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Pandemic Lessons From Our Nurses

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Patrick Paul

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January 25,2022

A set of commonly asked questions seems to surface every time we begin a new year. What are our goals or intentions for the next trip around the sun? What do we want to take with us from last year? What do we want to leave behind?

While most of us would gladly abandon many of the challenges, there’s no question that we should — and will — carry along the numerous lessons that were a direct result of those difficulties.

When I think about the experiences that taught me the most last year, witnessing the tenacity and perseverance of our nurses and the rest of our team has been among the most impactful.

Like any human services organizations that provide residential, educational, and vocational programs to people with disabilities, Anderson Center for Autism has encountered the kinds of challenges throughout this pandemic that really test the human spirit. From dealing with a less than adequate supply of PPE to managing the ever-changing guidance - and from providing emotional support to families who were unable to see their loved ones in quarantine to building morale for staff members who were working overtime to cover the shifts of sick colleagues, our nurses were especially in unchartered territory that required all of them to dig deep. But they’ve done it. Day after day, they’ve demonstrated what it means to own your role as a nurse completely and wholeheartedly. Watching each of them courageously face whatever has popped up on any given day has given me all kinds of valuable takeaways that can be applied to every aspect of life.

Here are the top 5:
Honor the experience of each individual. Our nurses have been there for families who were not able to be with their children for months at a time due to physical distancing requirements. Nurses communicated with them frequently, listening carefully to what each family member most needed while showing unwavering respect for whatever feelings were being shared.

Don’t underestimate the importance of gratitude. No matter how drained they are, our nurses have always taken the time to energize their colleagues by simply saying “thank you” to one another. I have seen the exhaustion and sense of overwhelm in one nurse’s eyes as she/he/they would turn to a colleague and say, “I really appreciate how you helped me out; thank you.” Those moments keep everyone feeling strong, appreciated, and bonded together.

Show up and be truly present. Our nurses have been there, every step of the way - not just in body, but in mind and spirit as well. They focus closely on what’s happening and what’s being discussed, they take the time to evaluate and research as needed — and they bring their whole hearts to every exchange.

Remember that we’re all interdependent. Our nurses know the importance of cooperation and collaboration. They live that out every day, and took that a step further throughout the pandemic, building partnerships with the local hospital and other agencies so that critical healthcare needs could better be met. By acknowledging how important it is for experts in the community to come together to help one another, they ended up helping those we serve.

Be values-driven. Our nurses always seem to be mindful of the “why” behind everything they do. This has clearly helped them tap into a rich reservoir of resilience, grit, and optimism that has kept them going when many might give up. Our nurses operated with Anderson’s mission driving every decision every day: that of optimizing the quality of life for people with autism. That focus on their mission and their values kept them feeling inspired even on the toughest days, and is yet another life lesson for all of us.

The word “unprecedented” has of course been overused at this point — but it’s probably the only one that captures the magnitude of impact that Covid-19 has had on all of us. Our nurses have quietly and humbly gone about their work in unprecedented ways, imparting great wisdom for all of humanity to collectively embrace.

May we each take a moment to thank our nurses and other healthcare professionals and first responders this year for the meaningful ways they have enriched not only the lives of those they serve, but really, all of us who will put their lessons into practice for decades to come.

Patrick Paul is the CEO/Executive Director of Anderson Center for Autism, located in Staatsburg, whose organizational mission is to "optimize the quality of life for people with autism". Visit andersoncenterforautism.org