Editor’s note: After Wuhan went into lockdown on 23 Jan, and before any temporary hospitals came into operation, the city’s healthcare system was under enormous strain. The hospital admissions system, administered at the local level was also at full stretch. Many of the sick were unable to receive prompt treatment. In early February the Weibo microblogging platform created a dedicated hashtag for people who were ill and seeking help, and the People’s Daily website began collecting their online messages. Several governmental and community groupings became involved, contacting those who had posted messages and helping them gain admission to hospital. One of the groups was Su Volunteers: an inspiring, community-level initiative started by the poet and novelist Wu Ang.
Su Volunteers Diary (excerpts), Wu Ang
For the past couple of days I’ve been setting up a voluntary group with students from my Su Writing courses, 11 of us altogether. The students have been checking different online platforms for families of patients who haven’t yet gone to hospital or been contacted by People’s Daily volunteers. As of late last night there were around 30 such families, and with help from my cousin and three other friends I’ve referred them all onto the hospital admissions waiting list. Six families have now received admission notices, though one tells us they are only in a quarantine facility without treatment or equipment.
We’ve set up WeChat messaging groups for each family, and our volunteers are also providing individual support and advice, which is really needed. Some family members are elderly and don’t really understand Internet apps like WeChat, so it’s easier if there are young folk who are able to handle the little things for them. Everyone from Su Writing writes well, so we can help families properly convey the state of infection within each household. To be honest, even this is beyond some families. You might tell an older person to attach some files, but it’ll take them a while to figure that out. They’re not as adept as the young volunteers. Providing moral support, chatting with them, easing anxieties, exploring various options for obtaining the treatment they need – it all makes a difference.
There are now 24 core volunteers in the team along with 36 others offering support. We’ve handled ten family groups since yesterday afternoon ― basically 50 households. We’re still training key members on the front line, and today we’re aiming to become more efficient at handling cases. After getting up this morning I spent nearly 20 minutes sharing my experience with a Weibo tech influencer. He’s had lots and lots of DMs from people in families needing help, and is planning to set up a team himself. He’s a proper tech geek, and undoubtedly has excellent technology skills.
The major focus of my workload yesterday afternoon consisted in setting up a local WeChat group in Wuhan. With the help of friends reposting my call to action on WeChat, I pulled together a group of 180 people. Then my former co-worker, Zhu Buchong, posting to Weibo, which eventually all wound up eliciting a repost from the massively influential actress Yao Chen on the very same platform. I’d put the group QR code in the post for everyone to see, so we had to ask a bunch of non-Wuhanese taggers-on to leave.
The group proved extraordinarily useful. They offered information on where to purchase medicine, oxygen generators and globulin within the city, household items, as well as intel on hospitals. A family member of one of the group members had already passed away from the virus. She shared all the minutiae about the treatment process with the group and noted what to watch out for. Not only that, she also put together everything she knew about getting access to medicine and oxygen generators. That’s my idea of an amazing human being.
The Wuhan group even helped one young woman locate her 86-year-old grandfather, with whom the family had lost contact, because the old man’s phone died while he was waiting in the queue at the hospital. People in the group helped put us in touch with the hospital where we found him. At the instruction of the daughter, a note she had slipped into the back of the father’s cell phone was found with her name and cell number written on it, and her father was reminded to contact her every so often using a phone from one of the other nearby patients.
(Volunteers: 588; Cases collected: 576)
Every day, these young people help me see the good in this world. The hope, the light. Coming off evening shift yesterday, they one by one shared songs to their WeChat feeds. I think they probably just need a moment of respite. On top of that, after working all day, it's common for sleep not to come easily. Enlisting volunteers depends precisely on young people getting on board and giving it their all. It is a tactical use of human bodies. When one group burns out, you bring the next in. As far as manpower goes, it’s merely procedural, a matter of processing batch by batch. There’s no time to look after each one. They have to adjust quickly and look after themselves when they go their separate ways. Forgive me, but it’s because of this that I don’t think this work quite suits those with a history of depression. There’s just too much distressing information.
Our work the past two days has advanced with military precision. What we’ve been able to provide the families of the ill is more precise, more polished, more perfect. We’re well aware our power and resources are limited. So, we’re planning to give all we can to the families who have already appealed to us, to nurse them through the process.
Data compiled by Yang Li, about the cases we are working on
Total cases: 1161
Applications for hospital admissions: 396
Hospital admissions (successfully submitted): 324
Deceased (post-intervention): 5
Patients recovering (hospitalisation not necessary): 8
Impending hospitalisation: 59
Everyone is probably starting to notice that on Weibo and other platforms there are fewer and fewer petitions from patients asking for hospital admissions, and therefore the work of our admissions programme is being phased out. This has been an incredibly difficult, but also an incredibly inspiring time.
People’s memories are very short, like goldfish. Me, I can’t remember things from three days ago, or even yesterday come to that, what I was doing or what I was getting anxious about. In reality, getting wound up doesn’t help either. The best thing is to tackle one thing at a time and proceed step by step, since things are different every day. On a lighthearted note, last night I had a dream where a TV station wanted to come to my place to film a reality show about cats and, suddenly, just like that, I had cats of every shape, color and size.
Yesterday evening, the Su Writing Group’s official account began to collect all the volunteer journals. First off, everyone in the core group recalled all the difficulties involved in the process, and a lot of folk were sobbing heavily. But then one of the volunteers, a young guy, joked that he’d actually started three online romances during this period, just to get some let-up from the stress of things. Everyone snorted with laughter. The worry, anxiety and distress of each and every patient’s family, was also faced by the core volunteers. They shared with them all the difficulties of the process, the anguish of waiting to hear about the possibility of the hospital admission, and the devastation when a family member passed away. We’ve also arranged for the volunteers to get the right psychological counselling, and really hope that they can get some distance from the negative emotional impact of everything they’ve seen. But the guy who started three romances said: “I choose to remember”.