Centaurus High School nurse Paula Waldhoff says it is hard to believe that the coronavirus crisis hit Colorado only two short months ago.
“It seems like a million years ago,” said Waldhoff.
It is impossible for her to forget the day – March 4 – when media attention turned to Centaurus, after a substitute informed school administration about a notice from their cruise line, letting them know that a cluster of people from a recent cruise had tested positive for COVID-19.
Nurses focused on providing updated information during chaotic situation
In two months, we have learned so much about the virus, as we have abided by Stay-at-Home orders and crafted face masks. As Waldhoff remembers, in those first days it was far more chaotic.
“There is a lot of fear and panic during a pandemic,” explained Waldhoff. “At the beginning no one was really sure how much it was going to spread and who had it and what kind of symptoms to look for.”
The substitute, who ended up never developing symptoms, was kept at home during the 14-day incubation period and no other cases were reported at the school. Throughout it all Waldhoff worked to support her colleagues at the school with the latest information and protocols about COVID-19.
“We got a lot of good direction from [Health Services Director] Stephanie [Faren] and Health Services. We stuck to what the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control were saying in terms of guidelines, in terms of precautions everyone should take,” Waldhoff recalled. “When there is fear and panic like that you really have to stick to the facts and just be very pragmatic. ‘Here is what the CDC is saying,’ ‘here is what the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is saying.’ That is the information that we have to give people.”
Supporting the most vulnerable students during the pandemic
Even before there was a confirmed case in Colorado, BVSD Nurse Consultant Jill Davis says the families of her most vulnerable students were already taking action.
“They saw the epidemic coming and started to keep kids home in February,” Davis said.
The registered nurse who serves five schools in the eastern part of Boulder Valley including Birch, Kohl, Emerald and Lafayette elementary schools and Horizons K-8, says that she works with six nurses whose job is to provide one-on-one support to students who require day-long medical support to engage in learning. From the beginning she and her colleagues in Health Services have been working to stay up to speed on the latest information about the coronavirus – to ensure those and the remainder of the students in their care were protected.
“I’m on weekly CDE (Colorado Department of Education) and CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) conferences,” Davis said. “Whenever Governor Polis speaks, we are on that, working to keep everyone up to date on the latest information.”
Davis says that many people do not realize that public schools, including Boulder Valley School District, are required to serve these medically fragile students.
“Thanks to modern medicine, many more severely medically fragile babies live longer and come to our schools,” Davis said. “This year, I’ve really worked with a family with a 3-year-old who recently came to BVSD. He is on a ventilator and he comes to school every day on a ventilator. I’ve been working with two nurses ensuring he has access to his preschool education. It really puts your life into perspective, especially during a pandemic.”
Normally a big part of her role is building trust, so that families know that BVSD’s nurses will take good care of their children.
“Those families come in terrified. These children are their precious beings and they are so medically impacted that you can’t even imagine,” Davis said. “For them to trust our school district to take care of their precious beings every day, it is such a gift really.”
Now, she is touching base with her families regularly, sharing the latest information. As you might imagine, many of those families have questions, wondering about plans for students to return to school. They work to reassure them.
“We try to eliminate some of their fears,” Davis said.
Davis also says that she has been touched by the community’s support for the students she cares for, including an 8-year-old child in Broomfield who recently completed his last chemotherapy treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Neighbors and classmates held a drive-by parade to celebrate.
“I knew his struggles,” Davis said. “I thought [the parade] was so touching.”
Both Davis and Waldhoff say that it is the interactions they typically have with students that make their jobs so fulfilling – and what they miss most now during the pandemic.
“We really thrive on being around people and helping them and listening to them,” said Waldhoff. “It has been really hard not having that human contact, just like it has been for everyone.”
Both nurses encourage students and parents to reach out with health-related questions. They say they’re happy to answer questions about COVID-19 and want everyone to remember that they focus on the whole child, so if a student is struggling with the crisis physically, mentally or behaviorally, they can help connect families with resources.
“A lot of students experience anxiety and pressure. If you are seeing your student having problems with that or not coping well, we can be a bridge for that too,” Waldhoff said.
She also encourages all of the adults to keep an eye out for compassion fatigue. While it typically is a term used in health care, Waldhoff recently shared information with the educators at Centaurus.
“They are always caring for other people. It can be really wearing. It can be especially impactful during a time like this when you are being called upon to do that more so than you’ve ever done before,” Waldhoff said.
According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project symptoms include:
Bottled up emotions
Isolation from others
Receives unusual amount of complaints from others
Voices excessive complaints about administrative functions
Substance abuse used to mask feelings
Compulsive behaviors such as overspending, overeating, gambling, sexual addictions
Poor self-care (i.e., hygiene, appearance)
Legal problems, indebtedness
Recurrence of nightmares and flashbacks to traumatic event
Chronic physical ailments such as gastrointestinal problems and recurrent colds
Apathy, sad, no longer finds activities pleasurable
Mentally and physically tired
In denial about problems
She encourages educators to give themselves some grace and patience.
“You are doing the best you can,” Waldhoff said. “You got into this profession because you care about people and you want to help. That is what you are doing. You just need to take care of yourself during this time too.”
It is good advice for all of us during these difficult times.