Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Looking Back...Weaponizing Empathy

We have, in many was gotten past COVID19. Without getting into the political differences that were laid bare during the worst phases of the pandemic, both Wendy and I were reminded recently of some of the positives that came out of it. I realize that it is a truly difficult thing to find light in the bottom of a dark well, but we have now come out the other side, and on May 11 the official public health emergency will be declared over.

A few heroes emerged, and one who I am truly proud to call my friend. I first heard the motto "Weaponizing Empathy" in an interview with José Andrés, and I can think of nobody who embodied that ethos more than watchmaker, medic, and Army veteran - Daniel Wentzel.  Daniel and several hundred military veterans decided to run towards danger while so many of us were squabbling over petty differences. It is hard to believe that this was three years ago, and I hope for all of our sakes it's something we won't have to go through again for a very long time. As I write these words, the Executive Publisher (my cat, Tallulah) is on my lap purring away, the birds are out and singing, and it is the third consecutive warm spring day. When this story first ran we were laying in bulk supplies of masks, ordering everything online, and waiting collectively for things to go back to normal. Well, let us hope that our return to normal will not cause us to forget to be kind, courteous, respect different opinions, and most importantly? That we will always have people like Daniel Wentzel out there who are not afraid to weaponize empathy.

And so, an end of Pandemic special repeat -

Weaponizing Empathy

Or - A funny thing happened on the way to New York City

COVID-19 has, in the words of an old university chum of mine who is now a professor of theology and Sunday School teacher, "Kicked the snot out of us."  It continues to be a challenging situation.

I will ask you to go back with me to April 11th.  It was a Saturday, and I was cooking dinner when my Facebook Messenger pinged. It was my friend Daniel Wentzel.  At first I thought that maybe my watch repair was finished - Daniel is a highly skilled watchmaker here in Massachusetts and more than once he has taken pity on my mechanical babies and repaired them.  But this message did not involve any of my watches, it was actually a request for help. Because in addition to being a very talented watchmaker, Daniel is also a proud US Army veteran who, just so happened to have served as a medic.  And as it happened, Daniel was in New York City with a flood of other military vets who also had medical training. They had all converged on the city and surrounding area to help support the various hospitals and pop-up centers that were struggling to keep up with the flood of patients coming in.  And believe it or don't, but there was one key thing that was needed by this massive group of volunteers -

Wrist Watches.

Now in normal situations (that means back in December and January here in the US), a nurse or EMT wears a watch with a second function OR they had a nice big wall clock with a LARGE, RED second hand so that they can take accurate vital signs.  Curious to relate?  A smart watch is not going to be reliable as you frequently need to move your wrist to "wake up" the watch face.  A cell phone will also do you no good as it requires another set of hands to hold it.  And as many of these facilities were hastily assembled? Let's just say that there was a dearth of wall clocks.  Long story short?  Plenty of people to take pulses and blood pressure, very few of them had a watch that would do something so basic as indicate seconds elapsed!

Daniel's message was short and to the point: "We need basic quartz wristwatches with a central second.  People will need to be able to disinfect them between shifts.  And if possible, we need them by Tuesday.  Could you reach out to your contacts for help?"

Ironically, a simple $15 watch that could be had (again, pre-lock down) on virtually any street in New York City would do the trick. That was before the lockdown.  Oh, one other thing?  This was the Saturday night before Easter!  Oh, one other small detail -

They needed about 200 watches!

I told Daniel that I would do what I could.  I reached out to Gary Girdvainis, the publisher of iW and About Time magazines and the two of us reached out to all of our contacts in the watch world.  And what happened next was pretty amazing.

On Easter, which is a pretty big deal in Europe as they tend to stay closed from Friday to Tuesday, I received a response from Yasmina Pedrini of Frederique Constant / Alpina in Switzerland. She wished Wendy and me a happy Easter, and she said that they would love to help, but with shipping times, etc. it was not going to be as quick as was needed.  But that she would reach out to her colleagues in the US.  Monday morning an email came in to Gary at iW from Ellen Seckler of Citizen Watches in North America (Citizen is the parent company of Frederique Constant), asking what they could do to help.  Without putting too fine a point on it, mountains were moved.  Somehow, watches were tracked down, retrieved from a secure location, and delivered most riki-tik! 
For those of you unfamiliar with this expression, per the Urban Dictionary: riki-tik
Derived from a story in "The Jungle Book" by Rudyard Kipling. The story featured a mongoose named Rikki Tikki who exhibited great speed. To do something "riki-tik" or "most riki-tik" is to do it very quickly. The phrase has common usage in the US armed forces. by SpenserPS May 27, 2009)

How the people at Citizen made this happen is still pretty remarkable, but within a very short time span, 175 Citizen watches arrived in New York City!

