School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: Pandexit (n) – the Final Phase of a Pandemic

Image credit:
Mary-Jo Valentino and Peter Alfano

On March 18, 2020, my school district closed down for what was supposed to be a two-week pause. We were instructed to bring home enough work to keep us busy until March 30th. More than 12 months passed before we actually returned to our school buildings. The calendar blotter sitting on my desk, frozen in time from March 2020, reminded me that incredulously a year had passed. 

This past week, we began to welcome back our students in real life. The first few days I felt a little rusty and disconnected. I scrambled to regain my footing for in-person school nursing. I was quickly back in the saddle, especially when one of my littles was brought to my office covered in spiked seed pods from a tree in the play yard. Finally, something non-COVID related to snap me back into action. 

COVID-19 reared its complicated and ugly head, even in the first few days of school reopening. Not all staff are vaccinated and we are still in the midst of a pandemic, so it is not a surprise to have positive cases find their way into school buildings. We have planned, revised our plans, and revised our revised plans during this year of virtual school nursing. But still, each scenario challenges us to be sure we are thinking about possible exposures from all angles. 

School nurses are tasked with keeping students and school staff safe from an invisible invader. We have few tools, minimal support, and can be the target of tremendous pushback when having conversations with parents whose child may have had an exposure at school or who show possible symptoms. I have written extensively about school nurses who report that this school year has broken them, even though they once loved their work. In the twice-weekly support groups I host for school nurses across the country, we often talk about the challenges we are facing.  Group members caution colleagues in distress to not make important career decisions based on this difficult year of service.

Stepping back into life is like taking a cold shower, a bit shocking, but refreshing too. The first time I left the confines of my home and drove to one of my schools, I actually got lost in the city that I have worked for twenty years. I pulled over, took a breath, and gave myself a pep talk. I was feeling overwhelmed by the weight of the responsibilities that were ahead of me. Knowing that so many colleagues had successfully returned to school buoyed my wavering confidence. I took an inventory of all of the stories that have been shared and I prepared myself to step back into life knowing that I was not as alone as I was feeling. 

While I was in the midst of writing this blog post, my dear friend and brilliant colleague, Barbara Glickstein asked if I had heard about “Pandexit.” Always eager to learn, I quickly googled the new term and was not surprised to find that this term was coined by the genius minds behind “Dear Pandemic”

This information was retrieved from

Pandexit (n.) The final phase of a pandemic. The messy, halting, confusing labyrinth we must navigate to get from where we are to our new normal.
Nerdy Girls Dr. Malia Jones and Dr. Christine Whelan, who are also colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, teamed up to define and describe the pleasures and perils of our current moment.
We’re collectively riding an emotional rollercoaster.
One moment we’re agonizing over hard decisions such as “is it safe to return to in-person worship?” The next, we’re crying tears of joy reuniting with our newly vaccinated best friend. The result? A very messy emotional whiplash.
🤔 Properly naming this moment can help us cope better.
The ability to name emotions facilitates effective responses to them – a concept scientists call “emotional granularity.” Analogously, naming this moment in the pandemic’s trajectory can help us successfully surf its choppy emotional waters.
🤗 The “Three Es of Emotion” can help us stay on solid emotional ground.
Steadying strategies include (1) empathizing with others; (2) ending ruminations over small decisions before making yourself crazy; and (3) escaping away from the information firehose to combat overwhelm.
A final note:
Love the word pandexit? Let’s make it a thing. Spread the word to help us honor this liminal, messy, and important time for us all. As always, we Nerdy Girls will be here to help you stay safe and stay sane throughout.
Those Nerdy Girls
File under: Mental health; Uncertainty and misinformation; Reopening
Drs. Jones and Whelan’s commentary:
The Three Es of Emotion – credit to Drs. Geeta Menon and Ellie Kyung’s related Harvard Business Review article:
Stepping back into life is possible, albeit disorienting and a bit scary, but doable. Give yourself space, grace and ask for support if you feel overwhelmed. We do not have to suffer in silence just because we are nurses and should be able to handle it all. Like all things COVID-related, we are also building the “re-entry plane” as we are flying it. In other words, we are in the midst of Pandexit, continue to be safe my friends. 

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