Andie M. Vasquez Mental Health Social Health

The World Before and After COIVD: Nature Exhibit Edition

by Andie Vasquez

After being stuck inside for the last couple months and staying mostly close to home due to the pandemic, my children were eager to get out and about. Some places remain closed, but a few have reopened. This was our first trip into the world with all of the changes and precautions outside of my grocery shopping. 

First I will describe what this place was like before COVID-19. It is an invertebrate zoo, so mostly a house of bugs. It was open to be freely wandered around observing all the various bugs and invertebrate creatures. After all the exhibits, there is a large indoor play area with a big tree house and a play camping area. My kids love this space and often spent lots of time playing there. Outside the building is a spacious garden area with walking trails. 

They also have beehives, one of which is sealed with transparent plastic inside the building allowing the visitors to see the inner workings of the hive. Outside in the gardens you can observe the honey bees gathering nectar, and in the gift shop you can buy honey made in these hives. 

Now, since the pandemic and their reopening, a few things have changed. But overall, I have to commend them for their efforts to operate safely.

First, you aren’t able to show up and buy tickets, all tickets have to be reserved ahead of time and there are limited quantities available. You reserve a time slot for your group and an employee will meet you at your designated time. You are then guided through the exhibits by the employee and given 20 minutes in each area. Masks are required for each person over the age of 3 unless a medical condition prevents this. However they were gracious with the younger kids who had trouble keeping their masks on and were gentle to remind them or parents of the guideline. After each tour went through, surfaces were sanitized before the next group came in. 

They also did a small butterfly release during each tour instead of their usual large release event, which the children enjoyed. I do wish the time in each room was extended, even to 30 minutes, because my son insisted on singing isty bitsy spider to every, single, spider we saw. Despite the restrictions, we still had a nice time and I felt safe with how they were handling their opening. 

Of course the play area was completely closed off, which I expected. Unfortunately that is also where the ladybugs are, but sacrifices must be made. The outside gardens however were of course open. Being early summer, many of the flowers were still in bloom and we did get to observe some bees coming and going. Birds were also everywhere in the gardens and ducks playing in the pond.

With everything happening and people questioning the safety of going out again, I think this place did well transitioning into this new world we are living in right now. If you are wondering what to look for as far as safety measures look for a couple things. 

  1. Reserved time slots and the number of people allowed in during each time frame.
  2. Mask requirements and how strictly this is enforced. 
  3. Sanitization routines

I’m seeing museums and places like that are able to do timed tours easily settling into a safe routine much like the one we did at this invertebrate zoo. I also see places like our city zoo that is mostly outdoors finding a safe way to reopen as well. Indoor play spaces are having more trouble in the reopening city as they would have a much harder time keeping things cleaned. Those places remain closed. If you are still not comfortable taking your kids out even with the new guidelines, then I’d stay on the safe side. I’m thankful to be out, but I’m still being cautious. Stay safe out there!

Cassandra McCoy Mental Health

Can We Find Peace During a Pandemic?

by Cassandra McCoy MAT, ATC, LAT, RYT

Can we find peace during a pandemic??

Is it possible? Or was I just hopeful.

There were 15 seeds that we planted in tiny containers for our garden. This would be our second rotation into our tiny garden to extend it’s life expectancy. Weather had been harsh to our initial crops and we knew we needed a back up.

We tended them, planted them in the best soil with the best fertilizer, kept them at an appropriate temperature and water daily.

One week went by with no sprouts.

Two weeks went by with no sprouts.

Finally, at two and a half weeks, my husband checked out what was going under this beautiful soil and found the seeds were liquid. Literally melted. 

There went our second crop of seeds. Our back up plan. Our source of food to save money. We had hoped for a good crop this year, a crop that would last us all season long. But instead, we reused the dirt for our potted plants to give them more nutrients and protect them from the sun.

But in truth, that matches what has kept happening to me in 2020, so I guess it was fitting. I will tell you my personal story in hope it comforts you and let’s you know that you’re not alone in this crazy time and that peace can be found during a pandemic.

To understand it all, we have to go back to 2019. I had graduated with my Masters degree in May after having a baby during grad school and holding down a few teaching jobs at the same time. I have never not had a job, I usually have 3 to 4 incomes at a time, even during school. 

