Behind the Hustle
Stories worth telling.
Stories worth telling.
FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES
They say that seeing is believing, and in the age of a global pandemic, that cliché rings truer than ever before. People are dying at alarming rates, and it’s no longer some intangible person on the other side of the globe. It’s our parents. Our grandparents. The nurse who lives next door. Our children’s teacher. And it’s all unfolding right before our eyes. For the first time in most of our lives, we find ourselves situated within a collective struggle that leaves no person unaffected. There are 7.8 billion humans on earth, and not one of us–rich or poor, healthy or sick–can guarantee what the end result will be when this is all “over.” Together, we are navigating through unprecedented times (yes… I never want to hear the word “unprecedented” again, either, but it seems to be the only halfway accurate description of the world we live in today). There’s something oddly comradery-creating, about not having an answer and knowing that no one else really does, either. The saying “we are building the plane while we’re flying it” is the only other parallel for this pandemic that I’m satisfied with, and the most important part of that metaphor is the word “we.”
A CIVIC IMMUNE RESPONSE
The time to write this has come to me, as many things have within the last year, exactly when it was supposed to (although I can seldom understand the reason for such timing until much later). A few days ago, I listened to a podcast about the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964. Near the end of the segment, the storyteller begins to more broadly address disasters and the sociological impact that collective suffering has on each of us, and on society as a whole. He explains how the earthquake switched on a “kind of civic immune response” that drove communities together to accomplish a common good (in reference to a group of strangers working together to unearth a woman from fallen rubble, in this case). I love the idea of a “civic immune response” and the collective effort the term invokes. In the context of a pandemic, it seems even more appropriate to illustrate the need for individuals to cooperate just as the cells in our body do to attack a virus via the immune system. Yet, as with a human immune system, the civic variety isn’t perfect, either. It gets overworked. overwhelmed. Fatigued. It makes mistakes. And there are negative repercussions. In assessing the damages created by the pandemic, it’s easy to think of an increasingly divided United States as the most intense side effect–second only to the recent milestone of 500,000 American lives lost to the virus. But that’s not what this is about.
BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD
Tragedy has a way of revealing the worst–but also the best–parts of human nature. We have an inherent desire to take care of one another. It’s a deeply primal part of who we are, a defense mechanism to protect our species and strengthen our alliances. Spending two weeks in the Los Angeles area, working outside various healthcare facilities to set up field hospitals, I encountered so many situations that demonstrated the civic immune response discussed above. From the sheer number of volunteers that arrived to help, to the kindness of a single doctor, there seemed to be an unending supply of people who just wanted to do their part to make things better and spread goodness. Truthfully, it felt pretty bizarre to know I was in the COVID hotspot of the West Coast and yet, I was not surrounded by sadness. The sun shined as bright as the white N95 masks adorned by many of those eager volunteers. Pride and excitement hung in the air. We may not have directly alleviated the suffering of those admitted to the hospital that stood before us or comforted those who’d lost someone they love to COVID-19, but we found a sense of purpose–maybe even a sense of joy–in knowing our actions today could help someone tomorrow.
Truthfully, it felt pretty bizarre to know I was in the COVID hotspot of the West Coast and yet, I was not surrounded by sadness. The sun shined as bright as the white N95 masks adorned by many of those eager volunteers. Pride and excitement hung in the air. We may not have directly alleviated the suffering of those admitted to the hospital that stood before us or comforted those who’d lost someone they love to COVID-19, but we found a sense of purpose–maybe even a sense of joy–in knowing our actions today could help someone tomorrow.
