morning, I thought it would be a good idea to shave off my beard, so I did. That night when I got home, again my wife hadn't seen me, my kids hadn't seen me, 3 o'clock in the morning, the little girl wakes up. I get the bottle, I go feed her. She doesn't stop crying, she's freaking out. She's losing her mind.
She's pawing at my face and just screaming at the top of her lungs. My wife comes running in going, "What is wrong with you? Can't you just give this kid a bottle?" She flips on the light going, "Oh my God. What did you do to yourself?"
She hadn't seen me clean shaven in quite some time. She's realised my daughter has never seen me clean shaven, and my daughter, well granted it was dark, she's feeling my face. She doesn't know this guy. And I realised, "Wow, as much as I'm trying to prioritise helping out my colleagues, my co-workers and trying to get back to whatever the new normal might be, I'm missing out on what's most important. My family. I'm not prioritising them. It doesn't matter how much I do for anybody else, if I can't take care of them, if not there for them, what good am I?
Went to the hospital next morning, and I was one of those moments, I had to tell my team like, "I need to tap out, I need help." And my team is like, "Yeah, we've been waiting for you to do is for months. Why haven't you asked for help?" Part of it was I knew how much they were getting killed, I didn't want them to get over-burdened. They're like, "No, no, no, we all wanna do this." And it made me realise what people do wanna help, people want to do inherently good things.
I look back at the vaccine clinics and I remember how many folks volunteered because they wanted to be there, they wanna be a part of it. They wanted to help out. Not because they were to get a vaccine, 'cause they just wanted to see something positive. I remember joking that you see the smiles underneath the masks, and it was really cool to see that, and my team wanted to experience that as well, and they also put me back in my place going, "You've got two little kids at home, you've got a wife at home. You can't always be here."
"As much as we wanna try to fight this pandemic and end it, it doesn't do any good if you're not gonna be there, if you're not gonna have them be around you at the end of it." So I really kind of forced me to grow up. At 42, I finally grew up. We get past the mass vaccination stages and we are looking to get more of a steady stage. At that time I realise, "Okay, I gotta make me serious changes."
And since then, there's been some ups and downs in my career, in personal lives, but I've learned that I've been able to kind of manage them better. Part of it is, is just recognising that the line between personal and professional is completely blurred. I've heard plenty of comments tonight about the Zoom calls, the family and dogs, etcetera, all jumping in there. Yeah, that's life.
I recognise as I round and check on my colleagues, really when I ask how they're doing, I really need to pay attention what they're saying. You hear about their stories, about their family, their spouse or partner, their children, their grandchildren. Listen to what's going on. That stuff is the only thing that really matters.
It makes them a better employee, makes them a better colleague and co-worker. If they're happy at home, they typically gonna be happy at work and vice versa. So really how do I focus more on that? I learned that for myself, just recognising I wasn't happy at work in the vaccine clinic, 'cause I was missing out on my kids, and when I was with my kids, I was missing... I felt guilty that I was missing on our work and not helping at the vaccine clinics. So really, how do you find that balance?
I haven't quite found it yet, but I'm working towards it, but recognise that I need to be happy in both places, and I gotta try to find them. So we moved past the vaccine stages and trying to get to this new steady state. As I mentioned, there have been ups and downs, some career changes for myself, and I've gotten to a better place where I can handle what's going on in life.
What I've learned from the pandemic looking back over the last two years, is expect the unexpected. People do wanna do good. More importantly, I gotta figure out my priorities, and I think I've got them better set now. And I know we talked about music before we came up here, and yes, my summer of '99 was awesome.
I got to see Bob Dylan and I'm a huge Dylan fan, I've seen him like 70 times, and Paul Simon in concert together, all along I-70, it was incredible. In addition, a lot of great opening acts along the way. But one of my favourite songs at all time is actually not one from folk singers, it's from an alternative band called Soul Asylum.
David Pirner had this great line in his song called, "The eyes of a child"] Said, "See the world through the eyes of a child. Big things seem smaller and old things seem new." Took my daughter in the middle of night screaming at me for having a shaved face to realise that I need to open my eyes, look at things differently. Thanks so much.
Devin Horton, Chief Hospitalist, Mountain West Medical Center
The beginning. The pandemic started for me in earnest on February 24th, 2020. I know the date because I took a screenshot of the New York Times alert that woke me up that morning, "Stock market drops as investors panic for the spreading Coronavirus." Before that, it had been kind of a background noise, like an Ebola outbreak in some far away land.
