Tag Archives: COVID19

Photo by Mat Napo on Unsplash

Here in Canada and in many other countries, we likely all know loved ones and colleagues who have gotten that precious and life-saving dose, if not had it ourselves. Having said that, vaccine hesitancy is real. A recent Canadian poll shows that 66% of respondents would be willing to get a vaccine right away if it were available, but hesitancy may vary based on the specific type of vaccine as well as other factors. As well, that figure leaves a significant minority of vaccine hesitant individuals.

Full disclosure: I’m generally somewhat risk-averse when it comes to medications/interventions, and the April 14 Health Canada Advisory on the AstraZeneca vaccine did give me pause. If I’d been offered an mRNA vaccine I wouldn’t have thought twice; but that wasn’t on the menu. Nonetheless, I registered for AZ on multiple pharmacy waiting lists, and when the text message came with an appointment, it got real. I had a decision to make and in all honesty, part of me hesitated – in fact, I kind of panicked. So I did what most of us do: I spoke to trusted friends, colleagues, and loved ones and shared my anxiety and hesitation. The person who tipped the balance was a physician I used to work with

My friend the doctor noted the extremely low risk of admittedly serious adverse effects (which I already knew…but still…what if I was one of those rare cases?!). Then, he noted that in the very unlikely event I was one of the few who experienced VITT, there are treatments available. Somehow I totally missed that part on the Health Canada web page! There it is, clear as day, on its own line:

“In the very rare event that someone experiences unusual blood clots with low platelets, there are treatments available.”

So I had to wonder, how did I miss that crucial and highly reassuring piece of information? For all of us, decision-making is impacted by cognitive biases. There are evolutionary and biological advantages to these biases, but they can also seriously hamper decision-making, especially when we feel like our safety might be at risk. In reading that Health Canada web page, I automatically focused on the content outlining the side effects and risks of the vaccine, as opposed to their rarity and treatability – attentional bias. Even before I started reading, I was primed to hone in on the scary stuff:

“In our personal and professional lives, attentional bias can give us tunnel vision, overemphasizing some factors and blinding us to others. When we narrowly focus on one or two things, we end up overthinking them, and assigning them greater importance in our decision making than we should.” 

All to say, I promptly confirmed my appointment and got vaccinated. That night I had shivers and a headache, and felt a bit feverish – and I visualized my immune system marshalling the defenses. The following day – all was well. I was relieved and grateful, and I also felt uncomfortably guilty thinking about the many essential workers, families, and high-risk populations who haven’t yet had the opportunity to get vaccinated. Prioritizing higher-risk communities and populations reflects an ethical approach to vaccinating a whole province/country/world, although not without missteps and stumbling blocks along the way.

We all need a ‘shot in the arm’, and I mean that both literally and figuratively. To everyone waiting anxiously for that appointment or for your eligibility to get that appointment: I am crossing my fingers for you and knowing that it won’t be too much longer. If you’ve already received your vaccine, I am so very grateful to join your number. And to those still on the fence, you’re really who I’m writing this for. These are not always easy decisions, and they are for each person alone to make.

Crossing the milestone of 20,000 COVID19 deaths in Canada is a stark reminder of the tremendous human cost of the virus. Each and every one of those individuals was a parent or grandparent, a sibling, friend, or loved one. The ongoing impacts for COVID19 “long haulers” are also sobering and hard to comprehend in their magnitude and duration. Increasing numbers of younger people in Canada’s ICU beds reinforce the reality that we’re all vulnerable, although by no means equally vulnerable. Life is precious and it’s fleeting, and COVID has already robbed our world of so many.

Photo by Efe Kurnaz on Unsplash

Passing the one-year mark in this global pandemic has got me taking stock and thinking about what it means to be living (and having lived) through a strange and historic time. We’re still very much in the midst of things, and the years to come will unpack, analyze, process, and document what feels like a “time out of time”. It is a remarkable milestone delineating the “beforetime” from the post-pandemic, while right now we continue to occupy a strange and liminal space in between.

In our ‘virtual reality’ we’ve co-created a new normal in which we’ve invented and adapted norms and conventions, shared experience, routines and rituals. Take Zoom for example – much has been written about Zoom fatigue, and “metastasizing meetings”: i.e. “We can book back-to-back-to-back Zoom meetings or accept meeting invitations because we are not physically trying to get someplace else. Every meeting occurs where we already are, in front of our laptop.” Being tied to a small box among a sea of boxes on a screen, day after day, hour after hour…self care and wellness aren’t a luxury, they are a necessity. Many of us have discovered (or rediscovered) hobbies and interests: home improvement; cooking and baking (especially sourdough!); sewing and crafts; writing, music-making, photography and painting; 1000 piece puzzles; gardening and growing;  tinkering in the garage; video gaming; long drives; and more.

