I feel like we are caught in a cycle of wishing these pandemic years away because they represent so much loss, illness, disruption, and collective trauma. I half jokingly refer to each one as dog years, so two are the equivalent of fourteen in human years. It certainly feels that long. We could not wait for the calendar to change to 2021 as we desperately wanted 2020 in our rearview mirror. 2021 began with the promise of the COVID vaccine with so much hope and relief doled out one jab at a time. But 2021 is ending on another COVID cliff of uncertainty as the omicron variant has swiftly proven to be a formidable foe, even to those of us who are fully vaccinated and boosted.
School came crashing to a close this past week as cases rose exponentially in my district and others across the country. I held my breath as case after case came to light in the three schools I cover. By the end of the week, more than 1/3 of my students were in quarantine due to exposures to COVID positive students and/or family members. I could finally exhale on my drive home Thursday afternoon because we are finally on Christmas break and for a brief time, I am not responsible for keeping other people’s children safe. That is the crux of my anxiety, the overwhelming responsibility of keeping other people’s children safe in a very unsafe world.
Here comes 2022 and I desperately don’t want to wish another year away. It is hard to wrap my mind around us going into year number three of the pandemic. School has been impacted by COVID over three school years; 2019-2020, 2020-2021, and this year 2021-2022. If you have a child in fourth grade this year, their last typical school year was when they were in first grade. Life is clearly demarcated as before and during COVID, we have no after yet. It has become our inclination to look at pictures and immediately identify if it was during COVID from the presence or absence of masks. Marking life this way has become instinctual.
Our resources are stretched as thin as our patience, tolerance and bandwidth. I am planning on using this brief break to recharge my depleted physical and emotional batteries, but worry they will be quickly drained upon my return to school. Moral injury has become a common thread of discussion on school nursing message boards and in my weekly virtual support groups. It is important to acknowledge what is present for us and not minimize the impact. When we say these things out loud and share our collective truths, we reduce the load, no longer feel alone and isolated. I am thankful for my school nursing community. This group of colleagues turned friends helps to fortify my resolve to make it through another year of pandemic school nursing. 2022, I am looking you squarely in the eye, hoping for the best and once again, prepared for the worst.
Robin Cogan, MEd, RN, NCSN is a Nationally Certified School Nurse (NCSN), currently in her 20th year as a New Jersey school nurse in the Camden City School District. She serves on several national boards including The American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM), a gun violence prevention research non-profit organization and the National Board of Certification for School Nurses (NBCSN). Robin is the Legislative Chair for the New Jersey State School Nurses Association (NJSSNA). She is proud to be a Johnson & Johnson School Health Leadership Fellow and past Program Mentor. She has been recognized in her home state of New Jersey and nationally for her community-based initiative called “The Community Café: A Conversation That Matters.” Robin is the honored recipient of multiple awards for her work in school nursing and population health. These awards include 2019 National Association of School Nurses (NASN) President’s Award; 2018 NCSN School Nurse of the Year; 2017 Johnson & Johnson School Nurse of the Year; and the New Jersey Department of Health 2017 Population Health Hero Award. Robin serves as faculty in the School Nurse Certificate Program at Rutgers University-Camden School of Nursing, where she teaches the next generation of school nurses. She was presented the 2018 Rutgers University – Camden Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award for Part-time Faculty.