Contagion: Viral Happiness

Only three days removed from our fabulous disaster simulation on Tuesday, we’re still on edge for a disaster to happen at any moment. The same vibe was occurring after our Code simulation – every nursing student was just ready for someone to “fall out” so they could hop on their chest, deliver rescue breaths. Both simulation days have amped up the adrenaline a bit. Most of us were reflecting yesterday how we were shuddering at the sounds of fellow passengers coughing on the plane. To quote the movie Contagion, “In order to get scared, all you have to do is to come in contact with a rumor, or the television or the internet.” After seeing this movie and hearing the mass media on MERS, we were all a bit on edge and overzealous with the hand sanitizer upon deplaning. But that’s a different Public Health issue and not the main focus of our work in St. Croix.

Today, we began at Flamboyant Gardens, a senior living community run by Lutheran Social Services. Lutheran Social Services is an agency we will be working closely with during our time on the island. Although we spent less than two hours there today for our orientation to the community, we learned a lot about the needs there and feel fortunate to be welcomed. In reflecting on the morning’s visit later in the day, I caught myself failing to take the proper public health approach to our work there. I had been imagining grand plans for next week, when in fact I had left out two critical factors. Firstly, you always meet the patient where s/he is. We had only just met the residents and really had not had the chance to assess what THEY perceived their needs to be. What the patient indicates as his/her needs should always remain the public health nurse’s priority. Secondly, grand plans wouldn’t get us anywhere. It’s okay to have lofty long term goals, but we cannot evaluate our outcomes unless they are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Forgive me nursing students – I am sure you are tired of hearing about this, but I think it’s important for our friends and family to learn our process. Needless to say, I’ve tamed down my grandiose ideas and am ready to approach with new lenses next week.

We were fortunate enough to attend University of the Virgin Islands’ Pinning Ceremony. It was a beautiful event. I’ll spare you all the details of the one hour and forty-five minute ceremony (which, I might add, was very well deserved for all 16 graduates), but will tell you about the momentous moments which brought many of us to tears. Firstly, as the “Empty Chair” post alluded to, a student who was supposed to graduate died last month, and they honored she and her family ten-fold. Each students designated a friend or family member who they felt represented the support, love, and patience they needed to survive nursing school. Many chose their children, parents, and some chose faculty. During the pinning, the Master of Ceremonies read aloud students’ words of thanks to those who had helped them get through. Looking down the back row of nursing students from Johns Hopkins, I could tell we were all thinking how meaningful our graduation ceremony will be in just a few short weeks. The same words written by the nursing students at UVI reflected feelings we have all experienced: in times of doubt, our families have lifted us, in times of frustration our peers have motivated us, and in times of exhaustion our faculty have cheered us to the finish line. I will be so proud to graduate in July and hope that the momentous occasion carries the same vibe as UVIs wonderful ceremony.

My final thought of the day circles back to our fears of contagious illnesses while traveling. Perhaps it was because everyone was in a mood to celebrate, but there are so many happy people on the island. Noting this to Dr. Edwards, she replied matter-of-factly that it was because of the ions.

“The what?”

“The negative ions, from the ocean. Don’t you know?”

Well apparently I did not know. After a brief explanation I promised to look it up when I got home. This theory states that negative ions released in settings like the ocean are inhaled into the bloodstream and increase the production of serotonin. I have not done enough research yet to decide how I feel about the theory, but regardless, it would appear that this happiness is contagious. We could not have left feeling happier after the ceremony. So although we were worried about contagious diseases while flying, I’m perfectly satisfied in the happiness infection that runs rampant on the island. More to come tomorrow – really diving into the public health sector!


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