 I graduated from grad school, relieved and thankful that I had pushed myself through, as I knew I wouldn’t have finished otherwise. A job that I had always wanted, fell into my lap right as I was graduating. I thought it was going to be part time, which was perfect as I needed some time to recoup, love on my son, and take a breath while getting my career established.

But it was full time, so I dove into full time two weeks later.

It was perfect. The perfect mixture of patients, performance, movement, exercise, nerding out on new exercises and more. I started to slowly feel comfortable; however, it took me awhile to settle in for some reason (I didn’t know what it was at the time). By August, I was seeing patients on a regular basis, loved all the performance women I was able to work with, loved just quietly observing the professionals around me and just being in the setting. I didn’t try to bug people with questions; however, I tried to stay within earshot of conversations where I knew I could learn the most. 

Things were going pretty great, but then late October hit me like a ton of bricks.

We had a good friend watching our baby boy. Really it was the peace of knowing he was with someone I trusted that made the difference for me doing full time. But then they moved further away. We decided to stay with her watching our boy and just driving the extra distance to get him to her. It was too late to get him into daycare for various reasons and I just wasn’t sure financially and trust wise, if that was going to be an ok decision. I felt guilty for not being there for him, the least I could do was make sure he was with someone who loved him and that we could trust.

Well that meant we were driving over an hour and a half to drop him off and get to work. One of us would drop him off (usually me) and then the other would pick him up. Sometimes just due to our work schedules, one would do both.

Around this time as well, my husband had to start working later or be on call. I was used to him working a lot as he had a job right after our son was born where he was working 6 to 7 days per week. But now, with his work changing, it created a whole logistical nightmare. If he was sick, if I needed to go get him after work, if I had to teach or cover a game, the whole schedule was thrown off and it was like a snowball effect. Usually I love adapting to changes and improvising but something about all of this just drained me.

While this was going on, my childhood dog of 15 years started to have seizures and difficulty walking. Truthfully, it broke my heart when we had to start thinking about putting her down. I hadn’t expected it to affect me as much as it did. I started having panic attacks I hadn’t experienced panic attacks in well over 5 years and man did they come back with a vengeance. I will never forget the day I had to schedule her appointment I had the worst panic attacks of my life. I had started to walk during my lunch time to try and clear my head. I was having trouble sleeping, so getting out usually helped wake me up. I called my dad to let him know what was going on. Cried a bit with him as it was really hitting home as to how much this dog meant to me and had done for me over the years. I hung up with him and kept walking.

 I don’t remember how long after I hung up it was, but I suddenly started to have trouble breathing. Then my legs gave out. Then I start to see black spots in my vision. I knew what was going on and I knew my tools to help calm myself, but they weren’t working. Then the scariest moment happened. My hands curled up into a fist and I couldn’t move them. I was literally looking at my hands, trying to breathe and trying to get them to move, but they weren’t. I was saying “ move your left index finger” or “straighten your hand” but nothing would happen. It was like the connection was cut completely.

Well you can imagine what that did to my panic attack. Luckily, I still had my headphones in and was able to tap the recall button on the phone with my elbow. It called my dad. I spent 20 minutes on the phone with him until finally my thumb started to move, my breathing started to slow and my words didn’t slur. Then I had to walk back to work and try to act like nothing had happened.

We put my dog down the following week. I didn’t sleep much. Felt like I was sleep walking through the day. I began to notice I didn’t like my job anymore around that time. There were several factors that led me to realize this. But I think mainly it was the health concerns that started to arise and a few other things that caused this shift. I was told the company was changing how ATs would function and the new direction just didn’t sit well with me on a moral standpoint. However, my husband and I had dreams of owning a small property of our own, saving up to getting financially reset after grad school, and so for that reason I knew it was best for me to push through this season.

In January, I noticed some more health concerns start to pop up. It seemed like every week I was noticing a new symptom, problem or getting sick. My hormones were all over the place. Missed periods. No motivation to exercise, teach class, or do my personal yoga practice.

My Grandma died in January. I wasn’t able to go to the funeral and it brought up a host of other issues and ghosts that I hadn’t had to deal with for years. I used talked to my grandma about everything. We talked weekly on my walks. She was the one I looked to for advice and consul and so much more. She was the only one I had told about my hormone struggles and how we had wanted another baby but it might not be possible. She was so sure everything was going to work out, she told me she was starting to sew another baby blanket. She told me it would happen, she just knew it. After she died, I was told I was being sent the blanket, only to find out a few days later that the unfinished blanket had somehow disappeared and there was no way to get it. I was heartbroken.  

