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From the Front Lines of Empathy

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Two weeks ago, I laid on my couch at 2 a.m., and tears ran down my cheeks. Insomnia had me up, and it was the book that had me crying. Earlier that day, I had a wonderful evening with a mentor of mine who was visiting Seattle, Dr. Bill Feoge. He is an incredible human who is credited as one of the main people responsible for eliminating smallpox. After our visit, I laid down to reread his book House on Fire about the elimination of smallpox, which I highly recommend. As I read the descriptions of the children inflicted with the smallpox virus and the pain they endured, tears welled in my eyes.  

That same week, I  knew things were bad in China, and I felt deeply for the people in that country. I had the chance to live there for two months in 2008, and images of their quarantined world and all those worried and sick made me so sad.

I also knew that things were heading our way.  I had just seen a young man in my medical clinic who had recently visited China and needed a note to return to work.  He told the nurse on the phone that he had no symptoms, but when he checked in, we found that his temperature was 100.2, and his heart rate was 107. 

A few days later I  spoke with a reporter at The New York Times about my concerns and here is an excerpt from the article written by Sheri Fink, 

“Dr. Delaney Ruston, a primary care physician in Seattle, said she had seen a patient last week with a low-grade fever who had been in China about three weeks earlier. She said public health officials told her the patient did not meet criteria for testing because the patient had been away from China for more than two weeks. Even so, Dr. Ruston wondered whether the patient, who wore a mask in the clinic to protect others and had no cough, could have had a mild case of the illness. ‘All of us are in dire need for a point-of-care test,’ she said, meaning a test that can be performed quickly on site, like those now in use for seasonal influenza.”

Then Tessa’s school shut down for six weeks (or longer), and now my son’s college is off — probably for the rest of the year.  Chase will have classes online, but Tessa has no assigned school work because of equity issues. This is what The Seattle Times reported on the matter: “Because the district will not be able to ensure all students have access to computers outside of school, there will be no online learning.” 

Meanwhile, I hear daily from parents, whose kids and teens are now off from school,  that they are more stressed than ever about screen time. One person wrote to me: “I returned home at 7:30 a.m. from biking to school with Z to find the Xbox action in full swing already, and I could feel my blood pressure spiking. All these teens at home from school = screentime management mania!” 

I find myself at the frontlines of both the medical pandemic and the challenges of parenting.

My husband, Peter Small, is a global health infectious disease doctor, and his life’s work has been about looking for solutions for these kinds of diseases and the issues around prevention and containment.  

Peter says: 

“Make no mistake about it… the situation is bad, but we know what each of us can do: social distancing! I also firmly believe that it will pass and that the challenges provide opportunities to be better. For example, our government will strengthen the social safety net, insurers will pay for telemedicine, employees will be more effective at working from home, and public health will be modernized to use digital technology for protecting all of our health.”

I will be working hard to connect with all of you and to help all of you connect as we move forward about COVID-19, loss of school and screen time issues. We asked on Screenager’s Facebook page on Sunday morning, what are your schools doing regarding remote learning? And already 128 people have made comments and shared ideas. 

Let me leave with the two messages that I think are key right now:

1.  Social distancing is indeed the right thing to do. Yet there still are many ways we can show our empathy towards others — helping to get food for elderly neighbors, having our kids send art cards to relatives, and so much much more. 

2. Screen time issues are going to be challenging right now, BUT there are a lot of things we still can do. I have written for over four years weekly on all sorts of topics that can help now, such as things to do for creative time online and offlineways to set up rules, ways to have calm conversations, and more. 

The whole Screenagers team and I are gearing up to provide lots of support. And we will be creating lots of ways of connecting with ideas and support through TTTs, Facebook, and more. 

Do not be hard on yourself if there is more screen time than you would like.

In summary, I just want to say that what is in my heart today is all about empathy for the pain and losses — but at the same time, I am hopeful. Bill Feoge and all the other people who helped to eradicate smallpox give me incredible hope. There are hundreds of studies happening right now trying to uncover answers to help end the COVID-19 outbreak and prevent its recurrence. Several of our infectious disease scientist friends have all switched their work over to COVID-19. We will get through this. 

-Delaney Ruston

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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