PUTTING PLANS INTO ACTION
Orange County, California has been all over the news lately, and for good reason. As hospitals struggle to keep up with the demand for space and staff, COVID case numbers are only growing. The unimaginable scenario of patients being treated in hallways and parking lots has become a very grim reality. I saw one of these makeshift facilities in a parking garage outside of Los Alamitos Medical Center in early January. Despite being fully transformed into an emergency room, it was still a parking garage. As I made eye contact with a woman (who had to have been in her early 20s) hooked up to an oxygen machine, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How in the world did we get here?” Since then, Los Alamitos received a mobile field hospital to supplement their maxed-out emergency department. Orange County Health Agency and Orange County Emergency Management collaborated to bring in these reinforcements via my company’s rapid deployment shelters–ordered over the summer in preparation for the second wave. Fortunately, they had funding available to order a surplus of shelters and equipment in advance, as the scientific evidence suggested would be necessary. The science was right. The county began mobile field hospital distribution to its most overwhelmed hospitals in December 2020, starting with the University of Irvine Medical Center in Orange, California.
DOING HIS PART – AND THEN SOME
This is where we first encountered Dr. Victor C. Joe. It was the second to last day of our mobile hospital setup and we were making good progress with the help of volunteers from near and far. As I gave instruction for floor installation, I was approached by a man in scrubs who asked how he could contribute. It was Dr. Joe. Most of our volunteers were medical students, church groups, and people out of work, but I immediately recognized Dr. Joe as one of California’s front-line soldiers in its war against COVID-19. I later learned that he was a Board-certified General Surgeon specializing in trauma and burns but had been working outside his typical department to treat the ongoing influx of COVID-positive patients. He didn’t want any praise or special treatment though, as described by DLX Sales Ambassador Angela Chan: “Working alongside humble Victor, you would have never known he was a physician at the hospital. He was eager to help and was there every day of the build between his shifts.” He continued to participate in the setup on the final day, slyly asking what airlines we were flying home on and taking it upon himself to upgrade our seats to first class as a way of saying thank you to DLX team members for coming out to lead the shelter setup. As I sat in that seat on my way back to Oregon later the same evening, I thought of Dr. Joe and the kindness he showed us. I thought of the bravery and emotional tolerance it would take to work with burn victims and COVID patients. And I thought of how, despite having a job where he helps people every single day… he still wanted to do more.
Two weeks later, I was back in Los Angeles for three more field hospital setups. We stopped by UCI to check out the facility–this time full of patients and surrounded by fences seven feet tall. As we were about to leave, Dr. Joe emerged from the hospital staff entrance near the setup. There was an unfamiliar sadness in his eyes as he approached us. We came to find out that he had lost one of his best friends to COVID-19 earlier the same day, an event that was only made more difficult by the fact that it didn’t happen at his hospital where he could have been involved and said goodbye. Dr. Joe told us that his late friend’s wife asked him to share a eulogy at the funeral: a request that was both an honor and completely overwhelming in the moment. Still, he took the time to catch up with us and ask how we were doing. Although I expect he was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, he made it a priority. As we loaded in the Jeep to head back to our hotel, I couldn’t help but wonder what keeps him going. Since my last encounter with Dr. Joe, we’ve stayed in touch and he answered that question for me: he’s motivated to make a greater contribution. “I want us to passionately pursue perfection. I am not naive to think that we will ever be perfect, and I know there are difficult decisions to make due to finite resources. But, we need to continually strive toward that goal; to deliver care of the highest quality and to make it more accessible and equitable,” he explained.
“I want us to passionately pursue perfection. I am not naive to think that we will ever be perfect, and I know there are difficult decisions to make due to finite resources. But, we need to continually strive toward that goal; to deliver care of the highest quality and to make it more accessible and equitable.”
Outside of his day-to-day duties as a surgeon, Dr. Joe sits on the board for multiple organizations dedicated to supporting burn-related research, education, care, rehabilitation, and prevention. His credentials only reiterate what I knew about him from our first meeting: he really cares, and truly wants to help.