Then in February, the crowning concern, I lost my appetite and I lost a total of 15 pounds in 4 weeks. I was getting sick almost every weekend, I had no energy. It was affecting the quality of my marriage, my ability to be a mom, and my jobs.

During all of this, I tried to stay positive. I mean, I own a small business called Positively Balanced. I was focused on helping other women have access to knowledge, resources and to be heard. I knew life wasn’t all sunshine and roses but I also knew I needed to look for the good and what could happen in the future and try to keep that in my focus. I founded Positively Balanced because I knew we don’t have to be positive all the time, we don’t have to be balanced, we can be positively balanced and thankful for the good when it comes. But instead of asking for help like Ii tell all my patients and trying to move forward that way, I decided to stay on the struggle bus all on my own. 

So, in turn I’m having panic attacks, not sleeping, hormones are crazy, constantly driving, lack of motivation, lack of connection, and decreased immune system.

I asked my boss if I could go part time or be relocated to an office closer to home. His answer translated into probably not. So my husband and I decided to start looking for a home closer to work and a daycare around there to help take off some of the driving and stress associated. My husband had just gotten a new job, so we knew everything would now be there and it made sense to move closer.


Then enter COVID. 

At first I didn’t think anything of it. I was working four jobs but really, it didn’t affect me much. Then I felt sick on a Sunday afternoon. I went to work Monday and by that evening had chills. You can read more about my Unplanned Quarantine here.

The company furloughed me for a month. Then extended it for another. Then laid me off on June 1st. I had filed for unemployment as my income was our largest and supporting income. Unemployment hasn’t paid me since they extended my furlough, and even after calling every week, I still have over 2 months of unpaid unemployment. 

I was furloughed from every job except one. My position as an adjunct professor during the spring and fall.

I am not going to kid you. Those months off for furlough and now being laid off have been some of the best moments of my life. I have been able to be with my son and husband more than I ever have before. My husband and I have been able to reconnect, grow and have fun doing things that we never had the time or where in the same place to do in the past. I have been able to watch my son develop, learn and grow. He now says mama and cries out for my help, something he couldn’t do before, because I was rarely home.

We had a good savings built up and we don’t live crazy, just the basics. But even with that, we are now dipping into savings.

 I found out I was pregnant two days before being laid off.

When I was first put on furlough and then laid off, I told everyone this was a good thing. I could finally feel like a mom and spend time with my son. I could finally regain some strength, weight and improve my immune system. I could figure out what my new path looked like. 

But truthfully there has also been an underlying fear  ever since I was laid off. I have always had several jobs, even during college. But now I have nothing. I was worried about what others in my profession and friends would think. I was worried about the dreams we have been saving for would never become a reality.

We had put in for approval for a home loan, so we looked into what that would look like now. Unfortunately, we also found what was our dream home. Nothing fancy by any means, in fact it needed a lot of work, but it was perfect for what needed and had the potential for what we could make of it.  Only to find out with all the circumstances we now found ourselves in, it has become a whole lot harder.

I am currently trying to find peace again during this pandemic. I have found it here and there throughout the past few months, so I look for it where I can. In my son’s laugh. In the sunrise I see with my morning coffee. In the garden we planted that is still going strong despite the challenges it faced. In the fresh bread rising in the sun. The hope of getting out fixer dream home. The fresh meal I prepare for my family and little cleaning chores I do throughout the day. The opportunity to build and grow my business after differing it as a possibility for so long.

I am blessed. My story is not as severe as many in our world are experiencing, yet it is similar to what many are experiencing in their own way.

I tell you all of this because I want you to hear something. Some things happen in our lives that we just can’t control. All we can do is try to find our way as best as we can!

The world is changing. It can be disappointing. It can be scary. It can be heartbreaking. Just remember this: There is nothing we can do about it but try to find peace and stay as Positively Balanced as we can through it all.

Amanda Sterczyk Physical Health

Childbirth during a pandemic: My story of delivery during SARS

by Amanda Sterczyk, MA, CPT

Unprecedented times. That’s a phrase we’ve heard a lot lately, as countries around the world try to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic that’s spread to every corner of the planet. It’s not the first time a highly contagious coronavirus has spread from country to country. I am of course referring to the SARS outbreak in 2003. 

