"If you’re going through hell, keep going." - Unknown
Published over 1 year ago.
March was a difficult month for all of us.
COVID-19 swept the globe and made things very difficult for a lot of people. I do have to say though, I feel like March 2020 might have been one of the toughest months of my entire life. I'm detailing the events here so I can remember that anytime I'm going through something this difficult again - I'm able to make it through the hard parts.
March 8th - SuperConf speakers cancelling
This was a fairly stressful and disappointing start to the month, but I really had no idea how COVID-19 was going to affect my life - particularly those I love. It started with speakers on the West Coast giving us cancellations after SuperConf spent literally $2-4k per speaker to cover their flights and accommodations. We had 3 speakers either cancel completely, leaving SuperConf in the dust to find a full replacement in literally 4 days time or just refuse to attend in-person leaving us to figure out how to coordinate virtual talks.
Ultimately, this is no problem. We (my wife & I) thought, we'll just get some excellent cameras, ship them out and pre-record their talks. Have them call in for Q&A, it won't have the same magic as an in-person talk, but will be better than nothing. So we prepped, coordinated and pushed forward...
March 10th - Mom in hospital
That Tuesday, I get a call from my mom. One I've received many times before: "I'm in the ER because ..." my mother has visited the hospital many times in my life, for many different reasons and I didn't really have any reason to think this was any different.
She said she's getting a fairly non-invasive procedure to unblock her arteries - a stent. I thought nothing of it & figured I'd see her on Wednesday night or Thursday. Besides, I had so much going on coordinating all of the speakers, SuperConf companies and sponsor activations that I did not really have a choice.
March 11th - Mom has emergency triple bypass
Wednesday morning rolls around and I get a call from my mom: "They couldn't place the stent, the obstruction is too big. I have to get a triple bypass." If there were ever any words that my mother could say that could literally make everything in my life fade to black immediately, these were them. I asked when, why, where?
"In two hours. The doctors say I should really get this done now. I'm at [redacted] hospital."
So that day was shot, not a single productive thing was done. I called the hospital about ten times between noon and four pm when she finally got out. They informed me that everything went fine, but that she would be in ICU healing and unconscious for 1-4 days & that they'd ring me when she was awake.
I expected the worst to be behind us at this point.
March 12th - City of Miami state of emergency
I'd been in contact with the CDC's Miami quarantine station, Florida Department of Health & the City of Miami Mayors office regarding the safety of hosting an event the size of SuperConf (200-250 people) for part of the prior week and every day this week (the week of the 8th). The last I had checked was Tuesday and the advisory at that point was make sure there is plenty of hand sanitizer, masks if attendees need them and a designated area for anyone not feeling well at the event. We had been prepared for that for weeks already:
Oh what a difference those 36 hours made. Thursday morning, when I texted my contact at the Mayors office, I got a very serious tone in response, a state of emergency was being declared at 2pm for the city of Miami. This was after the county declared a state of emergency on March 1st and issued an advisory that events larger than 1000 people be postponed. We were safe from that. Up until this point we were cleared, speakers and judges for SuperConf were landing already and checking into their hotel. We decided to wait until 2pm for the official announcement.
Well, at 2pm a state of emergency was announced, events were recommended to cancel, all special events were forcibly cancelled AND it was announced that the mayor, Francis Suarez had contracted COVID-19.
We were in the middle of stage setup when we saw the news. Tens of thousands of dollars for the venue had just been put up in 🔥.
Not to mention we still had the speaker dinner scheduled for that evening, where the investors, journalists, startups and speakers were going to get a chance to meet each other before the actual event. We bought out the entire space at my favorite Indian restaurant, Ghee.
Shortly after this news, I heard from the hospital, my mom was awake. I could visit her. I made a plan: Go to the speaker dinner, make sure it's awesome, introduce the startups and whatever investors decided to show up then go and visit my mom at the hospital. So that's what I did. My mom looked great given the circumstances, and I was happy she was alive and kicking.
March 14th - Mom contracts pneumonia
I had visited my mother Thursday and Friday evening after breaking down the SuperConf setup at the venue and taking care of some of her personal affairs. On Saturday, I wanted to clean my apartment and relax. So that's what I did, when I spoke to my mother on the phone that Saturday - she did not seem in any worse condition than Friday evening and did not mention a thing about pneumonia.
Chalk it up to the drugs they had her on for pain, but she sounded like she was recovering that Saturday. As the narrator in a movie might say "Auston would later find out... she was not."
March 15th - Mom is in a coma / Suspected of COVID
Being that the hospital my mother was at was about an hour away from where I live - I headed out to visit her around 10am. When I arrived, I was informed she had contracted pneumonia, agreed to be put into an induced coma and was suspected of having COVID-19.
I was allowed to see her, but only one visitor per day was allowed.
Complete. Shock. There is no other way to describe the feeling I had that day. So many ideas were hitting me like bricks:
How could this be? She seemed fine yesterday. I know for a fact she was good less than 2 days ago, I saw her with my own two eyes. How could she have COVID-19? Was I asymptomatic and give it to her? Was she not healthy enough to fight the pneumonia while she was conscious? How long is she going to be in a coma?