But in the next several weeks, as we all watched aghast, Italy and then New York going up in flames, we could feel the drum beat heading towards our door. My first shift after COVID finally hit Utah was in March of 2020. Quarantine was in effect, and my drive up to the hospital at 05:00 PM was as if through a post-apocalyptic movie or novel.
My neighbourhood of 9th and 9th usually bustling with activity in the coffee garden and the restaurants was empty. I waited a stop light on night south, watching the light cycle from red to yellow to green, me the only car on the road while the restaurants had "closed" signs. As I made my way through the University of Utah campus and the hospital parking lot, usually teaming with activity as people try to rush to get home, a ghost town. The hallways in the hospital were eerie.
When I first got there, I texted my partner, who had been on the new COVID team for a week now. I needed to learn how to put on the PPE. With the protective equipment, the mask, the air hoods and the gowns. I'd gone through the classes and seen the online activities and it was all kind of in a dazed motion, pushing buttons and being told where not to touch.
So I met Emily Signor in the hallway. Her and Natalie Como and Danny Babbel were three of these smart, brave doctors just six months out of residency, and they were the tip of the spear for us as the COVID came through our doors. So Emily walked me through where not to touch and how to go about putting all of this equipment, because it mattered now.
There's so much we didn't know. We knew that the virus was contagious, but we didn't know how contagious. We knew that there was refrigerated vans outside of hospitals in New York City. We knew that nurses and doctors had gotten sick and died. So I looked at her and said, "Okay, show me how to do this," and about an hour later, I got my first patient. COVID positive, low oxygen. Okay, let's do this.
I stood outside the room and my heart was beating, my hands trembling a little bit. I'm naturally a little bit clumsy and pretty distracted, and I just kept thinking to myself, "I'm gonna infect myself, I'm gonna get infected, I'm gonna infect myself." The night before I'd had nightmares, I was intubated and sick in the ICU, and my family was trying to get to my wife's home in Mexico City.
Not long after that, it hit close to home. Two of the partners in my group, two of the doctors, their parents got sick. The first partner, his dad came down with a fever and a cough, he was admitted to our hospital, to our hospital floor. We took care of him, to our ICU. And then came the day that he was just too sick and he needed to be intubated.
My partner, Ryan Murphy, who was so pragmatic and so stoic in all circumstances, knew his dad's age, knew how much oxygen he was on, and he gathered his family on FaceTime, for all rights and purposes to say goodbye. His dad survived, thank God. But my other partner's dad did not. He had to fly back East for the funeral, and while he was at the funeral, his grandpa fell ill and his grandpa died as well.
The quarantine set in, the lockdown set in and things got better in the hospitals, in fact, patients just, it was empty. And we kinda looked at each other awkwardly through our goggles and our masks and shrugged our shoulders like, "Is this gonna come?" But as spring turned to summer, and summer to fall, quarantine fatigue set in and people started to get sick.
Right around that time, me and some of my partners took over the inpatient medical service in a hospital in Tooele called Mountain West Medical Center, and there were many weeks that were terrible during that wave, but the first week stands out the most for me, the first bad week.
Our four little ICU beds were full, all with COVID, pneumonia. Two 37-year-olds, two 85-year-olds, all in absolute maximum amounts of oxygen. No ICU beds in the big medical centers were available, they're all full. And so I called around and finally I found a bed in Timpanogos with an intensive care doctor, and I told him about my four patients, and I could hear the fatigue on his end when he said, "We'll take one of the 37-year-olds, but we're not gonna take an 85-year-old. They're gonna come to our hospital, fill up our bed and they're gonna die anyways."
And as the 85-year-old got worse and started dying at our hospital, his daughter would stand outside the room day and night, and any time the oxygen would dip or he started working harder to breathe, she would follow to her knees and she would plead and pray and cry, sometimes in English and sometimes in Spanish.
And as the 37-year-old got worse, we knew that in order to transport him, we would need to intubate him. He was a giant of a man. A big Pacific Islander guy who had been a football star in high school. He had three beautiful kids at home and a wife, and every day we'd tell him, "You need to be intubated. We need intubate you. That's the next step."
