10 Questions, COVID Edition: There is No Emergency in a Pandemic

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

I imagine myself looking back at this blog post years from now and wanting to get some answers from 2020 Shelly. 

Before you jump into this post, I want to caveat that I am not a doctor, not a scientist and not any medical expert. I'm just someone who got super deep into learning about COVID-19 out of necessity and personal sanity. Please don't take all these answers as fact, and do some more research for yourself.

That said, here are 10 questions that I might ask myself and the answers as it stands in September 2020, 6 months into COVID life:

1. What does "There is No Emergency in a Pandemic" mean?

It is a mantra that was adopted by doctors and nurses dealing with Ebola in 2013. As Eloba patients experienced internal bleeding, they might vomit or cough blood. In "normal" times, this would be considered an emergency. The gut reaction would be to rush in to help.

It is in a doctor's DNA and training to rush into that situation and help the patient. But because Ebola is transmitted among humans through close and direct physical contact with infected bodily fluids (i.e. blood or vomit), it was critical that doctors paused to think and make sure they had the adequate protection before rushing into what is normally considered an emergency. The photo above is the amount of gear a doctor should wear to be safe for Ebola.

When J explained this to me, the mantra really resonated with me. I think that "There is no emergency in a pandemic" is a good mantra for life, and especially in the dumpster fire that's known as 2020. You know that when a plane is crashing, it's important to put on your oxygen mask before you help anyone else. The same goes for everything else in life.

Further, I think it's a good reminder for me. I have a tendency to jump into action immediately. But in 2020, I'm trying to taking a moment to think through what's happening and spend time formulating a logical game plan and response before jumping into the deep end. 

As Dr. Viktor Frankl famously said:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

2. How did COVID-19 become a global pandemic?

When Ebola was happening, it was just a bleep on most people's radars. It was most contained in Africa and what you can't see or know about can't hurt you. So how is COVID different and how has it caused a global pandemic?

The main difference between COVID-19 and Ebola is how quickly the symptoms shows up in a person, how visible those symptoms are, and the duration of how long someone's infectious. From what I understand, Ebola is a very deadly virus that made it very clear to the person who was infected that they are sick -- I mean, you're bleeding internally so that's scary AF.

If you are sick, you will likely stay put and therefore limiting who else you're infecting. This limits how quickly and how far the virus can get. 

On the other hand, COVID-19 is an extremely "lightweight" virus at the beginning. The symptoms can take up to a week to show up. At the beginning, you might just have a light cough or feel typical symptoms of a flu. The worst part? A ton of people are asymptomatic and can spread the virus unknowingly. This is the story of how and why COVID-19 has caused a global pandemic. A ton of people just spreading this virus around from continent to continent unknowingly at the beginning.

3. When did you first hear about COVID-19?

The timelines are a bit blurry. But here's how I remember it:

Christmas 2019: Brother and Sis-in-law from Shanghai visited us, COVID-19 was not a known problem at the time. In fact, I got super sick during NYE, the worse flu that I've ever gotten in my life where I slept for 72 hours straight. Flu season at that time was intense and many friends were sick from it. We have speculated since then if we had COVID, but it's unlikely. ;)

Lunar New Year 2020 (Saturday, January 25): Brother and SIL went to Europe for vacation for Lunar New Year, left a few days before. I think they left around Jan 21, and by Jan 23, Wuhan was in state of lockdown. Because my brother lives in Shanghai, we had first-hand visibility into the state of China during this time and paid really close attention to what was unfolding because we were worried for their safety. Brother ended up staying in Europe for 6 weeks because it was safer to be in Europe at that time.

4. When did COVID-19 start impacting your life?

Jan 28: I went to Austin for work. I was mildy concerned about COVID-19 and I had "small talk" conversations with coworkers about what was happening in China since not everyone is obsessively paying attention to how the virus was progressing.


Feb 25: A month passes, and around this time, the community spread cases started to pick up in Oregon. We knew we were headed to Disneyland a few days after, so we decided to stock up on enough food in case things started to get hectic like it did in China. (It did get hectic, but we stocked up way before people got nervous.)


Mar 6: I flew to Palm Springs for a bachelorette. By then, I was already obsessively using hand sanitizer when I was around others and made sure to wipe down all surfaces on a plane. TP was being hoarded because we went to Costco in Palm Springs and joked that there still had TP for sale there.

This trip is likely the last time in 2020 when I'm not thinking about if I should wear a mask around others in an enclosed space. We spent some time talking about if a friend who recently came back from Japan should be on this trip (at the time, Japan was a Level 2 or 3 coronavirus outbreak destination). I think most of us assumed it should be okay, she stayed at the bachelorette.

This was the moment when I realized how serious COVID-19 was going to impact us. I told J about the the Japan incident and he told me that we should probably socially distance in the house for now (read: no hug, kiss, or sleeping in the same bed) so I don't accidentally infect him. He was very worried that I could have gotten COVID from the friend who came back from Japan, and that I could give it to him and he could bring it to the hospital.

