Living with the genetic disorder cystic fibrosis, Michael B. Twomey discovered technologies to reconnect with his loved ones when the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to isolate. His testimonial demonstrates that even apparently simple inventions can dramatically change the lives of patients.
We often take computers, smartphones, or access to the internet for granted. Yet, too rarely, we ask ourselves: what would life be like without them? How would we communicate with a doctor or family during the pandemic? How would we call for help when we need it? How would we cultivate the social bonds so essential to us?
It is remarkable how Michael uses technology to stay connected to the people who matter most. His story proves that people are resilient to life’s crises primarily through their own strength and determination.
Humans have always used various tools to make their lives easier or deal with problems. Today, many of them are digital devices with the potential that we have only started to explore.
The burden of the illness
“It’s a fresh spring day outside, with cherry blossom petals scattered randomly all over the grass, a lawnmower purring in the distance. It seems like any other spring day that I have lived in the 48 years of my life, but with one major difference – I’m cocooning, trapped in an unnatural existence.
My chronic condition Cystic Fibrosis – a life-threatening hereditary condition that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system – has forced me into a new reality. Though not unaccustomed to distancing myself from others who may endanger my health from the “normal” cough and colds, with the arrival of the COVID-19, I find myself in unfamiliar territory.
As a patient with a chronic disease, one must appreciate that I live with the burden of this illness every day. There are no breaks. It is part of my life.
Add in a deadly virus to the equation, and one may come to comprehend why I am now experiencing fear and unease that I have not felt before. However, I have never let this condition define me or my life. My mantra has always been: “Get busy living, no giving in.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and the wonders of innovation
However, I will never forget the 12th of March 2020. I was forced to move out of my home away from my young son and wife. My wife was still going to work, and my child was still attending school. So as they were coming into contact with others within the community, they risked bringing the coronavirus COVID-19 into the house, risked giving it to me.
My wife and I had discussed the situation at length and felt moving into isolation was the more prudent thing to do, given the gravity of the situation. I would move in with my elderly parents and cocoon with them. They, too, were in a “high-risk category.” I will never forget the last hugs as I walked out the front door. I drove to my parents broken-hearted, tears in my eyes. When would I see them again? I was on the run.
On the run from a deadly virus that has halted my normality, I felt like I was in a movie of the future, where technology facilitates a deeply immersive experience. I was not enjoying this movie experience, however. Nevertheless, I have really come to appreciate the wonders of technology, previously taken for granted. I have come to truly value the contribution that today’s connected technologies have made to me whilst trying to cope with life in a pandemic. A life that a virus that has turned upside down, resulting in what often seems like an unreal and sometimes cruel world.
Oftentimes, to learn from an experience, it is helpful to visit the past.
And so, let us consider an AT&T newspaper advert from 1910, “People who are in quarantine are not isolated if they have a Bell Telephone,” and “The Bell Service brings cheer and encouragement to the sick, and is of value in countless other ways.” While this was eight years before the outbreak of the Spanish Flu, at the time, citizens were still very aware of infections such as diphtheria, smallpox, spinal meningitis, etc. Furthermore, it was not uncommon for districts to impose or use quarantine to fight contagious diseases.
Breaking down barriers
Even then, people overcame adversity, displaying resilience through the use of existing technology. For example, in 1918, a soldier, private John B. Caldwell, married his sweetheart, Lorene Smith, via telephone during a quarantine. It should come as no surprise then that in 2020, people are capable of overcoming the obstacles imposed by a quarantine through the use of technology.
I spent almost a month living with my good parents before I was able to move back in with my wife and child – as they too had gone into isolation. During that time, my day became a rich tapestry of phone calls, video calls via WhatsApp and Zoom. While I was physically separate from them, the sound of their voices and the ability to see their faces allowed me to endure the ache of physical separation.
Thankfully, through technology, I became a virtual presence within our home and attended simple yet important things, events that should not be missed – like displaying a new soccer skill or laughter during dinner time stories.
When I did move back home with my wife and child in mid-April 2020, we also started to use Zoom to engage with our family and friends. Every Friday night, a bottle of wine was popped opened with our friends, stories were recounted, and laughter continued as before. But now, with a virtual flavor, we endeavor to maintain and enrich these social bonds – ties that are so important, connections that make us humans.
So too, my medical appointments continue, albeit changed to an online encounter, with a visiting nurse where and when required. This is facilitated through the use of technology advances such as personal O2/BPM monitor, lung function device, etc. While very different from the usual face-to-face meeting with my medical team, it is very comforting not to have to risk going into the hospital with the current Covid-19 situation, but nevertheless to continue to get assessed, which is of paramount importance to me.
Humans are extraordinarily resilient and time and time again display that ability to recognize and adapt to handle unanticipated situations, demanding a shift in processes, strategies and perception. I also have learned to adjust, and through technology, remain connected, maintaining and enriching social ties, family and professional bonds, bonds that sadly are so often taken for granted.”
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