Legacies and social media

Back around November 1st of 2009, my sister-in-law went quiet on me. I mean that literally and figuratively. She is someone who checks in with me fairly regularly, and I noticed that I hadn’t heard from her in quite a few days. I finally broke down and called my brother-in-law on a Sunday afternoon to find out why, and was told by him that she had taken ill with some type of flu and was upstairs with body aches, fever and chills. No respiratory or GI problems, just those symptoms. Ok, so H1N1 came to mind – it was the topic of the year regarding airborne pathogens, but the lack of other symptoms made me pause.

The next morning, I was riding the train into Chicago and decided to text message her to see if she was feeling better. You see, I had found out a few months earlier when leaving a message with her via text late at night, thinking that it would wait until morning, that she is still the proverbial mother, waiting for an urgent missive (only these days, as every parent of a GenY knows, in the form of a text) from her adult daughter in Washington, so she listens for and answers texts about 99.9% of the time, at any hour. This time, though, no answer came back. Neither did the phone call that I placed to her home in the next instant get answered.

It turned out that, about an hour after I had spoken to my brother-in-law on that Sunday, he had found his wife in respiratory distress upstairs, and but for a few miraculous incidents that transpired which I won’t list here, she would have been dead within that hour. She spent the next three weeks in an ICU on a ventilator, fighting a “Superbug” infection that is with us all in our environments, while we waited with baited breath to find out whether she’d wake up, what her life would be like if and when she did, and what we could do to cope and help her family in the meantime.

I was traveling all over the place at the time, and I needed to do something to help. They have lived in three or four cities by now, so what my brother-in-law said he needed help with, and what he knew I was capable of, was a way to cut down on the hundreds of phone calls he was receiving from all over the country from well-meaning friends by providing updates to all of them at once, so that he could focus on helping his family.

That’s where this blog comes in.

I know that there are CarePages and CaringBridge available to patients’ friends and families for just this purpose. I went and looked at them. What seemed easier to control and customize, and much quicker to do at the time was to gut this blog’s contents and use it to rally the troops around my sister-in-law’s recovery. A phone call with my niece who was on-site with her mother confirmed that this seemed like a good choice, so the process began. My niece and brother-in-law shared the link with the various groups of well wishers and supporters, and within hours we had a centralized news and resource hub for this catastrophic episode.

My sister-in-law was on the ventilator for about 17 days. On the day that the ventilator was removed and she started breathing on her own, this blog had over 500 visits. Those visits consisted of neighbors new and old, in multiple states, parents of children with whom her children had attended school, childhood friends, people with whom my brother-in-law had worked in multiple states, some of the young adults who are friends with her children, teachers from her son’s school, and miscellaneous others. I know because they left hundreds of supportive and loving comments here. They shared pictures, we ran a poll guessing what she’d say when the vent was removed, I shared resource links about where she was and what she was suffering from, and quotes to help us all along as we waited.

I am an information professional. It is my business to study trends in how information is consumed and shared, among other things. I have read many of the books and listened to lectures from knowledgeable people that talk about the concepts of “disintermediation” and “mass amateurization” – the fact that everyone can be a publisher these days and all of the related discussions that arise around the historical roles of professional intermediaries and whether they’re still necessary and in what regard.

In this case, I think it was the “best of times” in terms of a demonstration of the reach and accessibility of social media and the fact that everyone felt welcome to contribute. I saw facets of my sister-in-law’s life come alive on these pages that I would never have otherwise been privy to; I got to know her friends in a virtual sense and to love them for their support of her and her family. What was beautiful about it was the fact that many of those people loved her enough to put themselves out there in cyberspace, to put their fears about technology and security aside if they had them, regardless of age or gender or level of experience, and rally around this spot where they knew they could find others. It became its own social network. There are very good justifications for needing professional involvement when the objectives are strategic and accuracy important, but people can come together now, for a little while or for the duration, from anywhere and at any time and without any expense, for truly good purposes. Now that’s heart-thumping stuff.

People have told her that the blog was what they lived by during that time. Some of her friends who were able to visit her in the ICU told her that the blog existed when she still had tubes in and couldn’t talk, and about how many people were writing and sharing. We printed everything off and gave it to her as a testament to the love that she generated. And as a “welcome back” gift, many of us chipped in and gave her what we thought was a fitting gift, an Amazon Kindle for her long term recovery.

Now this blog will become something else again, beginning with this post, but for me it will have this lovely legacy. And I’m glad she’s here to share it.


About diannawiggins

Information and Knowledge Management professional with experience from Fortune 500 and nonprofit industries. I exude a love of learning and
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