All of us were starting to have the internal and external dialogue of understanding our own risk tolerance for COVID and how we should behave. Typically, I would have a high risk tolerance for something like this, but because J is a doctor, he's really instilled more "safety first" perspective in me. ;)

5. What do you want to remember the most from the first weeks of when COVID took a serious turn?

The month between Sunday March 8 (when I got back from Palm Springs) to early April felt completely out of this world. There were three main things that was top of mind:

1) J's personal safety at work
2) Our fight for PPE
3) Concerns over if the general public is going to do their part in "flattening the curve"

Looking back, what's the most interesting about these few things is witnessing the exponential growth and adoption of new ideas and practices. It's been fascinating to see how quickly or slowly groups of people adopt new beliefs. There's also a factor of people becoming used to or numb to something and it becoming the new normal.

6. Thoughts on J's personal safety at work?

Back in March, the stat we knew coming out of Wuhan was "3,400 Chinese healthcare workers have gotten the coronavirus, and 13 have died." So the question that J and I really had to struggle with was, are we going to let J die for this? Our answer, no, absolutely not. But what was he going to do? Quit his job? There were so many questions and things we were thinking through, but we knew we needed to protect J at all cost.

Yes, at the time of writing this, we know that cases for death from COVID-19 is probably pretty unlikely for someone like J. However, there's a LOT of unknown lifelong health implications from getting COVID. We're still learning so much about this virus right now 6 months later. We know that SARS has life long impact on those who had it as well. None of this is ideal. 

So, we decided immediately that we weren't going to let J get COVID. But what we were going to do? We decided to learn as much as possible from doctors in China and Italy who already fought COVID (this was before NYC became such a hot spot). We were so lucky to be connected to two anesthesiologists at Wuhan Union Hospital (Dr. Yao and Dr. Ling) who shared their COVID-19 experience and best practices with us. Both were responsible for writing and implementing new coronavirus prevention and control measures for their group. 

We learned that after they implemented new protective equipment protocols for medical staff, there were NO more new infected cases among medical staff. That's when we realized the importance of PPE in protecting J, all we had to do was convince his hospital to adopt these best practices from China.

7. Thoughts on our fight for PPE?

In my previous post, I wrote about our GoFundMe campaign. I think I can probably write a very long post here about how angry I feel about the situation surrounding this and how difficult it was to both change the minds of those working at J's hospital, as well as how difficult it was to get access to PPE. But I don't think that will be very satisfying or productive for me to rant more about this. In this situation, I choose to be grateful. So here are some things I'm super grateful for:
  • I'm grateful that my team at work let me take a week off from March 16-20 off to help J figure out how he was going to organize himself at work.
  • I'm grateful that work wasn't busy for J during the weeks of March, and so he had the vacation days stored up to take that time off to also help himself figure things out.
  • I'm so grateful for our friends and family who supported us: daily calls with our lawyers, our support system from China who helped connect us to doctors in Wuhan and got us our first supply of PPE, people who sent us the limited PPE from their home, everyone who contributed in any way to our GoFundMe campaign, our Chicago angels who tested and sourced reputable N95s for us to purchase, and so many other folks who were there for us.
  • I'm grateful for the few sane people at J's work who helped keep us going and so we didn't feel like we were alone in this.
  • I'm grateful for the doctors and nurses who put their lives on the line each day despite clear lack of support from the system they work for.
I think the biggest learning here is that when times are really crazy, it's the personal connections that really help you through it. I've never been more grateful for the community that we have around us.

8. Thoughts on Flattening the Curve?

The situation is clearly still in flux, but America's clearly done a terrible job of controlling COVID-19. 

Here's a few positive things I want to remember: 

Mar 11: Tech companies quickly making the decision to make mandatory WFH for employees. Google did this on March 11 which was only a few days after I came back from Palm Springs. FB did it faster, and apparently LinkedIn had decided to have WFH until April 21 (which was considered a long time when WFH orders started!).

Mar 16: Bay Area orders "Shelter in Place". We were the first to do it in California, and this really helped reduce the numbers in the beginning of this. This helped with our mental sanity a LOT to know that we were controlling the number of cases active, and therefore directly impacting J at work.

Here's a few things where we really messed up:
  • The beginning of COVID we didn't have testing set up to control spread. This was 100% the fault of the government who wanted to develop their own tests (that failed).
  • Our complete misalignment on if we should wear masks. It's ridiculous how this is a conspiracy when it's taken as fact in most Asian countries that had to deal with SARS 10 years ago.
  • Our inability to act as a United States of America. Everyone doing their own individualistic thing vs acting together as a collective whole and squashing this altogether.
I'll stop here. 

9. How tired are you of COVID? 

Honestly, I'm generally doing okay. The last few years (post moving away from Extrovert City aka NYC), I've really leaned into my introversion. I have a lot of ways of entertaining myself at home and new hobbies that I've been meaning to do.

I'm lucky to work in tech and still have a job. I'm also lucky to not have kids to take care of right now. All in all, things could be worse. Obviously, it would be nice if COVID just went away, but I'm just going to lean in to finishing off my 20 goals by 2020 list and pray that no other disasters happen this year. There is going to be an end date to this eventually and just knowing that has kept me moving along.

That's just me this week on vacation writing this. Ask me again when I'm on VC calls all day long and void of actual human contact and interactions. :) 

10. What do you want to say to your future self?

Shelly in the future, I hope that you're reading this post and feel proud of the way that you've shown up during these challenging times. Just remember that there is no emergency in a pandemic and to always put on your own oxygen mask first. ;)

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