After a grueling shift, exhausted nurses and doctors walk out hospital doors, their tired faces red and raw where masks have rubbed against their skin for many long hours. But when they’re met by a chorus of cheers and salutes from firefighters, police, and EMTs, those tired faces break into smiles, and, a lot of the time, tears.
Among them is Sue Weimer, the school nurse from Shawnee High School in Burlington County, New Jersey. Now she’s on the front lines, caring for the surge of coronavirus patients as a per diem nurse at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she had been working part time as an ER nurse on weekends during the school year.
The cheers from other first responders and the waves, applause and signs saying "Thank You" from people standing on porches or in apartment windows helps buoy spirits, as does the outpouring of support Weimer says she’s received from from friends and neighbors. The support is tangible -- from donated meals from area restaurants to headbands with buttons sewn onto them so hospital staff can attach masks and head covering bands around them to avoid irritating their skin.
On social media, Weimer sends encouraging messages to students and their families.
“I want to let kids know their school nurses are still here and we’re doing what we can to help them get back to school,” Weimer told the Burlington County Times. “We can make a difference in the world, even just by sewing a mask or donating food. This affects all of us. It’s important to know what’s going on and how we can help each other.”
All over the country, school nurses have joined the fight against the pandemic. They’ve emptied out supply closets and donated everything, including thermometers, gloves, and respirator masks. Some have joined hospital staff on the frontlines while others engage with the community to do virtual wellness checks and offer advice.
School Nurse Checks In on 600 Students
Carmen Hill, the school nurse for Gateway Elementary School in St. Louis, Mo., spends her days calling every one of her 600-student families to check on their well-being and offer help.
She knows that many of her students and their older siblings have asthma, and family members might have other underlying conditions. When she gets to the end of the alphabet, she’ll start again at the beginning.
“School is central to the lives of our community’s children, and for someone at school to reach out and let them know we care … and that we’re here to help them in any way, it makes them feel so good and so much better able to cope,” says Hill, who used to work nights as an ICU nurse at a local hospital.
Her former coworkers, she says, are heartened by the community’s constant applause for their heroism in putting their lives on the line. “If I can help them by helping the rest of our community stay healthy, then I will do everything I can to accomplish that,” she adds.
She says helping is part of her genetic makeup. “I’d been a hospital nurse for almost 40 years and a school nurse for more than 20, and I love to nurture,” she says. “First and foremost, I love children.”
In Her Words: Headband Help
By June Curti, RN, School Nurse at Arthur L. Johnson H.S., Clark, New Jersey
Nurses have an innate drive to want to help others, so now is the time to get creative. Being a nurse, I want to help desperately, but I cannot go to work on the front line since I am a caregiver for my husband who has both a neurological and cardiac disorder. So, I contacted my public school district Superintendent, Mr. Ed Grande, to assist me in donating gloves from our school supply to the local hospital and our town’s first responders.
Next, I heard about the project that Joann’s Fabric Store was doing to have people with sewing experience pick up the materials at their store to sew masks that they would deliver to healthcare workers. After making countless masks, my cousin, Lisa Alt, saw on Facebook that nurses were asking for headbands that could be worn to attach the elastic from their masks to prevent the pain the elastic caused on their ears from long hours of wear.
Lisa offered to pay for the material and iron the headbands, neighbors brought zip-lock bags full of odd household buttons to my front porch, and fellow school nurse, Donna Kircher and my neighbor, Stephanie Ledden and her son Richard, offered to sew the buttons on, freeing me up to continue the machine sewing. It has truly become a team effort.
What I see as my team of neighbors and friends is a small representation of other smaller teams, like mine, working to help our most vulnerable workers. We are clinging to hope and sewing with positive energy. To defeat this indefatigable virus, this is exactly what we all need to do. If everyone does one or two small things like sew headbands or masks, donate to local food banks, and most importantly, stay home, all of our little actions will make a big difference. This is the American way: we are grassroots and we are strong.
As a nurse who spent 21 years working in critical care and the ER, I have the utmost respect for all of the healthcare workers going through this very difficult time. This pandemic has touched everyone’s life in so many ways. We will get through this together.