The following are the notes I wrote for my Toastmaster speech given to the CN Toastmasters club on June 22, 2020. This speech completes my requirements in the soon-to-be retired Communication and Leadership Program. Note that this speech was not supposed to use notes so this is not a direct transcript of what I actually said in my speech.
"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal."
Albert Pike wrote those words in 1899 and today, 121 years later, they are more relevant than ever.
Mr. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and guests. Today I want to talk to you about selflessness. I want to talk about doing something for others. Maybe others you know, but also about others you do not know. Others that will not know all that you have done for them.
2020 will go down in the annals of history as a tumultuous year, to say the least. Let's take a tally of what we have lost in the first six months of the year:
For a while though, we also lost hope as we sat huddled and alone in our homes. The virus that was spreading across the world scared us as we watched the death tolls skyrocket in Italy, Spain, and then closer to home in Washington State. And then cases appeared in BC, and finally here in Alberta.
The suddenness of how this virus spread stunned us.
The stories of how this virus ravaged the bodies of even the survivors terrified us.
The inability to see our loved ones gutted us.
And with all of that emotion weighing on us, we reverted to simpler needs.
Abraham Maslow gave the world a framework to articulate what we need as humans. At the bottom there are the physiological needs. Air. Food. Shelter. Warmth. Once those are in place, we can move on to the second layer which are the basic safety needs. Security. Stability. Protection from harm.
Once those two first needs are in place we can deal with what might be called the human needs. The need to belong, to love, to be loved. To be part of something like a team or a community.
We sat huddled in our homes, alone and afraid, sacrificing that layer in Maslow's hierarchy. We gave up the need to belong, to be loved, to be part of something. Why did we do that?
Of course, a large part of the reason was self-preservation. We isolated out of fear for our own health and safety, and to protect our immediate family and household. But if you remember the messages from that time, the public health officials, the politicians, and the celebrities all told us to stay home to protect the elderly, the sick, and vulnerable.
We knew that if we stayed home, we would stay healthy. We knew we wouldn't get the disease, and more importantly, we would not spread it. We knew that we could protect others, people we do not know. We knew that we could help ensure their needs of security and stability and protection from harm of a much larger cohort of people than just our immediate household.
We sacrificed our need to be belong and be loved to protect others. We were selfless.
And it felt good.
But of course, it was easy back then.
Do you remember March, April, even May? How cold it was? The rain, the sleet, and even the snow that fell in May?
It is easy to stay home when it is miserable outside.
But it isn't miserable anymore. Rod Fraser was the President of the University of Alberta for many years, and I had the pleasure of hearing him talk many times. He always talked about the big, blue Alberta skies and how important the big, blue Alberta skies are to the Alberta psyche.
As I stood in my yard this past week, I kept looking up at the sky. Wall to wall blue. The big, blue Alberta skies Rod Fraser was so fond of. It has been wonderful to stand outside with the sun on my face.
But that my friends is the start of our problem. It was so easy to stay home when it was cold, and it is so hard to stay home now that it is warm.
Our need to belong and to be loved has overruled our need to protect ourselves and to protect others. In terms of Maslow's hierarchy we have air and food and shelter, and we are secure and stable, so now we want connection and love and to belong.
So what do we do? We go out. We see our neighbors. We have parties. People in our driveways or maybe our backyards. Maybe a gathering at a city park. We stop getting our groceries delivered and instead go shopping ourselves. And it feels good. Maybe even better than it felt when we knew we were protecting others.
The mental health benefits cannot be overstated. But those gains come with a price. We are gaining mental benefits at the cost of physical illness.
This is clear from the data that our own organization publishes for the Edmonton Zone. Over the weekend our hospitalization rate has climbed back up to the level it was on April 14. But it is worse now that it was on April 14 because then the numbers were going down and now they are going up. It is like the last nine weeks we spent isolating and sacrificing were all for naught.
The number of cases in Edmonton hit zero at the end of May. ZERO. As in not a single new case was reported. But today? 23 cases.
The needs to love and be love, to connect, and to be part of a team or community are causing people to get sick.
When it is minus 25 outside, it costs us nothing to protect others because we just stay home.
When it is plus 25 outside, it still can cost us next to nothing to protect others. All we have to do is to take the simple tasking of donning a mask.
But I'll look silly in a mask.
People will think I'm sick. Or weird.
I'm healthy or young or have a strong immune system so I don't need to wear a mask.
These are just some of the ways people rationalize not wearing a mask for something as simple as shopping for groceries. In essence, it comes down to the stigma of wearing a mask.
The next time you go grocery shopping, take a look around. How many customers wear a mask? In my experience, if you go to a grocery store like Safeway or Sobey's, it is maybe 25%. One in four will wear a mask, but one in three will not. When I am in those stores wearing my mask, I feel like an outcast, like a pariah. I feel that people are looking at me, thinking that I am different.
But if you go to T&T it is 100%. Why? Because they make it mandatory. You cannot shop at T&T if you don't have a mask. Every employee and customer in T&T is wearing a mask, so it has been normalized. There is no stigma in wearing a mask in T&T. I am not an outcast or a pariah. I am part of the team that is protecting myself, and the person I pass in the aisle, and also everyone else that everyone in that store will meet today.
