Sharing Our Stories ArtAlumnae Stories from the Pandemic

Our new “Sharing Our Stories” series is designed to show how our AADC alumnae sisters are dealing with the changes in their lives resulting from the COVID-19 global pandemic. We have all had to make changes. Please share YOUR story with your alumnae sisters. Email us your story at douglassalumnae@douglassalumnae.org

Katie Jenkins Cooke 05.2020Kathryn Jenkins Cooke ’10 has served as Class Secretary since her graduation. She works in Medicaid policy for the AIDS Institute, New York State Department of Health in Albany, New York, where she lives with her husband and two children. She celebrated her first five-year Reunion in 2015 along with her daughter Lexi and her mother Nancy Mencel Jenkins ’77. Here is her story, shared on May 28, 2020:

After my graduation from Douglass, I moved to upstate New York and earned my Master’s of Public Health and joined the AIDS Institute with the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). Currently, I work in the Office of Medical Policy and Health Care Financing, primarily working with NY’s Managed Care Plans, the Special Needs Plans and overall quality improvement for our priority populations.

We had been following COVID-19 closely in the office. The outbreak had already begun in New Rochelle and many of my coworkers were already deployed downstate. We went to work on March 16th thinking it was a normal day, but at 2 pm we were told to leave and begin working from home full-time. This is when we knew “normal” was gone.

Since starting full-time work from home, my job responsibilities have not changed. However, recently I had the opportunity to do a week-long deployment for COVID-19 at a NYC Health and Hospital in Queens, NY, conducting antibody testing for health care workers. Since coming home and starting remote working I had felt a sense of helplessness not assisting with COVID-19 activities. I’m fortunate my husband Ryan (Livingston College 2009) saw my desire to go and help and made it happen while also working remotely.

Our antibody test takes under three minutes to collect but in those three minutes I heard so, so many stories. Stories of joy, happiness, sadness, grief, loss, helplessness and death. Every single person has been affected by COVID-19 and my hope is that for a few minutes we gave them a safe place to share their stories.

Walking away from the hospital, I was struck with the feeling of happiness to serve but sadness to leave. It was a joy and an honor to serve the staff. Every single health care worker we met – from security guard, technician, pharmacist, nurse, doctor, etc. – is literally risking their health and life to serve others, many of whom are people of color, non-English speakers and non-insured, who are, from my public health perspective, the hardest of the hard to reach. I wish every single person could experience 24 hours in NYC in an under-served area to see for themselves the hardships occurring to health care workers, front line workers and the people they serve. Maybe seeing truly is believing.

In the coming weeks, months and probably years we will learn the outcomes of COVID-19 and the toll it will take on ourselves and the people we serve. I would like to say we will come out of this situation with a new normal that is better or, as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo states, we will “build it back better.” However, as a public health professional, I know our memories are short and public health has always been the stepsister in the health care arena. As a society, we tend to be reactive and not proactive. I hope we return to a new normal where more focus is on public health but also on showing empathy towards those who need it most.

On the home front, my day-to-day life has changed completely. Overnight I had to adjust to working from home while trying to “home school” my two children, Henry, 7, and Alexa, who just turned 5. That has been the hardest adjustment. Trying to work, be on calls, respond to emails but also teach them. Not to mention, they are missing out on quality development time with their school and friends. While social distancing is important, it certainly takes a toll on one’s mental health, and that includes our children.

My biggest piece of advice to any parent right now is just do your best. If that means the sun is out – let them play outside all day! Working parents feel the pressure to give 100% and find that perfect work-life balance. We have been given this opportunity be home, slow down, reconnect with our children. While this has been challenging, I am never going to get this time back with my children and I want to enjoy this time with them.

I’m thankful that roughly 10 years ago I picked public health as a career choice and that Douglass College provided me with the skills and opportunities to advance my career. To our first responders and those in the related fields – thank you for your time, sacrifice and courage. Stay safe and be well!

 

jenniferansbach

Jennifer Ansbach ’93 is a staunch supporter of the AADC and its mission. She has taught high school in Manchester Township, NJ, for 13 years and currently is in the PhD program in American Studies at Rutgers University Graduate School – Newark, where she also serves as a teaching assistant. Here is her story, shared on May 22, 2020:

More than two months into the lockdown, I barely recognize my life anymore. As a high school teacher, my school day started early – teacher sign-in is before 7 a.m. – and I spent most of the day there, leaving right from school to drive the 75 miles to Newark twice a week for classes for my PhD. I would get home close to 10 p.m., waking up about 5 the next morning.

Now, my day starts closer to 6 a.m. Depending on what my students are working on, I may be logged in before I even sit down to breakfast, leaving feedback and electronically returning assignments. I have online office hours from 8:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Before 8:15, I move to my living room by the window, where birdfeeders serve as a mental break and my dogs nap nearby.

