By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL
Back in January, when I was buying my small supply of masks and taking inventory of our household’s shelf-stable food supply, I recommended my adult children journal about their experience. Why? Someday a grandchild could be interviewing them for a paper on, “What it was like to live through a pandemic,” and those notes would certainly come in handy. I then broadened the suggestion to everyone within earshot (myself included), as it could prove “therapeutic.” That’s a word I’ve used a lot, particularly when trying to convince a CEO to contribute a CEO Corner article in Life Science Leader. This is because more than one CEO has described their process of writing as being just that — therapeutic. So, today I journal, and do so as a means of therapy. Because anticipating and readying for a pandemic is very different from actually living through one, and I’m sure you can relate.
On the day of this writing (April 6, 2020), the United States leads the world in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Worse, we will likely soon lead the world in other dubious categories. In some cities, hospitals and healthcare workers are near breaking points, while in the area where I live (Erie, PA) it is the calm before the storm (roughly 20 cases in the county). The coronavirus news is dire, depressing, and nearly impossible to get away from. Consequently, I now try to limit my consumption to the light reading of the daily (print) newspaper and watching only the ABC national news broadcast. Still, my email inbox is flooded with COVID-19 news and story pitches. An intended quick trip to Twitter often becomes a journey to the bottom of a bottomless coronavirus pit. Same with LinkedIn. More than a year ago I had given up watching all television news, as I couldn’t stand the constant political bickering and stream of negativity. Now, because this news is actually important, I feel saturated in it.
When I have a call with a reader, COVID-19 always comes up. For example, a reader in San Francisco was telling me how she hopes we will be writing some uplifting stories of people doing good during the coronavirus (e.g., a biopharma physician CEO volunteering at a hospital). She commented how many in her network (healthcare providers on the front lines) are “vanishing.” It seemed an odd word choice to describe dying. But because of the rapid onset we have seen in many COVID-19 cases, its indiscriminate nature of who it kills, the volume of death, and social distancing making funeral attendance a no-no, we’re in a state of shock and can’t mourn as we are accustomed. And yet, there’s plenty of time for those doing their part (i.e., staying home) to binge watch shows like The Tiger King — and worry. For example, another reader, now working at home with a spouse and two children (13 and 7), shared that the virus prompted them to finally get their wills and living wills completed. This may seem depressing, but that’s their/our reality. Because while we’ve been hearing that “most people” will recover, we are also hearing stories of many (young, healthy and unsuspecting) who don’t survive. Will someone in our household or extended family soon get that unluckiest of lottery tickets?
In my role as chief editor, I get to interview some truly remarkable leaders within our industry. These people can be very inspiring to speak with. In fact, during a recent interview (March) for a future feature story, a CEO commented about the remarkable work being done by company employees to deliver their products to patients. It reminded me of the scene out of Apollo 13 (the movie), when NASA flight director Gene Kranz, upon overhearing two of his superiors discussing the possibility of the situation being the worst disaster the agency has ever experienced, replies, “With all due respect sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.” Because although COVID-19 has closed down most of the world, other types of diseases, disabilities, and illnesses aren’t on hiatus. This is where I get conflicted. Yes, it would be great to take a break from all this misery and write about something other than COVID-19. Afterall, I have plenty of interesting executives already interviewed, and their stories are great. But I’ve been finding it hard to write about something uplifting in biopharma when feeling pretty down myself.
Sure, I’m lucky. I have a job. I can work from home. But my two children are unemployed, both a direct result of the coronavirus. My kid’s graduation from college is going virtual, and no matter how we try to position it as a positive and incredibly unique experience, it won’t be the same. There’s the anxiety associated with my wife still going into an office, as her work is considered medically necessary. There’s the reality how every time she goes into work, it increases our probability of catching the virus. As we have an elderly parent in the house, we are being very careful, but that’s no guarantee. We have an additional house guest, someone who had come with our daughter for what was to be a short visit, now completing their senior college courses from our kitchen table, and we are glad to have them. We’re doing okay, better than many if not most. But there is a lot weighing on me (and I’m sure you too), and I feel my work from home productivity is down. Because while I can find plenty to keep myself busy, and can easily get lost in doing menial labor, not writing about the coronavirus has proven more difficult than I could have imagined. But perhaps this therapeutic writing session will help.