At the time, I was pregnant with our second child, and had a toddler occupying my attention during the day. Maybe SARS wasn’t reported as widely in your neck of the woods, or maybe you’re too young to recall what was being reported. Here in Canada, we received daily updates in local and national news broadcasts. That’s because, as a country, we experienced one of the highest death rates (17%), as well as one of the highest rates of infection, behind China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

And while we knew about the outbreak within Canadian borders, we didn’t really register it as an issue. That is, until we arrived at the hospital on delivery day. My water had broken at home—on my due date no less—and my husband and I bid his mother and our firstborn adieu as we headed to our local hospital’s maternity ward. 

Upon arrival at the main entrance to the hospital, we saw firsthand the quarantine measures. Large stop signs and other notices, stations with hand sanitizer, gowned and masked staff sitting behind a table. They were screening and, often turning away, potential visitors. That’s right, they were limiting the flow of people in and out of the hospital. 

After responding to their screening questions, we were allowed to proceed to the elevators and continue up to the maternity ward. The first thing I noticed when we exited the elevators was how quiet it was compared to my first kick at the can. Our first child was born on the same floor, two years earlier. At the time, I was desperate to return home because of how loud and noisy the ward was. You see, my roommate’s extended family had set up camp on her side of the curtain. Closing the door to drown out the inordinate number of visitors to other new moms and their offspring just made the cramped room seem even smaller—and louder. 

This time, though, as a direct result of SARS, new moms were only allowed one visitor, both during the blessed event and for their one-to-two day stay postpartum. I can’t speak to how other families handled the restriction, but it worked well for us. What did it matter whether you met a new human at day one of existence or day seven? At least, that’s what I thought. We didn’t have a midwife for either pregnancy, so we were not forced to choose between father and midwife as the solo addition in the birthing suite. I have seen stories the past few weeks about expectant mothers compelled to change their birth plans because of similar restrictions with the COVID-19 pandemic. I get their concern and frustration when things aren’t proceeding as planned. 

I don’t want to minimize anyone’s feelings, but please bear with me as I try to offer a little perspective: Having plans upended by something out of your control is a great way to prepare you for your new role as a mother. Because anyone who’s had children will tell you that being flexible in the face of unplanned upheaval is the name of the game in parenthood. As my decade-older neighbor—who’s about to become a grandmother for the first time—so accurately reminded me just yesterday, it wasn’t that long ago that fathers-to-be weren’t welcome to the party (only the after-party). On that note, who would you rather have in the room with you? If it was up to me, I’d much prefer to include the person who’s going to actively assist me during labour and delivery, whoever that may be.

Jayme Taylor Physical Health Social Health Sophia Pollalis

The Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020: What it is and how you can do your part to stop the spread.

Written by Sophia Pollalis ATC, LAT and Jayme Taylor MSN, APRN-CNP, FNP-BC, CSOWM, DIPACLM

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19, which stands for Corona Virus Disease 2019, is a strain of coronavirus that was discovered in late 2019 not previously identified in humans. The coronavirus is a family of viruses that were first discovered in 1965 when it was noted that the corona virus had a similar structure to viruses seen in animals1. They had a crown-like structure, hence “corona.”

Coronaviruses are common and generally present as upper respiratory tract infections. There are seven known strains of coronaviruses that can infect humans. Four are very common and have not produced worldwide panic and precaution; three of them, including the most recent COVID-19, have produced significant response in recent years2. These include SARS3 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in the early 2000’s and the MERS4 (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2012. In the cases of SARS, MERS, and COVID-19, the source of the coronavirus were animals5. Coronaviruses are also common in different species of animals, such as camels, cattle, cats, and bats; in rare cases they can infect humans.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

COVID-19 is characterized by fever, cough, and shortness of breath as it is an upper respiratory tract infection5. These symptoms can show up as early as 2 days after exposure, running up to 14 days based on the previous outbreaks of MERS and current trends, however we don’t know how long the actual incubation period is because it is new5,6.

 How does it spread?