BEING HUMAN IS A GIVEN, BUT KEEPING OUR HUMANITY IS A CHOICE
Dr. Joe is a walking representation of the glue that holds our healthcare system and, more broadly, our society together. Despite disaster, fatigue, and fear, these professionals show us what it means to come together and be courageous in the face of adversity. They remind us that sometimes to fight a fire, you must run among the flames. Last March we all retreated to our homes, stocked up on supplies, and tried to figure out how we’d cope with this “new normal.” As it turns out, staying put when the whole world feels like it’s crumbling around you is harder than expected. Many desperately wanted to do something to help, and the creative means developed to safely do so blows my mind. An eight-year-old from Maryland used his birthday money to build care packages for his elderly neighbors so they wouldn’t have to go to the grocery store and risk exposure. When his community caught wind of his good deeds, donations began to pour into his GoFundMe page. As of February 9th, he has raised $37,112 to give back to those struggling to meet their basic needs as a result of the pandemic. This is just one example of difficult times being a basis for communal benevolence. Taking care of each other starts with one person and one action, but it has a rippling effect that is more contagious than any virus ever could be.
INSPIRATION AT EVERY TURN
At DLX, we find purpose each day in knowing our work supports like-minded individuals who want to leave their mark–to make this world a better place–by whatever means necessary. Uniting in a common objective is what emergency response is all about. Our capacity to “build the plane while flying it” is only strengthened by collaborating with those who have the same goal but think about things from a different point of view. With each deployment we learn something new, but this time our team also got to bring home a feel-good story to share.
“It was an honor for our team to be able to assist UCI in one of the first major field hospital setups as a direct response to COVID in California. To see the community come together, volunteers from all walks of life wanting to give back in some way, was heartwarming,” said Chan, who helped lead the setups. “It was amazing to see the different people who wanted to come out and help in any way that they could, from businesses donating lunch, to teachers, students, retired folks, even physicians at the hospital between shifts lending a hand. Everyone had a story on how they had been affected by COVID and in a time when things are so uncertain, to be around people that wanted to give back just made me really feel that humanity is not lost.”
To be around people that wanted to give back just made me really feel that humanity is not lost.”
IT TAKES EACH OF US TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR ALL OF US
Lost we are not. It is easy to be overwhelmed in the face of immeasurable suffering and to default to frustration about how we got here. I’m in no way trying to downplay the price many have paid to this virus. More than two million human lives have been lost, and millions more are grieving. Small businesses are seriously wondering what their future looks like if they haven’t already succumbed to mandated closures. And parents are seeing the impact of nearly a year without traditional school on their children’s development. The heartache that would be a private matter a year ago has become part of our status-quo, and it is in these rare moments of collective suffering that the road before us becomes clearer than ever before. Our fate hangs in the balance and will be determined by whether or not we recognize our larger, critical role in the “civic immune response.” Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman put it nicely on January 20th:
“We must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true,
that even as we grieved, we grew,
that even as we hurt, we hoped,
that even as we tired, we tried,
that we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.”
When the present becomes our past, I hope we can look back to this pandemic and recognize the cooperation it took to beat it. While the impact of this virus will always have a place in our history books, may the legacy left be one of collective effort and compassion in the face of a threat. Listening to stories about the communal response of the Great Alaskan Earthquake, meeting people like Dr. Joe, and reading about heroes such as eight-year-old Cavanaugh, is a reminder of something I believe to be true: light exists freely within each of us, and it’s our decision whether or not to share it.
It’s been a year-long face-off with the enemy of mankind, and it’s high time to ask ourselves: What can we do to further contribute to the civic immune response? And is it possible to use our differences in beliefs and backgrounds as a source of strength in the fight against COVID-19 instead of a basis for division? I’ve seen evidence to suggest that the answer to the latter question is “yes,” but changing the world starts with changing ourselves. By tapping into our own inner light to serve others, following in the footsteps of those who inspire us, or just doing our part to prevent the spread of the virus, we can create a culture in which COVID-19 is the only unwelcome guest. Let’s make this our mission.
Deployed Logix specializes in rapid deployment shelters and scalable, customizable solutions for first responders, healthcare, and private organizations. Our rapid deployment shelters put you under cover and out of the elements in as little as 60 seconds with two personnel. Discover today why we’re the leader in American-made rapid deployment disaster preparedness products.
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