Not Getting Easier, As It Is Supposed To Be
Thoughts from an Austinite Born in Wuhan - Epicenter of the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak
One year ago, I moved to Austin, TX. I immediately fell in love with it all: gorgeous, year-round sunshine; new hobbies, friends, and community; new perspectives. In this environment, I have deeply explored my personal and professional aspirations. Life was good. This marks my one-year anniversary in Austin. January 2020 - the continuation of a dream; and beginning of a new decade utopia.
Or so I thought. Here’s the actual start to the decade. January 2020 - nearly 8,000 miles away, the novel coronavirus outbreak began. Right in Wuhan - My Birthplace. My Home.
It’s a metropolis comprised of 19 million people and has been locked down since Jan 23rd. Wow. I was born and lived in that city until I matriculated at Peking University - which was right after the SARS outbreak. Maybe that’s what invigorated my interest in viral studies. I then worked both in the field and research on HIV/AIDS and Ebola-related projects for CNN, CDC China, and CDC Atlanta. I studied infectious disease mathematical modeling in graduate schools, received specialized training in health and humanitarian supply chain management, and worked for the biggest supply chain operations in North America.
As the outbreak progresses I’m having the longest week in my life, and absolutely overwhelmed. It’s a fusion of my past: I’m from Wuhan, and was passionate about all things related to health. Combine that with today, where I’m maniacally staying tuned in on the coronavirus, and CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) live news conferences. As I became aware of this emotional roller coaster I’ve been riding on, I realized all my previous knowledge and experiences in public health do not make this one easier to digest. No matter what, head knowledge cannot blunt the incessant pain I am feeling.
Every knowing crushes my limit of bearing. Imagine today, your best friend perishes, and their family perishes. That is something I am enduring this very second. I’m also wary and weary of the constant chat streams with my dear Wuhan friends, panicking over the shortages of protective gear. This pandemic is unprecedented and is getting worse.
And it’s all happening - at my “home.”
It seems that all my knowledge and experiences in infectious disease, public health, and supply chain logistics are irrelevant to the very situation: how can we care for patients and allocate resources during a massive outbreak? Will there be a solution? What’s the cost? How feasible is the execution? Is there even a point to figure out? I feel completely defeated, because of the huge delta between my knowledge of what could be done versus what is being done. I know about the Serenity Prayer, but it’s way more difficult to implement when it’s happening to you.
I started reflecting more. Some self-rambling (below) led me to a personal epiphany:
I thought about a conversation around America’s readiness for infectious diseases in a healthcare design workshop at Georgia Tech several years back, that with the capacity to isolate and care 11 patients in four specialized bio-containment units if an outbreak of Ebola or similar infectious virus were to happen on American soil we’d unlikely be able to manage. I asked myself similar questions: if the future looks so dire, what are we, a roomful of architects, scientists, and engineers, trying to achieve here?
The very comment during that discussion popped up in my mind: diseases we are striving to treat now used to belong to the graveyard in the past. That’s it:
We are continuously learning and challenging our knowledge and practice boundaries, and therefore the job will not and should not get easier. Every struggle on the brink of life and death today will be a valuable learning and assured victory tomorrow. This is my hope and faith.
Experiencing diseases, whether on the front line as a patient, family, care provider, is not getting easier and should not be, because we are fighting new battles that would have stopped us before. My commitment is to only let the pain and chaos challenge my compassion and intellectual exploration, that I will not cease searching for better solutions to serve more lives.
Let my path be lightened by this vision, let time be my friend, and let the tempest come strike harder.
While I am feeling pain, I also believe in resilience and strength. The past seven days have been overwhelmingly powerful. I’ve chosen to grow and thrive on it, and I know its power will sustain my future endeavors.
A friend told me whenever she hears or sees an ambulance, she says a prayer, and I've admired her compassion to people and situations unknown to her. I would ask you, my friends, too, to extend your thoughts and prayer to Wuhan and the outbreak at the other side of the globe. Having worked in public health and supply chain, I deeply understand the difficulties and believe all experience and knowledge gained in China now will serve the bigger us in the future. Often through difficulties like this people bond and seek answers to big questions. For my beloved hometown, I'm hoping for one epic fight with the disease and millions of marvelous journeys to hope and faith.
During this Difficult Time: Gratitude
My family I often practices a gratitude exercise, and I’d like to try it during a difficult moment as now. The idea is to list items we are grateful for with details to bring the thought or experience to live. Below is my list on this last day of January 2020:
- I am grateful how the past week has humbled me, that there is so much to learn and explore fighting infectious diseases. I respect every individual striving on the front - line, in chaos and lack of necessities they have exhausted available resources and gone beyond physical and mental limits, and yet still not given up. It is human to feel fear, confusion, pain, and loss; it is also human to choose hope and faith.
- I am grateful to be able to accompany the city the best way I can. I no longer feel consumed by information. I am thankful reliable data and research are becoming available, so I can ground my mind and thoughts on. I am thankful friends and families share their venerable moments, so I have a chance to be empathetic. I am no longer vulnerable or defenseless to difficult news because I feel a momentum of defeating and moving on.
- I am grateful for your time. Among all the things you need to attend to you have been here and now. We may have not talked for a very long time and you just learned about my sleepless past seven days. I hope you see my strength behind tears and commitment to making a difference. I hope something resonates with you.
The Song of the Stormy Petrel
Up above the sea's grey flatland, wind is gathering the clouds. In between the sea and clouds proudly soaring the Petrel, reminiscent of black lightning.
Glancing a wave with his wingtip, like an arrow dashing cloudward, he cries out and the clouds hear his joy in the bird's cry of courage.
In this cry -- thirst for the tempest! Wrathful power, flame of passion, certainty of being victorious the clouds hear in that bird's cry.
Seagulls groan before the tempest, - groan, and race above the sea, and on its bottom they are ready to hide their fear of the storm.
And the loons are also groaning, - they, the loons, they cannot access the delight of life in battle: the noise of the clashes scares them.
The dumb penguin shyly hiding his fat body in the crevice . . . It is only the proud Petrel who soars ever bold and freely over the sea grey with sea foam!
Ever darker, clouds descending ever lower over the sea, and the waves are singing, racing to the sky to meet the thunder.
Thunder sounds. In foamy anger the waves groan, with wind in conflict. Now the wind firmly embraces flocks of waves and sends them crashing on the cliffs in wild fury, smashing into dust and seaspray all these mountains of emerald.
And the Petrel soars with warcries, reminiscent of black lightning, like an arrow piercing the clouds, with his wing rips foam from the waves.
So he dashes, like a demon, - proud, black demon of the tempest, - and he's laughing and he's weeping . . . it is at the clouds he's laughing, it is with his joy he's weeping!
In the fury of the thunder, the wise demon hears its weakness, and he's certain that the clouds will not hide the sun - won't hide it!
The wind howls . . . the thunder rolls . . .
Like a blue flame, flocks of clouds blaze up above the sea's abyss. The sea catches bolts of lightning drowning them beneath its waters. Just like serpents made of fire, they weave in the water, fading, the reflections of this lightning.
Tempest! Soon will strike the tempest!
That is the courageous Petrel proudly soaring in the lightning over the sea's roar of fury; cries of victory the prophet:
Let the tempest come strike harder!