Hi, my name is Zeenah and I work in public health. I’d worked in infectious diseases, and the first one I worked with personally was MERS and the organization that I worked with was the first organization to tell the world about SARS, COVID-1. So it was very exciting to me, just exactly what I'm super passionate about. But then my sister got sick and I had to fly to Boston and she was dying and then died. But she died at the end of March. And that, that point it was a month of me and my mother and sister kind of like with her 24 hours in the hospital. No room for COVID because she was going through her own sort of suffering. And, you know, by the time I finished organizing her funeral and everything it was sort of mid-April and things have moved on with a speed that was unprecedented.
There were shutdowns now lockdowns. Everything was sort of going on. And as interested in it as I was because I had, you know, a job offer from the places I worked with before, It felt to me, like I needed to, I needed to say a lot because my sister had died. Like I just needed to talk a lot, but the most, maybe the hardest thing I've ever done, is not to say anything. To shut up and listen, listen, not only to the experts, but also to people because it felt to me that there was something I missing in the way that things are being done. And I'm also confused.
So for many months I decided the thing that I'm going to do is other than working on this paper, but also, listen. And if you try that, it's actually super hard not to button, not to, you know, say what you would think, not to say, try to do that and try to hear not only what people know and think they know, but also how they're suffering. I studied pharmacy and back in Jordan, where I'm from, you don't really get much of a choice. You get some choice, but not really much of a choice of what you study. And I think my mom chose pharmacy. I hated it, but I ended up sort of working in it.
And I think the last year they took us to a village where they didn't have any a medical center or, you know, healthcare. And, and it was about sort of like a free medical day where there's doctors and, you know, and patients were coming. We had medication that was donated from companies and people were just coming one medication for free. They didn't care what they were for or anything. It was just like a great thing. And I thought that the model was a great idea, but I thought it could do some improvements.
And I didn't know that was public health. I had no idea. It was just like, come up with questions instead of like, want to ask people before and now how can I make them better. How can I make their health better? But it was probably not that great from a public health perspective, just, you know, in terms of like, I had no idea what it was doing. But I ended up sort of stumbling into it and then taking courses at first at Harvard, and then I went back because I realized that's what I wanted to do, but I was very fascinated with this idea of changing people's behavior. How do we get them to do the things that we kind of know might be helpful to them? And I, I think I realized at that point that maybe that wasn't necessarily the right question. How do I essentially get them to do something that I think is right based on whatever is not the way to think about it. It's like, we need to decide what is right together. So, you know, I need to, I need to have a conversation with them. It really needs to be them.
But when I ask people what they think I'm always, every single time, I'm surprised by what I hear. You know, that includes the misconception of what they think the vaccine could do. The anger to which they, I mean, they have some sort of a burst of feelings, whether it is anger towards people who do not want to vaccinate or people who do. Or their turn in line is going to be too far off. Or even what they expect the vaccine to do. And I think that it is very important for us to be clear and to be accurate.
I think the other very important thing is, when we communicate, we do it with humility with respect, with care, with love. That is super important because, you know, anytime we talk to someone, yes, there needs to be this, this thing that they trust that we know what we do, and we know what we're talking about, but am I someone that they portray that I care about them. I care, I genuinely care about their wellbeing. And experts are so angry. It's like, well, I said that, like, why are you not wearing a mask? There had been this rift where at the end of the day, if you look at everyone would agree that our goal is the same is we want to really, the enemy is the virus and we want to get rid of it.
And we want to go back to normal. It's just that we're not really communicating well together anymore. Nobody, you know, I've never seen granted, I don't have decades of experience, but I've never seen anyone change their behaviors or wear a mask, for example, for, because we told them they're an idiot. People do want to be involved in that decision that is impacting their lives so much. And they want to understand, genuinely understand why. And a lot of people will contradict. They will ask questions and that's not necessarily meant to disrespect the expert or the professional. It’s just just genuinely trying to understand the nuances of everything because nothing is super clear or super, you know, black or white.
When people first — at the very, very beginning went out to the streets to protest the, you know, masks. I thought that that wasn't a slap in the face, you know, for public health, really, because, you know, masks debate is a whole different concern. There's gratitude to these people because they had just told us that we weren't convincing, we weren't doing well. And it was a great, I mean, it was, they risked their lives in a way too, to let us know, because that was such an important thing for them. It would have been great if we had listened to them a whole lot more or people who, who could probably do something, had listened in a way that made them understand that no matter what you would think we still do care for you and we do want what what's best for you.
And I go around, you know, I know a lot of people based on - because of my church in Concord - and in different places around there where I think masks are not really worn as apparently as much as here. And a lot of times they would be elderly people who would tell me, you know, I don't have my mask on. And maybe sometimes because they know I'm in public health would try to apologize. And my thought had been, you know, I have very strong feelings about that and they, they are that I do not care if you don't have your mask or not. I can tell you what I think the science is, but the point is, I mean, this is what I think and believe, but if you, if I haven't been personally, we've, haven't talked about that, but I haven't been able to convince you or steer, I still don't care. I still want you to be happy. I want you to know that you're loved and very much valued.
Planning on taking the vaccine is a great question. I'm not concerned for myself. If I were asked to do it, to help others, I would take it like without question right away, because then, you know, Hey, let's understand it better. So let's do that. At the same time, I feel like if I take it, then I might take thinking, you know, the turn of someone who needs it more. So there are so many like competing - there's no simple answer to that question. I'll say like, wait a little bit, but yeah, I don't also want to take anyone else's shot.
There is the misconception in my head is that a lot of times we think we're better than the people that we want to serve. I emphasize the word serve because at the end of the day, Well, that's the goal. That's what we're doing, but it's not that we're better than them. And that wee are going to benefit them a lot. It is there, that's the kind of, you know, acknowledgment and humility and not just thinking that we're equal a lot of times understanding that you know, nothing about that culture and the context and that you need that badly to do your job. And that's what I feel. I wanted to sort of add that piece because its a lot of not just the love and care for people, but also understanding that you are my teacher in this moment. I'm not your teacher. You are my teacher.
I hope that that's the direction that we're going in to, and that we, we get to people get to feel like they're part of the whole thing and not just the recipients of it.