Being who I am, I just resolved to try to get answers and set myself up to make sure she got high quality care. I took a bunch of my paid time off and put it to work. I went to the hospital every day until they told me they were not allowing any visitors anymore due to COVID-19. No one in or out. That was rough, I had already been beyond worried about her - now I could no longer see her at all.
March 17th - Mother in law laid in off
At this point, if all of this is happening in your life - you get the feeling that things can't really get too much worse. You've got to be at rock bottom. This is a reminder that no, the floor you're standing on is NEVER solid. You can always fall deeper, so however shitty it is, be grateful, because it definitely CAN get even more fucked up.
That's exactly what happened when I found out my mother in law, a recently emigrated pediatrician living in a new country was laid off. Luckily, this was something we weren't going to just sit around for and could do something about. We are relentless in the face of adversity and my wife moved quickly to set up a telemedicine consultancy for her for pregnancy, breast feeding and tele-visits in spanish. We also got her to set up a whatsapp number for people to write in for advice on the above.
March 20th - Father in law needs emergency medical procedure
For op-sec purposes, I leave out the countries where my in-laws are but just know that my father in law lives in one of the most medically under-supplied cities in the entire world, it's also one of the most dangerous. So when I heard that he needed to get an emergency medical procedure done - I seriously thought about how we could get him to the US ASAP to ensure proper medical care.
Luckily, he's a medical professional himself and was able to get the best care possible. This was another ridiculously stressful experience as I really admire my father in law and know the risks of where he lives are very high.
We coordinated to ensure he had everything handled from transport to meal planning to hourly updates while the procedure was in progress. He'd need weeks to recover we were told.
March 22nd - Auston has a mental break
I'm normally the type of person to just buckle up and fight whatever the universe has in store for me until it gives me what I came for, but on March 22nd I had a dark day. Early that day, one of my aunts sent me all of the info for my mothers life-insurance policy and information regarding how to take care of the rest of her affairs should she pass. I've never had my hope shattered before, I am, at my core, optimistic - but not after those messages.
I stayed in bed, cried uncontrollably, slept and ate pure junk food. I needed this - I couldn't cope with everything in my life crashing down like this. My mother in a coma and I can't see her. My mother in law laid off in a new country. Father in law dealing with a medical procedure where there is quite frankly, not a whole lot of medicine. SuperConf cancelled and potentially losing tens of thousands of dollars. What's next? Am I going to be diagnosed with brain cancer? Is my fucking dog going to die? What next universe?
Luckily, this was pretty much the low-point of the entire month. But boy was it a low point.
March 26th - Mom is coming out of coma
Finally, after a week and half of a coma and 12 days of waiting for COVID-19 results (she was negative). My moms blood-oxygen levels are good enough to bring her out of a coma. I was ecstatic. I had been working for weeks to convince one of the hospital staff to let me facetime since I couldn't visit physically and this was the day I managed to convince one of them to do this huge favor for me. I did a group facetime where all of my mothers siblings were able to see her.
I cried some tears of joy this day, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. My mother was weak, and still needed to finish overcoming her pneumonia, but she was conscious!
March 26th - Mom has ICU delirium
Now, while I saw a light at the end of the tunnel - it was still far away. One thing I was never told about by any of the ICU nurses or doctors was something called "ICU Delirium". This is a disorder that arises from heavy sedation, and drugs, usually benzodiazepines. When a person wakes up from their coma they are essentially full on crazy, as though they had dementia. This can last for days, weeks, months and sometimes even years.
I didn't notice the first day I spoke with my mom on facetime because she was weak and wanted to give every one in my family the opportunity to speak to her. But it was crystal clear when I spoke to her on the phone. She asked me about my daughter (I don't have one) and accused me of having sexual relations with several of her nurses. She thought she was in NY and was going to her high school reunion.
I researched and learned and was lucky enough to be connected with an ICU doctor (an intensivist) by my friend Kumar. We just had to play the odds and see how long my mother would stay in this delirium.
March 28th - Break in at my moms house
Meanwhile - my mothers neighbor had found me on Facebook and was sending me a whole bunch of messages asking about my mothers condition. When I finally got her on the phone, I was informed that my mothers home was broken into a few days ago.
Again, luckily, a fixable problem. Drive to my moms place 1.5 hrs away, install new locks, put up flood lights, install ring cameras and file a police report.
The events that culminated for me this past March are nothing short of astonishing looking back. One of the hardest months of my life. It made me so grateful to have a strong, supportive partner in my wife and understanding coworkers / team mates. It has helped me level up my crisis management game and truly given me an extra layer of thick skin that I'm sure will help me thrive in the current environment when the going gets tough.
For those wondering about how everything that happened in March ended up: SuperConf has split into a half virtual / half in-person event (go check out some new companies launching!). My mother is mostly recovered, out of a coma, passed the rehab facility and staying with me for the time being. My father in law is mostly recovered and doing well. My mother in law is still trying to get her virtual practice off the ground so if you need any "consultas virtuales de control para niños" go check out Creciendo en salud.
I'm looking forward to April and the rest of 2020 being easier than March. 🌴
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