And every day he'd just shake his head and say, "No, not today," until finally... Until finally, he became so sick and confused that he can no longer say no, and with consent from his family, we intubated him, and sent him on a... And his lungs were so sick and so fibrotic and stiff that the ventilator couldn't ventilate his lungs and his oxygen dropped and he went into shock and his knees turned blue and cold.
As we got him on the, we stabilised him and got him on the helicopter to the University of Utah medical ICU, where a wonderful colleague of mine, Beth Middleton took over his care. She was able to stabilise him for a couple of days, but his lungs were still too sick and he would need to be put on a lung bypass machine.
And the night before he was to be put on it, all his organs started to fail and he was too sick the next morning, and he passed away several days later. Those three kids with a mark on their lives forever. A GoFundMe link was forwarded to me several days or weeks later for his family. His picture of him, obviously not sick, with his three kids and his wife. He was known as the gentle giant in his community. And for the first time in the pandemic, I had tears in my eyes.
During that time, the country was ripping apart. There was toxic politics, there was tear gas in the streets of Washington D. C and Washington staff walking through 'em. Our African-American brothers and sisters were suffering so much after they watched one of their sons be suffocated for nine minutes. I started waking up at 03:00 and 04:00 in the morning and I couldn't sleep. I felt hollow.
There was just so much, I couldn't find the edges of everything to get my arms around. And there came a point when I was so sad from it all that I didn't wanna live anymore. I texted a friend one day when I was under a cloud of sadness, and I said, "Buddy, I'm not doing okay. I'm sad. I'm so so sad."
In the fall of 2021, the first wave had passed and Delta crashed. Delta was different. We were all different by then. My elderly had gotten vaccinated, and a lot of our at-risk folks have gotten vaccinated, and the illnesses were preventable, and the patients were mad, sometimes they were indignant. They would get angry at us when we talked to them about vaccines, they'd swear at us when we talked about intubation. They'd threaten to sue us. My sadness turned to anger and frustration, but there was still a lot of sadness.
Delta was ferocious. Whole families would be hospitalised. We had a 65-year-old who was admitted, who was intubated within hours of getting to the floor. Five hours later, his daughter was admitted and she was intubated. The daughter died and the father survived. I took care of another woman who her and her sister had both been admitted in the same week, and only one of 'em survived.
None of it made any sense. January 2022, Omicron crested. When, despite all we'd gone through the previous two years, it nearly broke us. The nurses had left, we were in a nursing shortage. Doctors and providers were working extra shifts because so many of us were sick with COVID at home.
Everyone was on edge. Everyone is irritable. And then it happened, the thing that my family had worried about the most, and that was having someone in our family get sick. I can't breathe. Or, "He can't breathe." My wife texted me, her younger brother, her younger brother, her closest sibling was sick, and they texted in the family text room, the CT scan of his lungs and they were awful.
We were scared we're gonna lose him. And... Excuse me. He FaceTimed us from his hospital bed that night. You could see he was working hard to breathe. You could hear the oxygen, the high flow oxygen blowing away in the room, and the whole family was FaceTiming him and we were saying our goodbyes. My wife's mum, his mum was just paralyzed with fear. Her youngest child was so sick.
It was so frustrating because here we couldn't give away vaccines, and there there is these massive shortages and they had to wait for months, and he had gotten his booster yet because he had to wait. And so he looked at his mum and he said, "Ma... "
"Drink water, Mum." Having been a part of this culture and their family for 10 years, this meant so much more than just, "Drink water." This was, "Mum, I see you, I see that you're suffering." When the family said this to each other, when the family usually says us to each other, it's with a concerned face and with eye contact, and it's when anyone has a headache or is tired or is having a bad day or... And they look at you and they say, "Drink water."
And it means, "I see you, I see that you're suffering, and I see that you're sick, and I love you and I wanna help you." And this is what he was saying to his mum. When I woke up the next morning, he was intubated. He'd gotten sick in the night, and my wife had stayed up all night.
And so while Omicron was raging through our hospital here, we walked around in kind of a daze, praying and hoping, as so many of our patients and families had done for the last two years. But he survived, and we're so grateful that he survived. I've changed through all of this. I think... I think we all have. I think I've changed for the better. Maybe that's a cliche way to end the story, but I think I am a better me.
Like water in a storm, it became very hard to see as the various layers of my life were thrown about in a swirly randomness, but as the sediment started to settle, the things that matter really began to separate out, and I can see now more clearly than I ever have been able to before. Thank you.