While COVID-19 originally came from an animal-human contact, the pandemic risk spreads very easily from person-to-person5. Transmission can occur through droplets in the air, like if someone sneezes and you happen to inhale the droplets, or by touching the same surfaces as someone else, like shaking hands or touching doorknobs. Because we don’t know a whole lot about COVID-19, experts are referring to the known infection transmission of MERS, SARS, and animal coronaviruses7. These experts postulate that, at room temperature, human coronaviruses can survive up to 9 days on inanimate surfaces. A preliminary study led by researchers at Princeton, UCLA, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the virus can survive up to 3 days on non-pourous surfaces, up to 24 hours on pourous surfaces like cardboard, and possibly be able to survive suspended in a mist for 3 hours8. This information does have to be taken with a grain of salt, as these are just preliminary tests in a laboratory setting and won’t be the same as conditions in your home, on the bus, or in a store5,8.

How can I protect myself and others from the virus?

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, especially after being in public places, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or if your hands are physically dirty. Hand sanitizer can also be used, but washing your hands is king5. Check out our article here on how hand washing gets rid of bacteria and viruses.
  • Avoid touching your face5. If you weren’t before, you are going to be so aware of how many times you touch your face. Your skin is a protective barrier to the body, but germs can get in through the useful openings we have in them, like our eyes, nose, and mouth. We can also take germs from our faces and transmit them to others by touching our faces.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces likely to transmit the disease, especially doorknobs, light switches, your steering wheel, keyboards, and sinks5. If surfaces are physically dirty, clean them with soap and water or another detergent first, then sanitize after. Bleach and alcohol solutions work well. Make sure your disinfectant is appropriate for the surface your are cleaning and your follow manufacturer instructions. If it says leave on the surface for 5 minutes, they really mean that.
  • Stay home from work and other social gatherings if you feel sick EXCEPT to get medical care.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or into your elbow when you sneeze or cough. Your droplets can travel almost 20 feet when you cough and 26 feet when you sneeze9!
  • If you are sick and going to be sharing a space with another person, wear a face mask. If you are NOT sick, there is no reason for you to wear a face mask unless you are caring for someone who is sick, or the person that is sick can’t wear one5.

Why is social distancing important?

On March 11, 2020, the WHO characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic10. This is the first coronavirus to spark a pandemic, as we typically see pandemics with the flu or other diseases. What that means for the US is widespread transmission in the coming months5. Most of the population will be exposed to the virus, but not all will show symptoms and some will only show minimal symptoms. If we compare COVID-19 to the yearly flu, its current hospitalization rate is significantly lower. According to the CDC, the United State sees between 9 million and 45 million cases of influenza each year, resulting in 1.5 to 2% hospitalizations11.  The current trend in China and Italy shows a 15% or greater rate of hospitalization12. This is a problem for the US because we have about 2.8 hospital beds per 1000 people and around 100,000 ventilators total in the country13. If the coronavirus follows the trajectory of what has happened in China and Italy, healthcare workers would be forced to choose which patient gets a bed or which patient gets a ventilator. Our healthcare system would not be able to handle the strain of a mass outbreak. Limiting our exposure by closing schools, cancelling sporting events and seasons, not going to birthday parties, and not running to the store unless you have to, we can flatten the curve and allow our healthcare system to do its job, preserving lives that don’t have to be lost.

A note from Jayme Taylor, Positively Balanced contributor and Nurse Practitioner on the front lines:

“The symptoms of the coronavirus are very similar to influenza, and because we are in the middle of the flu season right now our only real way to distinguish risk of coronavirus vs flu is to assess for potential exposure. We triage every patient that calls with “flu-like symptoms” to see if they have been out of the country or in contact with someone who has recently been out of the country, traveled to a high risk state, etc. So not taking adequate precautions to limit community spread and exposure actually complicates the diagnostic process. It is also a burden on the healthcare system to be seeing mild cases of upper respiratory illnesses in healthy people because they are afraid it could be the coronavirus. It is important to stress that like flu, the coronavirus is a virus and treatment is supportive. Those at risk like elderly, young children, and the immunocompromised should take extra precautions to limit risk of exposure. However, mild cases in otherwise healthy people will likely resolve on their own without complication. Limiting spread of this virus protects those high risk patients from exposure. So if someone is sick they should stay home, regardless of viral cause; if symptoms worsen and they have uncontrollable fever, shortness of breath or other severe symptoms then they should seek medical attention.”