What was initially considered a catastrophe became known as NASA’s finest hour—Apollo 13 and its aborted mission to land on the moon.
A scary and uncertain moment in 1970 where all Americans bonded together as we awaited the outcome.
You may be wondering why an article about coronavirus is being compared to the Apollo 13 space mission. This was a situation in our history that, at the time, was unprecedented with a rescue mission in space and, like now, with lives on the line and finite resources.
Are you up to the challenge of making the coronavirus and all its complicated impacts our next finest hour?
Your Actions Matter
I was prompted to be proactive after my husband and I were hearing from the physicians and first responders of Italy. Our heart breaks for them. If you have ever had to make a triage decision—like I have as a paramedic—of who you can help and who will die, it is a heavy burden to bear. Even worse is to hold space with individuals as they draw their final breaths knowing that there is nothing you can do. To have this happen on such an overwhelming scale with disease can be devastating.
I feel as though Americans may not understand why it is important to slow the spread of coronavirus. When our already stretched thin hospital and EMS services take this type of surge, even basic care is lost. Imagine you are upside down in your SUV after a crash, bruised and bleeding, but the EMS system has a one- to two-hour response instead of the routine less than 7 minutes that we pride ourselves on. When you arrive at the hospital, you are just parked in a corridor with no one to attend to you.
When the system gets overwhelmed, it is not just the coronavirus victims who will be impacted. Everyone will be.
I am concerned that, in trying not to panic you, our leadership has coddled you into thinking that this situation isn’t serious enough to take such drastic measures as lock-downs and social distancing and canceling events including school. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I believe you are capable of knowing the truth and doing what is necessary without panic, but we must take this threat seriously because this disease is not a common flu.
We do not see whole economies and countries shut down for the flu. We know that running the numbers that our hospitals can and will be pushed to complete failure if we do not take critical early action.
I am writing this article for completely selfish reasons, as my family and EMS family will be facing the coronavirus from the front lines. I am a former paramedic of seventeen years and my husband is an urgent care physician, and basically everyone we know works in healthcare, EMS, police, and fire.
Who in your life will be facing this challenge? Will you have family members on the front lines? Do you have friends and family members who will be in the age range of hardest impacted patients and fatality rates? Are you yourself at risk?
You Have Power
You can be the leader worth following. According to Dr. Dorian Matzen, “This is a crisis where the individuals can directly impact the outcome. We need individuals to take strict social separation measures immediately. If you wait until you hear about cases in your area, it may already be too late, start today.”
Usually when crises happen, we are like ships floating at the mercy of the waves. This is not that crisis. We as individuals can completely change the direction of this once-in-a-century pandemic. This is not a hopeless situation. It will only be inevitable if we decide to just lie down and accept defeat instead of standing strong and pushing through with the spirit of Vikings.
You have the power to change the trajectory of this crisis. Will you use that power to be proactive? Will you use that power to help others? We cannot be selfish if we want to impact change; we must see the larger picture.
The sooner we can contain and mitigate the contagion of the coronavirus, the less impact it will have on the overall economy. This will give us more resources to contribute to reinvigorating our supply chain in the USA and re-surging our economy.
In crisis management we remind people to “work the problem” and to “be part of the solution.” This is that situation, and we must change gears for a short period of time and work the problem together. As Apollo 13’s mission commander Gene Kranz said, “Failure is not an option.”
Although we know that this virus is now on our shores, we are lucky in the sense that we have been able to see what impact this contagion has had in other countries. We can get a jump-start on slowing the impact that it will have in our country. We have the opportunity for proactive action instead of reactive actions and desperation.
Will we take this opportunity, or will we squander our precious moments in the calm before the storm?
Will we learn through the experience of others to change our behaviors quickly and completely before we become just another statistic—before we are put in a position of losing loved ones and suffering deleterious effects on the economy and the ability of the workforce to respond?
The Right Generation
This directive was made for this generation as we have never in our history been so connected through technology. You can be the leaders that help all of us get through this. We cannot wait for slow bureaucracy to save us. We must become the leaders today. We must support each other in any way that we can to help the businesses and individuals who will be impacted the worst.
We are the right generation for the job.
I have faith in humanity that we can and will bond together in this crisis. As a paramedic I have seen the most unlikely person be the biggest hero in crisis situations. Stranger for stranger, human for human. A virus does not discriminate or have political affiliations. Can we find the will to do what is necessary to meet this challenge head-on in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our communities?
We will need the technologically savvy and the resourceful to innovate and bring to the masses ideas and hope that keep us connected virtually even as we may be socially separated. What can you do to help? How can you take initiative to use your skills, your ideas, and your perseverance for the greater good? To have a purpose greater than ourselves is what gives us drive and determination to keep moving forward even through great adversity.
As a leadership developer and strategist who specializes in challenge-ready leadership and strategic planning, I know that leadership in a crisis creates calm in chaos. I do not want you to panic. I want you to find your internal strength to step up and meet this challenge. You may have never been tested on this level, but that does not mean that you cannot rise to the challenge.
We need all the innovation and strength that we have to meet this multifaceted crisis and to mitigate the impacts that it will have on our healthcare system, our economy, our supply chain, and our most vulnerable citizens.
I prepared a free course to help individuals step up into crisis leadership roles. Feel free to share the course:
Rise of Humanity
Let me ask you again: Will you be a part of making this challenge our finest hour? Will you see the larger picture? Will you sacrifice for the greater good? Will you put your differences aside and face this challenge like the virus with complete disregard for the norms that would seek to define or separate us?
We are living, now, in another moment in time where we all await a safe landing.
Christine Matzen, BS, MS
Founder, Oak Street Strategies, LLC