COVID-19 Through the Eyes of an Author and Health Care Communicator

As some of you know, my day job is in health care communications, mainly on the internal side. It’s a job I’ve been doing for nearly 17 years. In that time, we’ve dealt with H1N1 and SARS, had hurricanes damage our outreach ministries, and even had a tornado directly hit and completely destroy one of our hospitals. But we’ve never experienced anything like COVID-19.

My boss started being involved in meetings about it in late February/early March. But at that point no one expected what it turned into. By March 18, all non-essential co-workers were asked to work from home and my department went into crisis mode. (There is nothing I hate more than crisis communications, I will be honest.) We were pretty much on 24/7 for the first few weeks as we tried to keep up with changes and relay them to the people who work in our hospitals and doctors’ offices. Then things slowed a little so that we could rotate weekends on call and start keeping something similar to normal hours as we got into a kind of routine.

Now, as we get ready to start reopening some services, we’re preparing for a busy time again as policies change and we wait to see what Federal and local officials are going to do. There are very real fears that opening back up too soon will lead to a relapse in cases and another wave of illness in fall/winter. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the future holds.

Several weeks ago, Taleflick, the company I use to manage my film/TV rights for my books, put out a call for authors to share what health care is like during COVID-19. My job gives me a unique perspective on both the clinical and non-clinical aspects of health care, so I submitted the following essay, which is based on real people’s experiences. They ended up featuring it on their blog. I wanted to share it with you to help you understand what a whole industry of people are doing to keep the country, and really the world, safe. And in case you’ve been wondering why I’ve been so quiet…now you know.

Stay safe everyone. Stay home (or six feet apart if you have to go out) wear your mask, and wash your hands. Those things really do save lives.

In the Trenches and Behind the Scenes: The Reality of Health Care During COVID-19

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” – Mr. Rogers

There are those who run away from disaster and those who run toward it. Most of us, myself included, are staying as far away from the COVID-19 pandemic as possible. However, others are voluntarily in the thick of it—doctors, nurses, respiratory techs, and caregivers of every specialty. If, as many have said, this is a war, they are its heroes. They work not only because it is their job, but because they are called to serve. Yes, some choose a career in health care for the salary, but by and large, if you ask a health care professional why they picked their profession, they will tell you it was because they wanted to help others. And good thing, too. Because now our future is very much in their compassionate, gloved hands.

While the history books will someday debate the response of the government and theorize over what could have or should have been done differently, these people will fade into oblivion, just like they have after every other major event in history. Who but their family members and friends can recall the names of the first responders on and immediately following 9/11? And that is still within living memory.

We can’t allow that to happen this time. It is important to remember those who are saving lives through their everyday work. We must understand and support those who toil away in hospitals and clinics in every city and town across the world, caring for the sick, trying to educate the public to stop the spread of COVID-19, and putting their very lives at risk so the rest of us don’t have to.

The People Behind the Masks
When you imagine a doctor during this pandemic, what comes to mind? If you’ve paid attention to the news, you might see in your mind’s eye a person dressed in a white hazmat suit or a urine-colored protective gown, face covered by a plastic shield and goggles or blue N95 mask. These people are very much in action in our Emergency Departments, Intensive Care Units and isolation wards, working long hours with inadequate supplies and equipment to save lives and keep this deadly virus from spreading. But so is your family doctor. He or she is likely still seeing patients who need ongoing care and testing people with symptoms. Or they might be analyzing the results of online risk assessments or conducting phone or video/online visits with patients who think they might be ill with COVID-19.

What you don’t see in the media is what takes place behind the scenes: the intensivist storing away her face shield for re-use, praying it will be enough to keep her from getting infected and thus be unable to continue working. Or the physician carefully peeling off an N95 mask by its straps and wondering how long it will be before he runs out of these valuable resources and has to make due with lower quality masks that don’t offer enough protection.