Aimee Vincent, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, U Health
You know, the old saying is, "they save the best for last". But I don't really think that's true right now. Can we give everyone else a round of applause real quick? They've been phenomenal.
They told me to dress comfortably, so my shoes are coming off.
Although I do have to revisit the "save the best for last". I am the fourth of four children, so I feel like my parents finally got it right. I don't know.
Anyways, my colleagues tonight have done wonderful things, and it's really hard to kinda summarise two years of a pandemic in a short period of time, so I'll do my best to do that. Do you guys remember a few decades ago when flip books were super popular? You could fan through pages and pages in a quick little glimpse, and it would show you the newest little story.
I was fascinated with them as a kid, I thought that they were really cool, and while the story was very quick, you would really think about how arduous it was to make all of those minute little changes. For me, in trying to summarise the pandemic, really little flip books of stories take shape for me, and that's how I wanted to proceed tonight.
Flip book one. "Fur babies". Just wait, it's good. [chuckle] So at the start of the pandemic, I was living alone in Holladay with my two brindle puppies, Kaya and Goose, and we've been there for a year. We had a solid routine, I'd wake up in the morning, take them for at least a mile of a walk, get back home, get showered, get dressed, go to work.
They would have the entire duplex to themselves, and it had a massive backyard, so they could get in and out by way of the doggy door off of the kitchen. I'd get back home from work, greet them, they're maniacs and so they would jump all over me. I'd get changed, we'd go for another walk about two or so miles, and then we'd come back home and settle in for the evening. It was a quiet, peaceful existence, and we'd been accustomed to it for over a year.
But you sprinkle a little global pandemic in the mix and things shift just a little bit. I know, it's weird. So what happened was, I'll be honest, and my family can attest, Kaya and Goose are kind of crazy, they're dogs, they like to bark. And never in the year prior had I ever had any complaints or any issues from the next door neighbours, nothing.
Okay, so pandemic hits and it got crazy. The people who lived in the duplex prior to me also had dogs, and one day I get a frantic phone call from one of the girls and they said, "We just got this crazy message. It's a lady who's totally threatening our dogs' lives. We're really unnerved. But we now live in New York and our dogs are older and they don't really bark, so we're thinking maybe it's for Kaya and Goose."
I was like, "What?" And they said, "We're gonna forward this to you, but probably don't listen to it." Something about a lady threatening the life of my dogs if they didn't stop barking, and it kind of turned me on my head. Because I see my puppies as my babies, and so I didn't want anything to happen to them.
Well, the lady didn't stop at just the voicemail. She then wrote a letter, put it in an envelope addressed to "neglectful dog owner", and she walked all the way up to my front door, 'cause my mailbox was right next to my door, and she put it in the mailbox. So I got home from work one day and I open this letter and read this letter about, "I'm gonna kill your dogs if they don't stop barking," and I'm like, "That's not cool."
So I went to the extent of talking to my friends in law enforcement and saying, "What do I do with this?" I called the police and without knowing who she was, they couldn't really do anything about it, but they documented it in case I came home and found them dead in the backyard. So, super cool. Made me feel at ease, clearly.
But I had these dueling dichotomous feelings. I'm a social worker at the hospital, and for me, I was trying to kind of find some compassion, and so I thought, "Well, you know, this lady's probably lived here. She's probably heard them bark before. What could change... What could have changed? COVID."
So I thought, "Well, maybe she is in isolation, maybe she's furloughed, maybe she's home by herself and she's just going stir crazy," so I tried to have that compassionate side of me, but then at the same time, like ultra protective, considered buying surveillance cameras, just in case anything happened. But my best friend Katie, said, "You know what? Bring the dogs to my house in Herriman, we'll take care of 'em, we'll protect 'em. Nothing's gonna happen." So that's what we did. So I would see my dogs when I'd go to their house.
Okay, flip book two. "It's not a vacation. It's an alternative education." So Katie and her kids, just prior to the pandemic, had gone through a massive life change. Imagine a snow globe with its whatever, snowman or picture in there that stays like it stayed in place, and you shake it and everything is just chaotic.
That's how I kind of saw things for them because they were going through this massive life change. Katie was going through a divorce after 20 years of marriage, and that was chaotic in and of itself. She also has five children who at the time were ranging in age from seven to 19.
