Who would have predicted two years ago that we would cross an unthinkable threshold of one million lives lost, 200,000 children losing at least one caregiver and that we would still be playing hide and seek with a debilitating virus. Who would have imagined that the country would be divided across party lines about protecting children and vulnerable people by fighting simple protective measures like universal masking. Institutions, like the CDC, long-held in the highest esteem, have had their reputations tarnished by the politicization of COVID. The shaky public health infrastructure that preceded the pandemic has all but crumbled under the weight of the national emergency that has endured for twenty-four months.
Where it all went wrong will be up to historians to tease apart for decades to come. What we do know is that there are workforces, like nursing, healthcare, and education that will take a very long time to recover, if ever. There is no time like the present, with a bit of a lull in the case counts to catch our collective breath and begin to re-envision what can be and in fact, needs to be moving forward.
I keep revisiting one moment in the pandemic that stood out to me. It was Friday, March 13, 2020, and I drove to the preschool where I typically spend my Fridays. In fact, I was there today, Friday, March 11, 2022, exactly two later. I pulled into the parking lot that morning, which feels decades ago, but COVID is dog years, so it makes sense that it feels very far in the past, and the lot was empty. My internal alarms were blaring as I looked across the street to the school building, usually bustling with parents dropping off children and there was no one to be found. The lights were out, the building was dark. It was a dreary, cold mid-March morning and I vividly remember thinking that the world was about to change. It felt apocalyptic.
On the street was one sole mom with her little one, as confused as I was that the building was shut down and there was no message on the door, or missed phone calls or text messages from the school to explain what was happening. I went into problem-solving mode and quickly found out that the building was closed because a staff member was reported to be ill. It was my first encounter with COVID-like illness, remember there were no tests available initially. The school made the quick decision out of an abundance of caution to close the building.
Within a few short days, our entire district would be shut down for what would be one full year of remote learning. We did reopen in a hybrid capacity at the end of the 2020-2021 school year and have remained open throughout 2021-2022. The fact that we could achieve this feat fell mostly on the shoulders of school nurses and school staff who diligently worked as a team to implement the protective public health mitigation strategies that many districts, parents, and communities have fought against.
While I am not sure what the future holds, I do know that we have experienced a collective trauma and that our beloved profession of school nursing has suffered significant losses which will take time to heal and recover. We have lost colleagues, our footing when our decision-making has been questioned or challenged. We have temporarily lost confidence in our own skillset after countless belittling from parents or even school staff who do not agree with our assessments. We have lost our autonomy after school administrators have attempted to silence our voices.
We have also gained a tremendous amount. We have gained a resolve that we will not tolerate the disrespect or impossible workloads that were forced upon us. We have gained a collective will to speak up for what we need in order to provide care and support to our students and staff, even if our voices shook. We have gained the skill set to write letters to the editors, speak before school boards, testify at the highest levels of state government. We have gained strength in knowing that we have given these last two impossible years our all and we have been successful in saving lives, in spite of the obstacles thrown in our way.
I am proud to be a school nurse, one who survived (so far) a global pandemic. I am thankful for those who have joined my weekly virtual support groups. I am indebted to all of the school nurses who have reached out to me after reading a blog post to share their reflections. I am grateful to have met each and every one of you either virtually or in real life.