By: Matthew Byrne, PhD, RN, CNE, St. Catherine University
The day began at the printer. I needed copies of skill lists, medication talking points, attendance sheets, and case studies. In volunteering to help cover faculty labs and simulations due to several COVID-19 exposures, I knew I would have my hands full. I crammed the night before on content I had not taught for several years and felt it rush back, with (mostly) fond memories of night shifts in the ICU and many years working on post-anesthesia care units.
I passed students tapping responses into their COVID symptom checker apps and getting temperature screens before pulling my quarantined colleague up on a video call. I stood at one end of the lab and she was projected onto the other so that students would find a familiar face. As the students filed in, they unflinchingly greeted me, gifting their attention to this stranger in an N95 and face shield. They had clearly settled into the ambiguity of the times and were welcoming, not surprised to see a new face. We were a community formed by chaos and happenstance, but we all settled into the task at hand with humor and patience, perhaps born of the absurdity of our hybrid teaching team.
I rushed from the lab back to my office for a student conduct meeting with the course team. This student’s life, like so many others, was unraveling as a result of the thousand tiny cuts of COVID. Via video, we attempted to assure the student and collaboratively edited remediation plan documents. We would schedule a follow-up meeting once the student had time to process today’s review and decide her next steps.
Looking out of the window I saw a delivery truck pull up with our much-needed order of personal protective equipment. We were in a race to safely gain every hour possible in our lab and clinical sites before what seemed to be an inevitable second (third?) lockdown. Were my head counts correct? Would we be able to get the PPE out to students and faculty fast enough? They needed every shield we could find to guard them from what was becoming a growing but sometimes invisible threat of positive and asymptomatic patients present in every clinical site we were in.
My last task of the day was to respond to an earnest message from a faculty member who was beginning to see one of our clinical sites ominously overrun by suspected and actual COVID cases. She feared for herself, her students, their patients, and the staff around them. I struggled to find words of reassurance for this faculty member, someone who was always composed and rarely complained, but now seemed like a canary in a COVID-filled coal mine.
Before signing out, I instant messaged wishes of warm weather to a faculty member who was leading a student clinical group at a pop-up COVID testing site in a parking lot. Faculty and students have adapted, flexed, and improvised to the point of breaking, pushing their creativity and their use of technology to new limits. New ideas and approaches scrambled together in a few days would have typically taken weeks, if not months, to formulate and implement in a pre-COVID world. This is our life, from clinic rooms and homeless shelters to NICUs and classrooms. This is what we do as nurses and educators, and I am proud of how we have risen to the challenge. I hear some faculty, and even some students, lament that their education these harrowing months may not have been as good as in normal times. I am beginning to think the opposite. So many have been able to face the stress of the times with new-found teaching tools and reserves of hope and patience that will serve them now and in their professional lives ahead.