And so their dad left the house at the beginning of March, and each kid had their own process and their own feeling and their own emotions about him not being there. So they were all kind of mixed up. And then COVID came. It hit not long after. So now Katie's a single mother with five kids at home, four of whom were still in school, and school and society really shut down initially, if you recall, and then school was like, "No, no, we're gonna survive this. We got this. We're going online."
I don't know about you guys, but I wasn't trained as a teacher, Katie wasn't... Well, Katie was trained as a teacher. [chuckle] But most parents were not prepared for the online format. So now a single mother of five kids at home needing to homeschool and still work and pay the bills, it was a little much. She asked her ex at the time if he would come over and help homeschool the kids, he didn't want anything to do with that. So she wasn't gonna be able to do it on our own. I don't know many people that could at that point.
So at the beginning of COVID, when we weren't quite sure what kind of personal health destruction was going to ensue, I for the first time in my life was able to work from home as a social worker, and so I had six weeks that I was able to work from home. So I would work shifts, sleep, homeschool kids. Katie would work shifts, sleep, homeschool kids.
So we tag teamed like that for the rest of the school year. We had many a "come to Jesus" conversation because the kids kind of thought that they were off the hook for school, but they weren't. So, many "come to Jesus" conversations later in a few months, and we got through it all, and I promise you all five kids are still alive to this day.
Alright, flip book three. "Is this really how it ends?" So much of the beginning was unknown about COVID-19, how it impact your body system, what long-term effects it would have, who would be most vulnerable, and when the exact moment of infection and your immune system would tag team up on you and make you its next victim.
So it was a very scary time, and for someone like me who's had an autoimmune disease for nearly 20 years, felt like a looming black cloud that was following me around, and I wasn't sure when it was gonna hit me. Being in the house and home schooling five kids, any of you who have children know that sometimes they just bring germs home. They're kind, they just gather germs from their friends and bring them home. So my risk of contracting COVID-19 was exponentially increased.
Eventually, on May 1st, my six weeks of working from home terminated and I was back at the hospital, and man, what a weird experience. Like many of my colleagues have said tonight, there was no visitors, nobody was allowed in the halls. Starbucks, which is one of the busiest in the state, totally quiet and totally chill, no chairs, no tables, no nothing.
It was a bizarre thing, you felt like you're walking into a petri dish of COVID and you weren't really sure what was gonna happen, or if you were gonna get some of the germs and take them home to your people and infect them and all of that. So public transportation for me wasn't, didn't feel safe.
So I'd drive to work every day, I would take a change of clothes. At the end of my work day, I would change into that and be super cautious not to touch anything, and then get my car and go back home. I was grateful that I still had a job and that I wasn't furloughed, but at the same time, it was incredibly scary not to know what could or couldn't happen just by being in the workforce.
Flip book four. "Did you just cough at me?"
With society's reopening came considerable judgment, and kind of an "us versus them" thing. Utah unfortunately made national news or international news when a woman in Southern Utah said that wearing a mask made it is hard for her to breathe as George Floyd when the officer kneeled on his neck. Not the way we wanna make news, but that's okay.
The virus then became political, and it further divided a nation that was already deeply wounded. Instead of showing compassion, camaraderie, we started judging everyone. Someone coughing or sneezing near you felt like a personal attack. We joked when that would happen and say, "Did you just threaten me?" And let's be honest, it's still kind of funny, but also, it also illuminates how fearful and self-preserving we can be as a society.
For me, the facade of humanity fell and defensiveness gradually became normal, and I'm not sure how we get back to a place of camaraderie and compassion, but I hope that at some point we will.
Flip book five. "The strongest among us." In the household there was Katie, me, Katie's mum and five kids, and out of all of us, Katie by far had the strongest immune system. Her oldest, who's now 21, has some asthma issues and has a diminished immune system at baseline. Her mum also has some health issues and age, advanced age was always a factor at the beginning of the pandemic and throughout, so we were really scared about either of them getting sick.
And then you have me. I have had an autoimmune disease for nearly 20 years, and I like to say that I've got a princess immune system, because if I don't get a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night, I get sick. I know what you're thinking, you're thinking, "Oh man, that's so great, I can't believe you have to get seven hours of sleep at night." It sounds glamorous, I know. Try not to be too jealous.
