Synchronicity, Miracles and Patient Zero
We were strangers on an airplane, flying across the country, and didn’t utter not even one word to each other, until we started our descent into Philly. It was September 2018, and my seatmate, I learned, was also an Angeleno, on her way to a Moroccan vacation. I was headed to the Poconos, to host our 24th Campowerment weekend for 150 women seeking transformation through fun and games.
It started with small talk. She went first. ”What do you do in LA?” Oh how I despise that question, and why it’s completely taboo at Campowerment. “I run women’s retreats…summer camp style, for grown ups” I tell her, “to unplug and learn ways to live life bigger and better.” She turns in her seat and looks me right in the eye. “Campowerment?,” she asks me, in complete disbelief. We are a small company, with a loyal and insanely connected community, but we’re certainly not a household name. “How the hell do you know about Campowerment?”, I ask, quite surprised myself. I figured, like tens of thousands of others, she read about us in Oprah Magazine, in an article that put us on the map in 2013.
“I’m going,” she said emphatically. “I heard the girl who started it on a podcast and she spoke to me, so I called my friend and said, ‘let’s do this’. I’ll be there in Malibu in November.”
“I’m the girl,” I told her, just as my ears started to pop and I could almost see William Penn atop City Hall on Broad Street. We talked a mile a minute and didn’t shut up til we got off the plane. She told me she was divorced and had just met a great guy who she was falling for, and was excited for this much needed vacation to North Africa. We exchanged numbers, because I just knew the Universe had randomly seated us together for some bigger reason. Who flies to Morocco through Philadelphia?
Her name was AJ, and instantly, I knew she was my people.
As I made my way through the terminal, I chuckled to myself about the magic of Campowerment, and how the right people always somehow find their way towards this life-altering program I built with my mom and my daughter seven years ago.
In the following weeks, AJ and I texted a few times, but didn’t connect again til a week before the November camp, when I called to ask her if she would join me on the stage at the opening ceremonies in Malibu. To share our story of synchronicity.
That was the day our camp burned to the ground in the Malibu fires, taking with it everything we owned.
When AJ showed up last March to our “Phoenix Rising From the Ashes” Malibu makeup camp in Lake Arrowhead, the connection was real…and our conversations ran deep. She talked about her kids and her divorce and Gregg, who was turning into the man of her dreams. She was finally living the life she had always wanted, and her energy was like a ray of sunshine that lit up everyone who crossed her path that weekend. Including me. We spoke a few times after camp and even tried to make plans, but life got in the way, as it often does.
And then I got really sick and my mom died and I took off on a six month hiatus and then…COVID19 happened. To people I didn’t know, and families whose lives never touched mine.
I watched the horror unfold for so many thousands of people, from the comfort of my 91-year old grieving dad’s South Florida living room, where I just happened to be visiting, when everyone began to shelter in place. To protect themselves from the “dreaded Coronavirus” that was headed straight for us. The one the President swore was bullshit, but we all knew was coming, as it ravaged Italy, and was turning Spain’s ice skating rinks into makeshift morgues. I had come to Miami for a family wedding, and to spend a few days with my dad, who was struggling to live without my mom. That’s when I realized my travel plans were coming to a screeching halt and I hunkered down, jumping into caregiver mode. Committed to doing everything I could to protect my daddy from getting this thing our government was completely blowing off.
Because I had a high risk old man to protect, I went nowhere. As a former journalist, I couldn’t help but get sucked into the news, which my dad had on 24/7. As the virus started to spread, and the words “social distancing” entered our vernacular, all I kept hearing was that cases were mounting and the insane number of dead people was growing exponentially each day. And while I wore a mask when I ventured out on my very early daily morning walks, I isolated and insulated myself from the reality of this nightmare that was actually starting to reveal a few silver linings, as the weeks flew by.
My business, which until now had been an IRL connective experience, began to explode in the digital world, as we quickly responded to our community’s request to help our clients stay connected to their camp sisters, from a distance. The Earth began to heal, the color of the flowers in bloom seemed to deepen, and the people we were connecting with online and in person on my daily walks in the neighborhood (from across the street) seemed to be softening. I now know we are never going back to the old normal, but I still have high hopes for all that lies ahead, once COVID19 is behind us. Whenever that’s gonna be.
But the gloom and doom was constant. More people in the US have already died from this virus than perished in the Vietnam War. Every day, the stories get worse, and the numbers just keep growing. Incomprehensible.
And on the news: all we see are the horror stories, and occasionally, a patient being wheeled out of the hospital in what looks like Hazmat gear, to a standing ovation by doctors and nurses who stop what they’re doing to honor these warriors…the strong ones who miraculously beat this insidious disease, against the odds.
And as the weeks passed, I could feel it getting closer. We started knowing people who knew people who were coming down with the virus. By last week, every single person I know, knew someone who knew someone who was killed by the Coronavirus.
And then last week, a link to this Go Fund Me campaign somehow landed on my Facebook page:
It was an unbelievable tale of survival, and fortitude. I read every word of this miraculous story of a California Hospital’s Patient Zero, their very first COVID victim who was admitted March 5 with a mysterious illness, after getting sick on a boys ski trip to Italy. All 13 of those super fit, die hard athletes on that vacation-turned-nightmare were taken down by the Cornavirus, in various degrees.