And speaking of Zoom…so many questions! Are Zoom backgrounds the proxy for how we normally express ourselves at work through body language and office attire? What proportion of your wardrobe has become utterly redundant? Why is it so natural to eat lunch in a classroom or meeting room, and so deeply discomfiting online? (And is that why we almost never see actors actually eat on-camera?). Also lighting – I didn’t even know what a ‘ring light’ was until my 23 year old got me one as a gift. And the etiquette surrounding when to mute or unmute our cameras and/or audio, the criticality (and precarity) of WiFi bandwidth, the cognitive and dexterity challenges in toggling between multiple screens and sharing screen, those Zoom emojis, sidebar chat conversations … the list is long. Phrase of the year: “You’re on mute”. And in those Zoom meetings we’ve gotten to know each other in new and even deeper ways – we’ve met/seen pets, children, partners, kitchens – so many parts of ourselves and our lives that were never so real and present in our former reality.

The ‘real world’ is just as strange in relation to the beforetime. Masks can be a challenge, including for those of us who wear glasses (unless the fit around the nose is almost perfect i.e. never). And shopping: I don’t ever remember lining up for any store other than on Boxing Day or a sample sale. Shopping is far from relaxing that’s for sure. Browsing in stores is a thing of the past – get in, get out – replaced by online browsing?  Physical distance, even outside, and taking a walk in the city is kind of like a live video game of switching from road to sidewalk to the opposite side of the street as we encounter others in the opposite direction.

A few months ago on one of my neighborhood walks, l came across a small patch of grass with a stone bench, tucked off to the side near a place of worship close to my house. I’ve lived in the same place for over 20 years and had never noticed that peaceful, lonely little spot. I often see someone sitting on the bench – just sitting. It’s always someone different, sometimes a couple, an older or a younger person, sometimes it’s me. I guess we’re all trying to make sense of something so big, so impossible to fully grasp.

As the vaccine roll-out in Ontario and elsewhere finds its way into eager, grateful arms, I’m resolved to fully inhabit and be present in this liminal space, this in-between time. It won’t last forever, we’ll all be glad to get to the other side, but we’ll have lived through something extraordinary and beyond imagining.

I’ve been thinking about mental health, wellness, and self-care lately, as we approach a full year of public health measures to combat the spread of the COVID virus.

I was out for a walk around my neighborhood and I was struck (yet again) by the profound silence all around (and I live in a pretty densely populated area of the city). But then suddenly as I turned a corner onto yet another side street, the sound of birds filled the air. You know the ones…those little brown sparrows who cluster together in bushes and shrubs, and in this one particular spot on an otherwise quiet street, they were partying! The little birds were almost invisible but there must have been at least 50 of them, all chirping and chatting at once.

It made me think about us humans, all confined in our respective bubbles, and how the memory of social proximity and togetherness feels very far away. I’m finding that even when watching TV shows or movies it’s kind of jarring seeing characters shaking hands with strangers, eating in crowded restaurants, jostling on the subway, etc. etc. Hard to fathom that we are closing in on a year of living, working, teaching, and learning at a distance. We’ve seen lots of media coverage about “COVID fatigue” referencing the need for vigilance in adhering to public health protocols, but let’s remember that COVID fatigue stems, in large part, from our collective deprivation of the rich social world we’ve all been missing.

The challenge of staying connected solely mediated by digital communication channels – largely email, text, and Zoom – makes it increasingly hard to feel and experience that all-important human element in all things digital. Just like those sparrows, our natural inclination is togetherness; and the impact of social deprivation is real. One small but meaningful take-away for me is to be even more mindful of the affective dimensions in emails I’m sending, as well as making time for informal “coffee talk” in Zoom meetings – those personal, relational elements that happen naturally when we encounter each-other in the ‘real world’. Also, recognizing that we all have good days and off days, and trying to be intentional in extending an extra measure of grace and understanding to one-another. Patience with others as well as with ourselves can go a long way.

We still have a long road to travel on this particular journey, but looking forward to the days – hopefully in the not-too-distant future – when we can be like winter sparrows, chatting and chirping with joy! In the meantime, I thought I’d share this graphic from Bell Let’s Talk Day which captures some great reminders of self-care and wellness tips and strategies – my goal is at least three things from this list every day:

Let’s all make a point of taking time to look after ourselves these days. We’re running a marathon!

