My wife and I are big baseball fans. Our team is the New York Mets. We’ve gone down to spring training about ten times in the last twelve years. We have a blast! We stay at our favorite hotel, eat out all the time, and enjoy the games.
This year was no different. We flew down on February 29th. The major news story that day was about Joe Biden. He had just won South Carolina. The following Tuesday (we were still at spring training) was Super Tuesday. Joe Biden was the focus of every TV news show, newspaper, and internet story.
The second story was minor. It seemed that there was a cruise ship out in California. Several passengers were quarantined on the ship with something called the corona virus.
We flew back home on March 5th. There were a few empty seats on the plane. I couldn’t remember the last time that happened!
A man, who was eight rows behind us, wore a big black mask over his mouth and nose. He reminded me of Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs. A lady, six rows in front of us, wore a surgical mask. But only over her mouth— not her nose. Did that do anything? I didn’t think so.
The corona virus was spreading. Things happened very fast when we got home. In a matter of days, Broadway stopped, schools closed, and stores shut their doors. Zoom was used for meetings, religious services, and social events. And major events such as the Olympics, the Kentucky Derby, and the Daytona 500 were postponed.
As the virus grew, so did the deaths. Daily briefings by the President, Governor, and elected officials were a common occurrence. Only essential services were allowed to remain open. And curfews were set after dark.
We were told to shelter in place. We were told only to go out for brief walks and essential services. In addition, during those times outside, we had to practice social distancing and keep six feet apart from one another.
When it came to sports, many sports leagues cancelled their season. The NCAA Tournament (March Madness), the NBA (basketball), and the NHL(hockey) were all abruptly eliminated.
As for baseball, MLB announced around March 12th that it was cancelling spring training and delaying opening day for two weeks. We never would have made it to spring training if our trip had been a week or two later.
It is now late April. I don’t expect to see baseball again until late June or July.
Renovating the Pharmacy
This wasn’t the first time that I’ve lived through a crisis situation like this. It was August 2001. I was the pharmacy manager at one of my hospitals. I had taken a two week vacation. My boss met me in the pharmacy on my first day back.
There were two facilities in my hospital system— my facility and a smaller sister hospital. I was the pharmacy manager at my hospital. There was a woman who was pharmacy manager at the sister hospital. My boss was the Director of Pharmacy. He was over both facilities.
He had his office at the sister hospital and that’s where he stayed 95% of the time. For the most part, he came over only for meetings and when there was a crisis. So there he was. And I didn’t think that there was a meeting going on.
He asked me how my vacation was. Now remember, I was gone for two weeks. I could have spent the next two hours discussing the fun and enjoyment that my family and I had. But I saw the sour look on his face. He had something on his mind.
So I said, “Good. Anything happen here?”
“Well, you’d better sit down,” he said. I sat down.
“They want to start work renovating the entire pharmacy,” he stated.
Now my pharmacy department looked dated. They were constantly upgrading and refreshing other areas of the hospital. But never the pharmacy.
And it wasn’t like I hadn’t asked them. For three years, I’ve been begging them to at least put a fresh coat of paint on the walls and make us look pretty. They’ve been promising us, but never got around to it. Until now.
“What is their timeline?” I asked. Now I knew the answer to the question, but I asked it anyway.
“They want to start the day after Labor Day,” he continued, “So you got about two weeks.”
Wonderful, I thought. They’ve been dragging their feet for three years and now they want to do it yesterday.
But fortunately I was prepared for this. Over the past six months I had met with various vendors. I had plans drawn up and priced some of their equipment and fixtures. I would only need a couple of days to put my proposal together.
Relocating My Staff
My hospital had renovated a lot of areas— mostly nursing units. However, renovating the pharmacy is not like renovating a nursing unit. There’s a major difference. The pharmacy can’t close.
Let’s say my hospital was going to renovate a particular nursing unit. In preparation, they’d discharge as many patients as they could. Then they’d transfer the remaining patients to different floors. Next they’d relocate nursing and staff members to other nursing units. Finally, they would close the unit during renovation.