Picture the person next to that doctor in the locker room, a nurse on her third 12-hour shift in a row, head bent low and gritty eyes closed, trying to catch a moment’s rest before attending to another coughing patient or one delirious with fever. It wasn’t enough that earlier she sat with a dying woman so she wouldn’t be alone in her final moments or that just before going on break she had to calm an outraged visitor who insisted on being allowed to see his hospitalized father, despite the no-visitor policy in place for everyone’s protection. There truly is no rest for the weary; soon she will be called back into battle.

Imagine the respiratory therapist who trudges home at night not to his warm bed, but to a tent in his backyard so he doesn’t unwittingly expose his wife and child to the virus he’s spent all day battling. As he climbs into his sleeping bag and tries to get comfortable on an air mattress, he says a prayer for the little girl on oxygen who is scared and alone in the pediatric ICU. He knows he will dream of the elderly man who just a few hours ago held what could be his final conversation with his wife before being intubated and breathing with the aid of a ventilator.

Envision, too, the ethicist called in to consult with a doctor in an overcrowded hospital. Each room is filled to capacity and beds line the hallways leading to her office. Their hospital is officially in crisis containment status, meaning they don’t have enough manpower or supplies to meet demand.

That’s why the doctor has come to her for advice. He took an oath to never willingly harm a patient, but the protocol they are bound to follow states they must ration their supplies according to the ability of a patient to benefit from them. That means some, such as the elderly or those with conditions that make healing more difficult, may have to continue their treatment without potentially life-saving equipment and be given palliative care in hopes they can survive on their own.

He rubs his temples and asks her the impossible question, “How does one begin to make that decision?”

Powering a Pandemic Response
Behind all those troops in the trenches are people whose work is rarely seen by the public and isn’t nearly as dramatic but is needed all the same. These leaders and tactical specialists provide vital background support that enables caregivers to do their jobs.

Think of a health care executive like a general in a war. Exempt from the isolation that keeps many people safe, she attends meetings with her counterparts, just like military in their war councils, to study trends and predictive models in an effort to understand when the surge of cases will hit her area so her people don’t face the worse-case scenario that other hospitals have experienced. In between meetings, she is glued to her phone, consulting with local and national experts to understand constantly evolving best practices for treating the virus and conserving and sanitizing protective equipment for reuse in the face of a national shortage. She yawns and yearns for the days when she was able to sleep a full eight hours; but if her troops can do without personal time and rest for the greater good, so can she.

Remember that doctor with the N95 mask? He is also an administrator. So, when he finishes his shift he doesn’t return home, or if he does, it is to do more work online or on a conference call. He spends his nights and weekends working with others like himself to establish the most streamlined and effective courses of care for treating COVID-19. When he’s not thinking about his patients, he’s trying to figure out the best ways to change traditional triage and care practices to adapt to the needs of this unprecedented time. Then he catches a few hours of sleep, only to get up and do it all over again.

Across town, a supply chain manager lies awake in the middle of the night mentally mapping routes from one facility to another and calculating inventory. If a surge of patients maxes out ventilator capacity in one hospital, what other locations can spare a few to help? And what is the fastest way to get them from the places they are to the place they are needed? She grabs her phone and dictates a quick reminder to call the CDC and her list of private suppliers again; her health system is desperate for more COVID-19 tests. Their lab partner said they can manufacture the tests themselves, but she can’t find the correct type of nasal swab anywhere—that hunt is another to-do for the next day.

The next morning a communicator is on a conference call with hospital administration; she’s going to have to find a way to tell doctors and nurses that they are running dangerously low on one size of N95 mask and try to provide them with safe alternatives. When the call ends, she flips on the television to see how well the hospital representative took her coaching for the press conference to assure the community they have the capacity to handle a surge in cases. She breathes a sigh of relief. He did well. But her calm is short-lived. Her phone pings with a Facebook notification she needs to respond to before she writes the communication about the masks; there is no end to the misinformation spread online.