Courtesy of Citizen

Courtesy of Citizen

But Watch Town was not done!  The owner of Ollech & Wajs had been working with folks in a few different countries to help them produce face masks for medical staff. He is based in Belgium, but his mother was born in the US, and he wanted to help. While Ollech & Wajs was a watch brand, they make mechanical watches, not quartz.  So an order was made to a "third party retailer" and a good amount of another brand's watches were purchased and delivered.  

And then there was Ray Grenon, of Grenon's of Newport in Rhode Island. 
Ray made it personal by donating a large number of his personal quartz collection.  On the Monday morning after Easter, he replaced all of the batteries in his watches and shipped them all down to NYC.

Curious to relate?  There really wasn't anything in this for the folks who donated. These were volunteers they were giving watches to, not an official charity.  There will be no tax credit statement, no mention in the monthly newsletter, no champagne thank you at the annual gala.  They all stepped up and helped without expecting a thank you.

But I wanted to personally thank them all, Gary, Ray, Ollech & Wajs, Yasmina, Ellen, Citizen, and most of all?  I wanted to thank Daniel and his incredibly dedicated band of brothers and sisters who stepped up to help us all be safer.  There are no words sufficient.  

But Daniel wanted to be sure that this story got told, so I am going to turn this part over to him -

May 21, 2020

Daniel Wentzel on his way to the hot zone
So my journey to the field hospitals of New York City began way back in 2009. I had just returned from deployment to Iraq as a Combat Medic in the US Army. I suffered injuries to my hips having had to have them both replaced over the next ensuing years. Prior to my deployment to Iraq, I was a Paramedic Supervisor in Elizabethtown PA providing pre-hospital EMS, among many other management related duties. When I had my Hip joints replaced I could no longer pass the physical requirements needed to perform as a pre-hospital EMS.

I decided that I would change careers and become a watchmaker, I enjoy working with my hands and true watchmaking requires critical thinking and problem solving. I then attended the York Time Institute for 2 yrs and graduated with a Diploma in Watch/ Clock Repair and Restoration. I was hired directly our of school in a high end Jewelry store in Massachusetts, I worked there for almost 3 years. It was hard for me to adjust to the environment with my old employer, I didn’t fit in with their culture, like most vets I am not a yes man. I decided to start my own watch repair/watch making home based business in January of 2019 working on my own endeavors.

Then came COVID-19, my clients dried up and I really had to sit down and figure out what I really wanted to do. I decided that I needed to give back to society again, my whole adult life has been about healing others, this is what made me truly happy deep down. I soon put out the feelers for jobs in the healthcare field where my experience and expertise could be best utilized. I was not having much success, lots of applications with little feedback. I then received a post on social media calling for prior service Medical Corp veterans to volunteer to staff a field hospital in NYC for treating COVID-19 patients. I applied Monday and got accepted the next day and was on a flight to NYC to be a medical provider at the Ryan Larkin Field Hospital-New York Presbyterian Hospital. I spent the next month providing care to patients stricken by COVID-19.

Medic in action
When I arrived in NYC I saw a need for wrist watches, most of the younger generation uses cell phones and smart watches for timing, they are not easily accessed in the controlled environments that were required in the “Bubble” COVID ward. I reached out to my friend James Henderson, who moved mountains to get the project moving; within a week's time he had already arranged several wristwatches to be set to NYC. I cannot thank him enough for all his hard work and to all the people who made the wristwatch mission happen. It is heart-warming know that there are people who can do something to help others and then follow through above and beyond what is asked of them.
In Action

Again, I would like to thank everyone involved, James Henderson, Gary Girdvainis of iW and About Time Magazine,Ray Grenon of Grenon's of Newport, Charles at Ollech & Wajs and Ellen from Citizen watches; you made our jobs much safer, productive and directly affected the outcome of our patients in a positive way due to your generosity.

Daniel Wentzel

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