Because it basically feels like I'm an 88-year-old person in a 38-year-old body, and I really have to protect myself. And pre-COVID, as we now measure time, a common cold would knock me out, like so hard. So for me, I was also intensely terrified that I would get sick with COVID, and if I did, forget about it. If that virus even so much as linked at me from across the room, like be laid up in a hospital bed and comatose and ventilated. It would not be a good scene. So the family was all rallying around to be super protective and protect the three of us that had diminished immune systems.
Well Katie, with the strongest immune system comes home from work one day and she said, "You know, I don't feel that good, I've got a tickle in my throat. I'm congested. I can't taste or smell anything." I was like, "Whoa, hold on. Ever since I was a kid, anytime I got sick, I can't taste or smell anything." And she said, "Well, that's not ever how it's been for me."
So she was adamant that she wear a mask around the house and socially distance from us at all times, and I kinda teased her about it, but surprise, surprise, she was right and she got the COVID positive test that came back. So now we're all in a panic, worried that everyone in the house could get sick. She's isolated in a room at the front of the house that opens to the front yard.
The best we could tell is that it was five minutes chatting with a friend, still socially distanced, still following precautions, but still got sick. So it was during her 10-day isolation that I saw the full impact that COVID could have on the psyche. She was super strong, super valiant, super cautious for the first couple of days and handled it really well. Very impressively well, in fact.
But then she started to... That loneliness and isolation kinda started to get to her, she started to get stir crazy. She would Lysol everything in the room, she would Lysol when she'd go to the bathroom. We would take plates of food to the door, leave it for her, both masked on both sides. When she was done, we'd go and take it and wash our hands, wash the dishes, all the things.
It was hard for me because I wanted to help and I wanted to fix the emotional pain that she had, and I couldn't, and some of that emotional pain was her own fear that she had exposed me and her mum and her oldest. We did our best, I wanted to do anything that I could to help and make her isolation even just a little bit better, so we would read bedtime stories outside of the door, we'd FaceTime several times a day. It just wasn't... It wasn't enough. It was too overwhelming for her.
So one day I went to the front of the house where the room opened up to, and she didn't know I was out there. I grabbed a few pieces of mulch from the flower beds and I started just tick, tick, tick on the window, and she had no idea what was going on, she's looking around in the room, what's going on.
Finally she realises it's coming from the window, and she comes to the window with the biggest smile I'd seen since she went into isolation. So we spent the rest of the time being able to be unmasked from opposite sides of a window, and it made things a little bit easier.
Flip-book six. "COVID can't stop love". From the moment I met Katie six years ago, I was drawn to her. She's charismatic, she's brilliant, she's funny, and she's a ridiculously long list of other amazing qualities. I always teased her that she could perhaps be a lesbian and she was like, "No, no, no, no, I'm not. It's not a thing, it's not a thing." And I was like, "Okay, cool." So the years go by.
I love that journey for you.
As the years go by, we go from casual acquaintance to friends, to obviously quarantine together and homeschooling kids, and then we started dating. We got engaged and we got married on August 21st 2021.
Thank you, thank you. I feel a little bit like Hitched. You guys remember that movie where he sets people up? I just set myself up, so follow me for more dating tips. You're welcome.
Flip book seven. "Lessons learned." COVID's still here. It still impacts us all. I wish I could tell you when it would end or lessen its impact, but some of these things are long-lasting. As you've heard from the other presenters, we lost a lot of lives, and that's not new information, but it's intensely personal.
I don't know when things are gonna go back to normal, I don't know when we won't have to be masked at the hospital anymore. COVID is not biased about the people that it infects. Mask, no mask. Precautions, no precautions. Social distancing, no social distancing. It just infects people.
That's the thing about viruses like this, is that you're contagious before you're symptomatic, so at any moment, any one of us could have symptoms, have illness and not know it, and give it to someone else. It may sound tragic and sad that that's how this virus works, but in a way, it kinda makes it easier to bear. Because for me, COVID doesn't pick political sides, it's not racist, and it is relentless against everyone. In that way, it makes me feel a little more unified with my fellow humans, and that's all I can hold onto as it continues to evolve.
My will is stronger, my tribe is stronger now with a wife, five kids, four dogs, and a mother-in-law. [chuckle] It's fine, don't worry about it.
And I can't be sure that I'd have them if it wasn't for the chaos and isolation of COVID. Out of all the tragedy, uncertainty, fear and sadness, there can still be peace and comfort and unconditional love. Just like trees have to lose their leaves and hibernate before their spring comes, we all have hardships that can turn into beauty if we'll just allow it. Thank you.