I spend almost two hours a day reading through the living history journals my ninth-graders keep. They recap their days, reflect on the meaning of life, vent about problems large and small, and share the small moments that I miss hearing about in person. An uncle who died. A family of baby rabbits in the backyard. First seedlings in a new garden. Puppy adoptions. Ninth grade is always a big shift for young people, as they are challenged by becoming more independent, learning to follow directions and finding their own motivation to see themselves as learners.

The current situation overwhelms adults, but teens have the awareness of what is happening without the benefit of as much experience to contextualize what they see. They write about how they struggle to get out of bed. Many students’ sadness saturates their assignments. I refer those who may need to talk to someone to a counselor for follow-up.

After 12:15, I create and write out new assignments for the next week. In the classroom, I can post an outline on the whiteboard and answer questions, but online learning requires me to anticipate areas of confusion and write out instructions, often using detailed screenshots to help guide them but that aren’t so dense that they skip them.

My afternoons are spent finishing giving feedback on their reading and writing tasks, followed by emails, calls from administrators or IT staff, and working through student tasks.

I took nine credits this semester toward my coursework for my PhD in addition to being a TA, so I’ll work on that until dinner and then often stay up after my husband goes to sleep, finishing reading or writing. This semester, my on-campus class was a narrative history writing workshop, so I had to complete my own writing tasks and provide feedback on my classmates’ drafts.

For the last six weeks of class, we met via Webex for our seminars. For my independent study, I wrote a book chapter that was accepted for publication this semester. As soon as my work for the semester was submitted the last week of April, I needed to revise another article accepted for publication. In addition, I needed to conceptualize my comprehensive exams and draft my reading lists to send out to my committee for input. And then there’s the reading for the exams themselves that I’m working on. I completed my coursework this spring.

Sometimes I end my day early, wrapping up at 7 p.m. or so and then catching a Dateline or something from Netflix. Before bed, I read light fiction to help me relax. Working and learning from home means I need to draw a clear line between my work and studies and my home life, so I never bring anything for my job or my graduate work upstairs.

If I wanted to work by myself at a computer all day, I wouldn’t have chosen teaching. I miss being in the classroom with my students. I miss dropping into a colleague’s classroom to share how a lesson went. I miss chatting with my peers and professors at Rutgers. No one could have imagined that public education would look like this, but, like my colleagues across the country and around the world, I’m figuring out how to meet my students’ needs day by day. And in the meantime, I just keep checking the next thing off my list.

 

Tiffany T Pivot Points May 2020Tiffany ’04 (last name and other details have been omitted to respect the privacy of her employer), serves her class as Alumnae Council Representative and is a member of the AADC Black Alumnae Network Jewel Plummer Cobb Sisters Conference Planning Committee. She is a doctor in New Jersey. Here is her story, shared on May 15, 2020:

As an outpatient family medicine physician providing primary care, I may not be on the “frontline” in the emergency department or taking care of patients in the hospital, but I am caring for COVID-19 patients in a different setting.

When patients become sick, they generally call their primary care provider first for advice and treatment. Initially it was thought patients had the flu or another common respiratory virus. The first patients in my practice found to be COVID-19 positive were linked to travel from Europe. Then the news broke of a COVID-19 positive patient who commuted to NYC for work. At this moment it became evident we would quickly see community transmission of COVID-19.

My practice of nine providers decided to move to mostly telemedicine encounters and most days we were completing these encounters at home. We did see some patients in the office but started to decrease these visits once we discovered some of the patients were COVID-19 positive and we had limited personal protective equipment. Very quickly, all providers were seeing 20-25 patients or more virtually each day either by telephone or video conferencing. It was very difficult to adjust to making decisions without taking vital signs and without most aspects of physical examination, although some patients checked their own temperature, heart rate, or blood pressure.

Most patients were calling with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. The positive COVID-19 results started to come in one by one. Most of the patients had mild symptoms that could be managed at home and have recovered. There were a small percentage of patients who were directed to the ER due to severe symptoms and many of those were admitted to intensive care. The hospital census was increasing dramatically. As an affiliate physician of the hospital, I was told there may be a possibility I would be needed to help care for patients in the hospital. This has not been necessary as of yet.

Our practice is receiving calls daily about patients who have passed away from COVID-19. As primary care physicians, we get to know our patients very well and it is heartbreaking to receive these phone calls and complete the death certificates for those who passed away at home. The number of telemedicine visits are starting to decrease and the hospital census is starting to decrease. We are slowly starting to see more patients in the office.

The impact of COVID-19 has changed the way we practice medicine. Although we will eventually return to seeing our patients in the office daily, we will likely incorporate telemedicine into our practice permanently in some capacity. My colleagues and staff are an amazing team. We have worked together efficiently and have supported each other through this difficult time. Social distancing is extremely important to slow the spread of COVID-19, but this does not mean social isolation.

I am thankful for support from family and friends although from a distance. All of our lives have been impacted by the pandemic. I encourage everyone to continue social distancing and stay safe.