"Gizabeth, the news team is coming in a couple of hours -- would you be willing to do an interview dispelling myths about the Swine Flu?"
I had spent the morning briefing with the head of micro and the lab in preparation for an 11:00 interview with Medical News of Arkansas. The journalist that interviewed me told me she had read my comments in an article in the Dem Gaz this morning, an interview I had given over the phone yesterday afternoon.
"Oh really? I haven't seen it yet."
I still haven't. Yesterday afternoon the media representative for the hospital sat in on my interview with the Dem Gaz. She had done a great job coaching me on the live TV interview the day before. She told me she wanted to make sure that the journalist didn't need anything more from her, but I knew she was listening to my comments, ready to fact check and clarify in order to protect the hospital.
"You know, I have a pile of work on my desk. I am pretty overwhelmed. I have been working late all week, and I want to get home to my family at a decent hour. Can I say no?"
She was very understanding. "Don't worry, we'll find someone else."
I knew that if I said yes, I would spend the next couple of hours leading up to the interview researching all possible angles of myth and truth about the Swine Flu. I just didn't have it in me, at this point. I probably could have winged it -- it was a taped interview, which is probably easier than a live one, but I am never comfortable unless I am over prepared. As I stared at the backlog of tough cases left over from my call weekend, I decided what was more important.
This has been such a big learning experience. And not just about H1N1, a national now WHO level 5 imminent pandemic. It is daunting trying to portray a certain face to the public, keeping in mind not just yourself and your own knowledge but also the collective institution that you are speaking for. There are legal issues involved. You don't want to be alarmist, but you do want to convey thoughtfulness, intelligence, and preparedness.
It is difficult to describe the excitement of being involved in the epicenter of a massive hospital's reaction to the pandemic. I read the statement that the health department put out today, in an e-mail. As I read it, all familiar news, I was reminded of the meetings I had been involved in where the information had been generated, in conversation, by experts with experience and wisdom. Making decisions for our state. Keeping in mind recommendations by the national experts, but judiciously applying those recommendations on a local level.
I read tonight that the 12 probable cases in Benton County have not been verified, in one blog. Another blog said that 7 were confirmed NOT SWINE FLU, but that 5 were still pending. This example illustrates the illusive nature of hard data, both locally and worldwide, that makes it so tough to pin down what, exactly, we are dealing with.
I had a conversation today with a key member of the flu pandemic team. One of his stories stuck in my head. I had asked him, "Off the record, of course - I would never say this in the media -- but don't you think this is all being blown out of proportion?"
He replied, "I have been to national conferences on pandemics. Historically, when you look at response, there are good actors and bad actors. The major cities that act responsibly - the good actors - the ones that shut down schools and follow the pandemic guidelines - they reduce morbidity and mortality. The bad actors - the ones that flaunt convention - hold parades and keep schools and workplaces open -- they end up with a lot more confirmed cases." We don't know yet what our mortality rates will be from the swine flu. Maybe no worse than the regular seasonal flu. The numbers from Mexico seem to change daily - it is hard to calculate the exact mortality rates. But the key is to intervene early. Because if you wait, you lose your window of opportunity. Intervention only works if it happens on the front end, before the epidemiology is available to back up the efforts.
That comforted me. If my school closes, it will be hell for my husband and I - both doctors. But we will find help. Grandparents, neighbors, friends - it will work out. Hopefully we won't have to worry about it. But if we do, I will try not to complain. I can see the logic, on a larger scale.
I got home before six today, and reveled in cooking and playing with my kids. We played a game: zombie children eat mommy and daddy. They were hilarious with their Bruce Springsteen underbites - attacking Ike and I alternately. Sicily's zombie face was especially cute - she recently lost her first tooth.
I am thankful that in the face of this pandemic, they are a healthy four and six, not just a little premature baby and toddler like they were a few years ago. They should do fine, even if they contract the flu. I am confident about that.