Covid-19: Resilience and Compassion in the Midst of a Pandemic

Photographer, Platon, and Emergency Medicine Physician and Netflix 'Pandemic' co-creator, Dr. Ryan McGarry, discuss the frontline battle against the virus.

In a compelling and wide-ranging conversation on COVID-19, two WSB speakers, world-renowned photographer, Platon, and Emergency Medicine Physician and Netflix Pandemic co-creator, Dr. Ryan McGarry, discussed the frontline battle against the virus. In a prophetic warning, Dr. McGarry developed the series that was released just months before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic of 2019-2020 became known. 

The following are excerpts from their conversation. View the entire conversation below on WSB’s YouTube channel.

Platon: What does it feel like to be in the emergency room as the virus is set to explode?

McGarry: There is a strange familiarity about it. The baseline is that all emergency care is well versed in being at capacity. This is their normal in some ways. However, on many occasions they can sort out who needs the most help, but now every case is an emergency. It’s something most have not experienced. People come in extremely sick in the way it attacks the lungs.

Platon: How are you coping on a personal level? Are you okay?

McGarry: I don’t know yet. I’m still running on adrenaline. I usually don’t dream but I’ve been having dreams of being sick. Yesterday, I was treating a very sick patient and I’m aware how close I am to the disease and I have a thin layer of protection. I have many friends, doctors and nurses who are currently sick.

Platon: How are your friends and colleagues dealing with it, even your family and fiancé must deal with this?

McGarry: Some colleagues have said goodbye to their families. My fiancé and I have had discussions about paperwork and bank accounts. But it has made us closer and drawn together.

Platon: What do you say to the ordinary people who are so frightened?

McGarry: I’m so proud that I get to help people with their well-being. As I was driving to work, I drove past the Staples Center and all the huge signs were thanking us, the healthcare community and it’s so humbling and welcome. We hope after this, doctors and nurse are elevated to status in society that is deserved. But we are used to doing more with less and there is no quitting. There are no borders or class determinations. You can be in the hospital next to a homeless person or a CEO.

Platon: You worked on this incredible film, Pandemic, for a long time. What do you say to the powerful people, the leaders who are now listening?

McGarry: I’d start with compassion. I can tell you the work that we did on my show, we worked with people from all over the aisle with different governments and parties. We need work in the public space, but I have compassion for the leaders to focus on something that happens once a century. Whatever you feel about the President or others, it’s hard to put funding towards something no one is sure when it will happen.

Platon: Can you think of a moment that was important or meaningful to you and share it with us?

McGarry: We start our shift now with a big group meeting [amidst] a lot of construction noise of tents and temporary morgues.  As we were meeting, someone pinned an American flag to the wall. Something about that affected us all. This is a huge deal. Why here, why now? You keep hearing of the war analogy, and I get it. It means togetherness and the bond it brings to all of us. I hope there is a new movement in this country.

Platon: Tell me what leadership means to you?

McGarry: Right now, in our organization, we have custodial service workers who are also on the front lines. Think about the people still working to get food to the store and those there to provide it to us. They are risking their lives and I hope our leadership takes care of them as they are saving us right now.

Platon: Tell us about your resilience.

McGarry: For me, I had cancer when I was 19. I thought I was going to be a filmmaker but when I got sick it diverted me to focus on medicine. Resilience very much comes from helping others. I believe in that and it’s worked for me.


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