Enabling all these people to do their work—whether they are at a hospital or working from home—is the information technology co-worker holed up at a data center, and a team of others like him. He just restored an outage that was affecting caregivers’ ability to document patient progress in their electronic medical record. Now he needs to figure out why one of their video visit connections isn’t providing sound. Then he will return the call from a co-worker working remotely who is having problems accessing her files. The aphorism “technology is great when it works” is certainly true, but in an age when hospitals are reliant on it to power all aspects of care from programming Smart IV Pumps to helping providers follow proper care protocols, disaster can result when it doesn’t. There’s a reason he’s always on call.

Unsung Service
All of the people described above are real, as are the situations they are facing. So please, before you post on social media that you are bored during the quarantine, say a prayer for those who don’t have that luxury. Whether in patient care or in support roles behind the scenes, they are working 24-hours a day, seven days a week to keep you informed and ensure that should you contract COVID-19, you’ll have the best care possible. And they will continue doing so until this strange period of history is over and we can all return to whatever the “new normal” is. If that isn’t the definition of a hero, I don’t know what is.

Covid Confinement Story Time — Part 2

Hello my friends. Last time we talked it was April 2, 2020 and we were fresh into the lock down–at least compared to where we are today. I don’t know about you, but twenty odd days later and this is starting to feel a little more normal for me.

Not a lot has changed, except just getting use to things, I suppose. Still go to the store all masked-up, still get excited to find things that I used to take for granted. Still debating about saving as many pennies as we can versus getting take-out from our favorite restaurants. Still watching all the shows, and yet, some how not. Still not sleeping as well as I should be, but the nightmares aren’t as often as they used to be. Still vacillating between rolling my eyes at thew news and screaming at the TV–or just shutting it off and taking it in small doses through articles online.

So I hope you too are finding a new rhythm in this apocalypse. I realize it’s about time for me to go back to the store to replenish our food and I’m not exactly excited to do that. I sort of understand the bulk-buyers as much as I sneer at them. You don’t want to have to keep going back but you don’t want to be an asshole either.

Anyway. Last we talked I’d told you I was reading chapters of my apocalyptic book, WORLD OF ASH, and I still am. We’re on target to finish next Thursday so you have time to catch up and join in. I’m going to link the chapters below and the ways you can watch and listen.

Chapter 1 Facebook

Chapter 2 & 3 Facebook

Chapter 4 & 5 Facebook

Chapter 6 Facebook

Chapter 7 & 8 Facebook

Chapter 7 Instagram

Chapter 8 Instagram

Chapter 9 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 10 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 11 Facebook || Instagram part 1 || Instagram part 2

Chapter 12 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 13 Facebook || Instagram part 1 || Instagram part 2

Chapter 14 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 15 Facebook || Instagram Part 1 || Instagram Part 2

Chapter 16 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 17 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 18 Facebook || Instagram Part 1 || Instagram Part 2

Chapter 19 Facebook || Instagram Part 1 || Instagram Part 2

Chapter 20 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 21 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 22 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 23 Facebook || Instagram Part 1 || Instagram Part 2

Chapter 24 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 25 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 26 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 27 Facebook || Instagram Part 1 || Instagram Part 2

Chapter 28 Facebook || Instagram

And Now For Something Completely Different

In the spirit of my fellow Scribes eschewing too much discussion of the Virus-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, I thought today I’d talk a little about my work in progress! You can maybe guess from the title of this blog post that what I’m working on is wayyyy out of my wheelhouse, which has been challenging, but also, fun!

At the beginning of the year I was working on some spec pages for a dark, gritty, and seriously fantastical project involving witches and old gods and necromancy. I sent those pages off to my agent just a few short weeks before things started getting kind of dark and gritty in the real world. And then I sat around twiddling my thumbs for longer than I care to admit, not sure what to work on. I had a few new projects I was outlining, but most of them were very much in line with what I usually like to write–angst-ridden atmospheric fantasies with scary high stakes. And for whatever reason, none of them felt like the right story in the time of corona.

