Ryan Letada on Battling Covid-19, Practicing Humility, and NextDayBetter’s Response
We invited Ryan Letada, CEO and Co-founder of NextDayBetter, to share more about his experience fighting Covid-19, what he’s learned about humility, and how NextDayBetter is responding to the pandemic.
Fiona: Ryan, you and your fiancé tested positive for Covid-19 on March 20 and you’ve since shared your story on various platforms. Can you talk a bit about your experience with the disease?
Ryan: Thanks for checking in, really appreciate the community there. We definitely need more connection with each other. Weeks ago, we tested positive for Covid-19. Luckily my fiancé was mostly asymptomatic. For me, it was completely different. I consider myself a fit person, I take a lot of supplements and superfoods, but the moment I had it, my entire physical biology just shut down in ways I’ve never felt before. I remember when I started dry coughing, as a business owner doing work with census and immigrant communities, I was thinking to myself, “I don’t have time for this, this better not be covid-19.” And then it was.
I had dry coughs, escalating fever, loss of appetite and taste, and this unshakeable body ache. I’ve never felt this sick before. It was incredibly scary.
F: What was the testing process like? Seeking it, the timing of it, and working with whatever healthcare providers you did?
R: On day two of having dry coughs, I realized we needed to get tested. We called the New York State Department of Health and were put on hold for two hours. When we reached a human being on the phone, they said they’d call us back in 48 hours to help us find our nearest testing site. They didn’t call us back for 12 days. I live in Brooklyn, the testing site was on Staten Island. If you have no way of getting to Staten Island, how would you get tested? That was incredibly frustrating.
Luckily, we have a friend who told us about Northwell, an urgent care center in Brooklyn that was offering testing. We called them and they said they only had one test kit left and I could take that test at 9:30am that morning. They screened me for “real symptoms” and gave me that last test. They saw how bad my fever was getting so based on that they gave me the test, but what if you had a mild case? That means you wouldn’t get a test?
My fiancé was taking very careful notes of all the medications and symptoms. On day seven or eight, I blacked out. I thought to myself, this is crazy. I was taking nine to ten tylenol pills a day. I was feeling shortness of breath just walking around but I learned that the threshold for going to the hospital was if you felt like you couldn’t breathe while sitting down.
F: What kept you going?
R: The most harrowing part of the experience lasted about 12 days. The recovery process is a lot longer. Right now, I’m a couple weeks out from the worst of it and my lungs are still not one hundred percent yet. In terms of what kept me going, I’m so thankful for my fiancé, my partner. There were moments when I thought I might be days away from dying. I’ve never experienced questioning my mortality in that way. Being with my partner really solidified the fact that I’m so thankful to be with her.
Going to the hospital meant adhering to their no-visitor policy. The thought of dying alone was so terrifying to me. What really pulled me through was just her showing love in really unconditional ways.
F: You’d published your story on various platforms. What was the response from your community and what did that feel like to receive it?
It was an intentional decision to share our story because we realized people in our network really needed to understand the day-to-day experience of Covid-19. We wanted to educate and inform people. People found the story really helpful. It really saddens me that some people aren’t taking physical distancing seriously. This disease, Covid-19, kills. And I wanted to educate people about how bad it can get. A lot of people are grieving some sort of loss so I hope our story gave people hope. A lot of people responded with love, gratitude, and their own reflections.
It’s a practice of humility. How do we be humble around our limitations and give care to others. This is one of the lessons I’m taking away from this.
F: I understand that your storytelling platform, NextDayBetter, is collecting stories of Filipino and Asian Americans working the frontlines. Can you tell us more about how NextDayBetter is responding to Covid-19?
R: I’m really taking this experience and turning it into something positive. At NextDayBetter, we partner with mission-aligned brands to create storytelling campaigns for immigrant and migrant communities around the world. In partnership with AARP, we’re creating Coronavirus Storytelling to honor Asian Americans who are on the frontlines as cure-seekers, healthcare professionals, PPE makers. We want to tell stories to help combat the xenophobia and racism that many Asian Americans and Asians around the world are facing. We’re also telling stories around mental health of senior citizens and food insecurity.
This pandemic has disrupted initiatives like the census that ensure communities of color across the country are counted. We are working with them to do a digital storytelling campaign to tell stories of Arab Americans, LGBTQ Americans, Latinx, and undocumentaed folks. Our goal is to get everyone to participate in the census.
F: That’s a lot of work you’re doing! I’m sure you’ll tell us more during your Lunch and Learn on May 29 at 1pm. You mentioned combating xenophobia during this time. How do you make sense of the xenophobia and Anti-Asian sentiments that are arising?
I think about the word grief often. We’re grieving a loss of control, of loved ones, a loss of something. So the question is, are you grieving? And if you’re grieving, you go through an “angry” stage during which you blame someone. There’s racism and xenophobia that’s coming from this misplaced anger. I think we need to recognize if we’re feeling something, and consider how to project this out into the world that doesn’t hurt others. We need to practice “Covid compassion.”
F: I think a lot about mindfulness during this time, too. The ability to notice what’s arising but not react from that place, so you’re giving a spaciousness between emotion and reaction. A month ago you mentioned one of your best friends asked you if you see the world differently now that you’ve gone through this harrowing experience. At the time you said you weren’t sure. I want to ask now: do you have any new revelations?
Nope. One thing is clear: I don’t have all the answers and I don’t have to figure it out now. I’m reminded that time is precious, and as we move into a post-Covid-19 world, I’ll want to make sure I live my truth. Which is spending time with people and on things I care about. That’s what this experience has taught me. I don’t have all the answers and I want others to know if they don’t have answers, it’s alright. It’s humbling.
F: Such an important theme, humility. Who’s inspiring you, be it an individual, individuals, or an organization?
R: I want to give a shout out to creators who are filling the void by bringing information or joy during this uncertainty. There’s a lot of folks doing that, moving quickly, so people can access life-saving information, or just stories that make people feel good. Just remember, when you’re doing a Netflix or YouTube binge, those are artists and creators we need to support. Let’s keep it real, that’s what’s getting us through this pandemic.
F: What’s bringing you joy?
R: My partner and the gratitude I have for her. I thought I was going to die from this experience. But now I can look out this window and I don’t feel like I’m trapped. I feel like I’m the luckiest person. That brings me so much joy, but I’m not complacent! I still want to take action.
You have a chance to speak directly with Ryan during his Lunch and Learn on May 29 at 1pm. RSVP today!