The simple act of making it mandatory means there is no stigma. No fear of looking odd, of standing out.
The simple act of making it mandatory means we can all protect each other.
Go shopping. Move around our city. Get out under the big, blue Alberta skies. Enjoy the sun on your face. Live.. But do all of that while still protecting others. All you need to do is wear a mask.
To each of you listening to my speech, I implore you to be a leader. To set an example. To help remove the stigma of wearing a mask. The next time you go out to buy groceries or go for a walk. If you wear a mask, you will give one person the idea that there is nothing wrong wearing a mask. Then that person will wear a mask, and that will encourage someone else. We can all be leaders to help removing the stigma of wearing a mask.
Be selfless. Remember how good that feels. Realize how little it costs you, and how much it can mean to others.
Mr. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, and guests. I will leave you with one more quote from Albert Pike. I will dedicate this one to the 486,000 people who have died from coronavirus.
"Let us drink together, fellows, as we did in days of yore.
And still enjoy the golden hours that Fortune has in store;
The absent friends remembered be, in all that’s sung or said,
And Love immortal consecrate the memory of the dead."
Thank you for your time.
Below is my personal journal now that I am sick and am concerned that I have COVID. Whether I do or not is beside the point; I'm doing this because there is a lot to process all of a sudden and writing it out is helping me get through that.
Day 1: 14:45
I called Health Link early this morning because I was exhibiting some of the symptoms that are potential indicators of COVID-19. Hypochondria is not something I am prone too. I am much more susceptible to iatrophobia and nosocomephobia. I want to stress that I felt poor enough when I woke up at 06:00 this morning that making the call to Health Link seemed like the right thing to do.
(Note: I knew what the fear of doctors was called (the former), but had to look up the fear of hospitals (the latter). As a wonderful aside, if you want to know how to pronouce nosocomephobia check out the wonderfully drawn out British accent on this site.)
Prior to making the call, I went through the AHS online COVID self-assessment tool so the typical symptoms were front of mind during my call.
The self-assessment tool has four screens of symptoms, presumably in decreasing order of impact.
I had nothing on the first three screens and I figured my seasonal allergies were my real issue.
The fourth screen got my attention though, and caused me to make the call. Again I wasn't really sure about most of my symptoms and ascribed a lot of how I felt to the fact that I had spent the last nine weeks in my basement office. But I did answer yes to the self-assessment and then again to the Health Link nurse.
So now what? Providing an affirmative to the questions on the fourth page triggers a referral to Public Health so now I wait for a call from a Public Health nurse who will ask more questions and potentially send me for a swabbing which will definitively say prove or not I am COVID positive. Until then, and I suppose until much past that point, I stay home.
As I wait, I have been reflecting on what this means, not so much with regards to my health but more with regards to my personal involvement in the AHS response. Given my role in the organization, I've been involved in the IT logistics response, have spent some time supporting the Emergency Coordination Center, and I was consulted very early in the process to develop the AHS self-assessment tool. I get the daily emails from AHS CEO Verna Yiu, and have participated in innumerable COVID meetings and meetings with COVID topics.
And yet with all of that involvement, I had not really internalized what COVID means to me as a patient and Albertan. That there are assessment sites that I as a patient can go to was well understood, but I have no real idea where they are. I knew that there would be a legal requirement to "self-isolate", but I didn't fully realize that meant I could not leave my property. I did not think that it couldn't happen to me, that I wouldn't get sick. I am a realist and understand the virulence. I consider myself reasonably well-versed on the health impacts, and I am confident that I made appropriate risk-based decisions,
I just didn't know what to do once I got sick.
Day 2: 1845
Here is what I went through in the 28 hours since I posted my Day 1 entry.
Walking up the stairs is hard right now. My ankles and knees hurt as I go up, and I run out of breath. Surely I am not COVID-positive. I mean, who would I have got it from? I have hardly seen anybody in nine weeks, and literally seen one person outside my family this week, and she was behind the plexiglass screen at the local gas station. But it this isn't COVID, then why the hell do I feel so bad?
Day 4: 16:00
I didn't do an update yesterday, mainly because I felt pretty good until the evening. I did crash really hard and slept for nearly nine hours, and I have to admit I am not feeling great right now. Much better than Friday or Saturday, but certainly still not 100%.
The main thing to report on in the last 46 hours was the swabbing ordeal. I truly think it was one of the five worst experiences in my life (and yes, I have had a remarkably good life).
Here are the steps one goes through for a COVID swabbing in one of the drive through assessment centers:
Man, that was awful. I didn't realize I could gag while tilting my head back.
So now I wait for up to five days to get my results. I am confident that I am not COVID-positive, and if I am, then the symptoms are mild for me. I will of course not leave my yard until the weekend which will be the ten day isolation requirement for me. I likely won't do another update until I get my results or if my symptoms change.
Day 5: 18:00
I got my results today. As I figured, I do not have COVID. Whatever I had was something else and now that I have a test result that shows I am negative, I do not have to continue to isolate. I wasn't clear on that point, but this page states the requirements.
I'm still not feeling great, so I won't leave the yard today, but if I feel well tomorrow I will venture out for a ride and maybe a walk. I haven't left the yard since noon last Wednesday (174 hours) and getting out will feel nice.