So I decided to take a chance on a whim of an idea I hadn’t given much thought to. It actually started as a joke–one lazy Sunday afternoon a few months ago, I was complaining to my husband about bad reviews. We started making up the worst reviews we could think of, and I jokingly said that one of these days–as a form of authorly catharsis–I was going to write a main character who loved writing bad reviews. You know the kind of reviewer I mean–one who just loves to hate on things.

I genuinely meant it in jest–I had no story, no plot, no world prepared for my mean-spirited reviewer! But like so many book ideas, that kernel of a notion had already wormed its way into the little corner of my brain that raises plot bunnies for a living. And one by one, those lacking elements started falling into place. It would be set in the present-ish day, in our world (my reviewer would need technology to spread her scathing gospel). It would be YA, and set at a posh prep school (any other Gossip Girl addicts out there?). And finally, it would OF COURSE be a hate-to-love romance, because character growth (and I love a good trope). Basically, I wanted wish-fulfillment

But then I got cold feet. I’ve written six full length novels and countless partials, and none of them–not a single one–could be considered even loosely contemporary. Okay, so one of them took place in our present, but only for the first two chapters until the main character discovered magic and got swept away into a fantasy adventure. And another thing–no book I’d ever written lacked magic. None of them. Was I even capable of writing a book without spells or illusions or monsters or powers?

And then I decided I didn’t care. I could either keep staring at outlines of books I wasn’t in the mood to write, or I could jump head-first into a totally different project that was demanding to be written. And honestly, it’s been fun. It hasn’t been easy–I won’t go that far–but getting out of my comfort zone and writing something a little light, a little fluffy, a little snarky, and a little romantic has been just what I needed to get me out of my slump.

What are you working on in these challenging times? Let me know in the comment section!

What the book is really about.

I don’t know about you, but I’m so, so tired of a certain virus that is apparently hell-bent on ending civilization as we know it. In the spirit of Shauna’s last post, I want to focus on writing, because I have a helluva lot more control of my imaginary worlds than I do over the real one.

This is aspirational. My real-life looks nothing like this.

I’m an avid (overly enthusiastic?) fan of author KJ Charles. Her books are funny and sexy and scary and they make you think. Her plots are a master class in how-to-do-it-right. And this week, in the run-up to her newest release Slippery Creatures (Will Darling #1), I noticed something else.

She’s got a knack for describing her books in a way that makes them sound like they’re the most fun ever.

I’m not talking about her book’s blurbs, the back-jacket copy that supposedly sells the book, although her blurbs are very well done – check out the Goodreads link for Slippery Creatures to see what I mean. The thing that really grabs me, though, are the one- or two-line descriptions she uses on social media that summarize what the stories are about.

For example, on her Facebook fan page (KJ Charles Chat) she posted a sign-up for Slippery Creatures ARCs, giving readers the chance to review her book prior to it’s May 13th release, and I promise you, that sign-up post is golden.

She compares her Will Darling series to Golden Age adventure stories with spies and secrets and country houses and social change. (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t want to give too much away.) I don’t even need to see the book’s blurb; she had me at nightclubs and shady conspiracies.

The blurb is awesome, but the one-line description on the ARC sign-up bumped the book to the top of my to-be-read pile.

Having made this observation – that KJ makes her books sound fun! – I wondered if I could do the same with my own books. I turned to my current WIP, the book I started last November for NaNoWriMo, but couldn’t come up with anything coherent. (More about that later.)

Instead, I shifted gears and went digging through my back list. Here are a few examples:

Vespers mixes a 100-year-old vampire monk with a 22 year old college grad and a bunch of demons (both physical and psychological) and gives Liv the chance to work out her ideas about religion.

Here’s another example:

Change of Heart throws a country girl who talks like Dorothy Gale into the Big Easy and gives Liv a chance to explore how trans people might have survived in the days before hormones and surgery and also gives Vespers fans an Easter egg.