Close the pharmacy during renovation? Are you crazy?! Where would the nurses/patients get their medications from? The plan was to relocate the pharmacy to another area. But the pharmacy would have to be completely functional. I’ll never forget how my staff looked as they pushed bins of medication through the halls while filling unit dose carts.
My pharmacy was relocated to a small area on the second floor. It was about ⅓ of the size of the original pharmacy. Yet, my pharmacy was expected to provide all the services that the original pharmacy did.
Experiencing the Worst
Surprisingly it took only about a week for my staff to feel comfortable in their new surroundings. All was going smoothly. Then the unexpected occurred.
It was Tuesday, the 11th of September. I had a meeting at 9:00 am at the sister facility. The sister facility was about five miles away.
When I got there, I went to see my boss. I met him in his office. He looked extremely somber.
My boss told me that our meeting was cancelled. He explained that there had been two plane crashes. One plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. A different plane crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
At first, I was shocked and speechless. I then asked for details and he only shook his head. He turned the radio on in his office. We listened.
And it got worse. In a little while, another plane crashed into the Pentagon. Then another plane crashed somewhere near Pennsylvania.
I was devastated as I listened. And I just sat there shaking my head.
Eventually I spoke and told my boss that I was returning to my hospital. I wanted to speak to my pharmacy staff. He agreed with my idea.
Usually while they’re working, my pharmacy staff is a bunch of vibrant individuals. They’re talking, sometimes singing, and even joking around. Sometimes they even yell playful names at each other. While other times they simply banter back and forth.
Not today. The atmosphere was dismal. There was no talking, no smiling, and no laughter. I heard the radio playing in the background. It provided a grim account of what was happening.
I didn’t have to talk to my staff. They knew.
My hospital changed in the days following 9-11. I remember members of the administrative staff (vice-presidents and upper management) coming to my department. They’d talk for several hours, trading stories with my staff. And they’d listen.
Everyone had a story. One of my staff members had a husband who worked in New York City. She told a tale where nearby trains, subways, and buses were immediately shut down after the plane crashes. Even the tunnels and bridges leaving the city were closed. Her husband had to seek an alternate method to get home that night. It took several hours, but he made it.
Another staff member had a friend who walked from Wall Street to Penn Station. He lived in New Jersey, but could only get a train to Connecticut. So he took it. Anything to get out of the city. He made it home the next day.
A vice-president told about a friend who somehow got lucky. He got a late start that morning and missed his train to NYC. So he decided to drive to New York City. He was about two miles from the Pulaski Skyway when he heard about the plane crashes. Had he not missed his train that morning, things would have been different.
No one knew anyone who worked in the towers. But it didn’t matter. All you had to do was turn on the TV or open the newspaper. Their pictures and obituaries were all over the news.
Defining A Crisis
I’ve always felt there are three parts to any catastrophe. I call them 3 D’s. They are:
- Disaster. The disaster is the actual occurrence. It is the catastrophic event— the hurricane, the tsunami, the explosion, etc. It is a finite occurrence with a beginning and end. And usually it occurs very fast.
- Discomfort. The discomfort phase comes next. This is where people grieve and mourn. They deny or are in disbelief. But eventually people reflect. Sometimes they may reluctantly accept. They pick up the pieces and move on. They focus on rebuilding.
- Don’t forget. While people get on with their lives, they never forget what occurred. Even in good times, people remember what happened. People put up plaques and street signs. They honor individuals lost by naming schools, buildings, and airports after them. Plus, many times people mark the anniversary of the disaster with a commemorative event.
I vividly remember where I was when I first heard that Kennedy was shot. And when the Challenger exploded. And when Hurricane Sandy struck our state.
I am now living through the coronavirus. It is still going through the “disaster” phase. I hope it happens fast.
Daniel Shifrin, R.P., M.S. is a recently retired pharmacist who enjoys sharing his insights about hospital pharmacy. He is proud to own one of the largest collections of Pharmacy Stamp First Day Covers.