I could see from the picture that this dude was healthy and handsome and smart and in tip top shape before he got sick. But after spending 31 days on a ventilator, with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, a tracheotomy, kidney failure that put him on CRRT dialysis which severely affected his liver, four pneumothorax’s, resulting in 4 subsequent chest tubes, MRSA and full blown sepsis throughout his body, and a fifty pound weight loss, with a ONE PERCENT chance of survival, this story on the Go Fund Me page talked about how the love and intense dedication of the staff is what literally kept him alive. Because they were gonna be damned if they were gonna lose their Patient Zero.
It was about humanity and sacrifice and the desire to make a difference, I’m told, that kept his doctors and nurses and all the other angels there, doing everything they could for this this guy, staying long past the time they were supposed to clock out. Every single day.
Because if he died, how could they stay motivated to continue to risk their own lives through this crisis? If anyone could beat this, it was gonna be this ironman named Gregg Garfield,who had also survived an avalanche in 2006. Duh.
This 54 year old superhero had become a symbol of perseverance for the folks at St. Joseph’s Hospital, a stone’s throw away from Disney’s very first Burbank animation studios…the place where maidens get rescued by their Prince Charmings and fairy tales really do come true.***On the silver screen anyway…
And while Gregg’s story appeared to be nothing short of miraculous, because he was getting better, and was actually moved to rehab to start to learn to walk again, he was still dealing with the threat of still more complications from COVID19. The ones nobody hears about. Amputations, prosthetics, and more surgeries…
As I pulled out my credit card to donate, to help this poor guy get his house retrofitted to accommodate this new “normal”, once we was able to finally go home, I could not stop reading this story. And as I scrolled down, there was a photo.
It was AJ. And Gregg, the love of her life. Patient Zero.
I texted her immediately, to see how I could help and within minutes, got this response:
“Hi Beautiful! Wow… The power of community and social media… Yes, it has been quite a roller coaster to say the least. But he is a survivor! And a warrior! It has been such a road but he is coming out on the other side. I have been able to spend the last two weeks with him in the hospital daily. 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻 The hospital allowed me visitation rights because he is Patient Zero and they are doing anything to help him survive and get through this nightmare.
His doctors, nurses and community have saved his life and lifted us up daily. Absolutely incredible.
He has quite a road ahead of him with 24 hour nursing care, physical therapy, house retrofitting and likely facing a number of surgeries/amputations and prosthesis in the future.
Yes this has been a fucking nightmare turned into a dream come true. Amazing what life hands you and how the universe and community and villages and high vibrations can create miracles! And I am beyond blessed to be able to have him by my side going forward.
If you could share this with your community, and circulate the Go Fund Me to share his story of inspiration, we would be so grateful. Would love for more people to see a STORY of SUCCESS!”
That night, AJ and I did a Zoom call, and voila, there was Gregg…sitting up in bed (looking hot), completely clear, sharing his story and all the horrors about the things we’re not hearing. Of how real this whole COVID thing is. How it took down a healthy guy with NO pre-existing conditions, who skied 100 days a year. She shared with me where his thoughts went, when he was unable to speak. Of his ICU psychosis, when he thought his nurses were trying to kill his best friend, of the mind games he played with himself on the good days when he wasn’t completely out of it. Fearing death but not surrendering to it. Having AJ there, to help him unravel the crap in his head, is what is now helping bring Gregg back to life, despite the long road ahead.
It’s a story of how true love and sheer will can heal you, even when the doctors tell you otherwise.
I knew AJ, the stranger I was destined to meet on that plane nearly two years ago, the adorable sprite who cast her light on so many people in my world, had some kind of pixie dust flowing through her veins. What I didn’t know, was that the love inside this magic Princess could help save her Prince Charming, and that together, against every single odd that was thrown at them, they ARE going to live happily ever after. In an even better life than they ever could have dreamed of.
Let’s help these two lovebirds live theirs…please share their story with everyone you know, and alleviate some of the costs that will come with their return to “normal”, which my late mom used to tell us was “nothing more than a cycle on the washing machine” anyway.
TODAY, Gregg is going home. He will walk out of St. Joseph’s Hospital on his own, without a wheelchair. When we Zoom’d yesterday, I saw the determination on his face as he raced around that PT room, completely unassisted, with a brace on his leg, to hold up his dropfoot. Miracles really CAN happen.
Even Walt Disney’s imagination couldn’t make this one up…
Almost a century ago, as the story goes, when Walt Disney went to secure funding to build an animation studio in Burbank, his father told him he was crazy. And the bank didn’t get it either. But Disney convinced them to take the risk and build a studio, hospital-style, with super wide hallways so when it presumably failed, the bank could take it back and sell it to a hospital. A few years later, as Disney’s studios were growing, St. Joseph’s Hospital, the place that ultimately saved Gregg’s life, was built. Right across the street. Disney’s original building, where you can still see the Seven Dwarfs holding up the roof, still stands…and is still jokingly referred to as “the hospital”.