Or:

Lost and Found takes a very sad story (the life of the Russian dancer Najinksy) and finds him a happy ending (because romance) and also gives Liv a chance to brush up on her high school French.

Hmm…I’m sensing a theme. In these one-liners, I focus on my intention when writing the books, rather than picking out elements that make the story sound fun!

And that, my friends, might explain why I had trouble coming up with a one-liner for my current WIP. I mean, I know what it’s about – in the days when the city of Seattle was struggling to establish itself as the top dog in the Northwest, a necromancer tried to run all other magic workers out of town but he is challenged by a ne’er do well night patrolman, a pretty piano player, and their friends – but I haven’t yet figured out the why.

Why am I writing this story? What overarching theme grabbed me and made me spend however many hours it took to hit the 85k word mark? (I’m just about there, with a couple scenes left to draft.) I’m pretty sure my motivation went deeper than “well hell, I managed to write 50k words in November, let’s see where this bad boy goes”.

I mean, I’m pretty sure I have a deeper motivation. I hope.

I’d argue that while KJ’s one-liner for Slippery Things hits on a number of elements that focus on fun! (Spies! Nightclubs! Shady conspiracies!) she slips in a note about social change, hinting that she’s worked in a deeper theme or two. That grounds the story, making it even more compelling.

So if you need me, I’ll be pondering the theme(s) for my current WIP, which I’m hoping will be more obvious after I finish the draft and give the story some time to breath. I’ll also be working on a one-liner that includes the kind of fun! elements that make KJs books sound so good.

Because it’s smart to learn from the best.

Covid Confinement Story Time

These are weird and terrible times. There’s no reason to sugar coat it. As I type this I’m also trying to balance our bills against our bank account, like so many of you probably are. And it is insanely hard to focus right now, right?

Like, I see people making jokes about being so bored and I really hope they’re just joking. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I wish I were bored right now. I’m not bored; I’m stressed the fuck out. And I’m pretty lucky–my husband and I have been working from home for years, so we haven’t learned weird new things about each other; we have family and friends who have reached out to offer support if we need it; our bills are going to be covered this month. Realatively speaking, we’re lucky. But, I still am so damn stressed out.

I have not slept solidly through the night since a week before Newsome shut us all down. Last night I woke up at least 3 times, once because I was sleeping so strangely that I knew I was hurting my neck (and I’m paying for it now) and another time (just 1 hour before my alarm) because I dreamed we had slept through 2 virtual meetings and was absolutely freaking out in the dream.

Ugh. Exhausting. How can we be more exhausted now that we’re all at home? I really hope, when we’re on the other side of this, as a whole society, we finally come to terms with the idea that there are better ways for us do to this whole society thing.

But this isn’t a political post. This is a post about not being able to focus. The irony is not lost on me. I know so many people thought they’d get so many things done with this so-called gift of time. Reading, writing. home projects, etc. etc. Not happening right? So I thought I’d help but reading to you.

I started reading chapters of my post-apocalyptic book, WORLD OF ASH. Sometimes reading or watching the genre you’re going to through is cathartic, right? Bad break up? Sad, angsty songs and drama movies. Super, duper sappy in love? Love ballads and romantic comedies. Apocalyptic plauge keeping you locked up at home? Post-apocalyptic lit and zombie movies, obvi.

So, if you’d like to enjoy my Covid confinement story time, you can catch up! The first few chapters are just on FB, but then I started using IGTV and you can choose which you’d rather watch/listen to! As of this writing, I’ve read 13 chapters. I’m reading a chapter a day Monday-Friday if you’re so inclined to join in.

Chapter 1 Facebook

Chapter 2 & 3 Facebook

Chapter 4 & 5 Facebook

Chapter 6 Facebook

Chapter 7 & 8 Facebook

Chapter 7 Instagram

Chapter 8 Instagram

Chapter 9 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 10 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 11 Facebook || Instagram part 1 || Instagram part 2

Chapter 12 Facebook || Instagram

Chapter 13 Facebook || Instagram part 1 || Instagram part 2