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

This past week, I’ve been thinking about a powerful interview I heard on November 29 on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Magazine with Piya Chattopadhyay. Her conversation with Philosophy Professor Carlos Alberto Sánchez seemed to perfectly encapsulate a lived experience during these past nine months, through the word “zozobra”: framed as “the oscillation between hope and hopelessness”. This resonated strongly, in how one moment I might find myself feeling very hopeful (e.g. hearing reports of progress in vaccine research trials, approvals and production); and then the next hour/day/moment, truth be told, feeling kind of hopeless (“Will this ever end?!?”). The ‘oscillation of hope’ (in Dr. Sánchez’s words) can be deeply disorienting as we cycle through these extremes and points in between.

In the seven-minute interview, Dr. Sánchez talks about our current state of uncertainty and disorientation though this shared experience of ‘oscillation of hope’. He notes that we can learn from Mexican philosophy (and specifically names the work of philosopher Emilio Uranga), in recognizing common suffering – and using this recognition to develop “bonds of love and common struggle”. Dr. Sánchez contests Western notions of radical individualism, and how this contributes to the sense of isolation that so many have been experiencing. The importance of community, relationships, connectedness, are meaningful and necessary. The interview is worth a listen! Check out this link in the text below, and scroll approx. half way down the page:

Interview Link: Word Processing: Zozobra
The various crises of our day have left many of us feeling anxious, disoriented and uncertain about the ground we stand on. Carlos Alberto Sanchez, professor of philosophy at San Jose State University, says Mexican philosophy has a concept to describe how we’re all feeling: “zozobra”. In the latest installment of our ongoing language segment Word Processing, he breaks down the meaning of “zozobra”, its Mexican roots and universal relevance, and how it can help us get through a turbulent time.

Now I am by no means a student of philosophy, but I can’t help feeling that philosophy has – and will continue to have – much to teach us in making sense of an experience that is so hard to make sense of. Finding hope and meaning are deeply human needs, and the voices of educators, scholars, activists and artists can offer pathways into hope and community.

It’s been another active week at the college, with yet more students starting their apprenticeship labs, as well as faculty on campus (and at home) shooting videos (instructional and promotional) and getting all kinds of curriculum prepped for our September 14 Fall Semester start date! Now more than ever, with such limited on-campus activity, it feels kind of like all of the feverish “backstage” action that happens in a theater production, getting ready for opening night.

And in this case, we’ve got a 13-week run, with an incredible diversity of tools, applications and platforms to engage our students in a rich and immersive learning experience. Every semester, in every single class, we build learning communities and create the magic of discovery, and inquiry, and connectedness. Mastering the art of doing this all (or at least mostly) online expands our students’ own skills of engagement and professional practice in a world gone more radically digital than it has ever been.

We have already experienced cataclysmic change, and it’s a sure thing that we will continue to do so in the coming academic year. But what will never change is our deep and dedicated commitment to our students: transforming lives and communities through learning. You’ve probably heard the quote by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “You never stand in the same river twice, because it’s never the same river, and you’re never the same person.”

We are all in a swirling river of change, so let me offer some “safety tips”.

At faculty meetings last week, I used the analogy of taking a white-water rafting trip in anticipation of the coming semester. A heart-stopping adventure that mingles together trepidation and excitement. We’re probably all feeling a little of both those things right now, and our students as well, and when I searched online for “whitewater rafting safety tips”, there were some pretty compelling parallels:

So for the coming semester:

“I hope you see things that startle you.

I hope you feel things you never felt before.

I hope you meet people with a different point of view.

I hope you live a life you’re proud of.

If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

We are all students, and we are all teachers

This past week I did a session for Northern College at their Faculty Development Conference reflecting on some of the key themes and opportunities for higher education, as we collectively navigate through this “Year of the Pandemic”.

There were faculty and staff joining from across northern Ontario, and a lively discussion following my talk. One thing that stood out for me was how, regardless of how large or small, rural or urban, our institutions – all of us in higher education are grappling with the same big questions, big issues, big challenges, and big opportunities for transformation, redress, growth and change.

Here are the “Top 10” standout themes from Wednesday’s conversation:

  1. Leading inclusion and action through “two pandemics”: COVID-19, as well as the more destructive, corrosive and longstanding pandemic of racism, particularly Anti-Indigenous and Anti-Black Racism, and other forms of violence and exclusion
  2. Navigating institutional sustainability in the face of enrolment challenges
  3. Mastering online and digital technology tools and applications to support online teaching, and preparing students for meaningful engagement in online learning
  4. Digital inclusion and student access to technology and WiFi/bandwidth
  5. Fostering connectedness and community in this time of physical distancing and remote working and teaching
  6. Assuring student and employee health and safety, especially those who are engaging in face-to-face, lab-based learning on our campuses
  7. Supporting student (and employee) mental health and wellness
  8. Fostering closer connections with industry and employers to enrich opportunities for Work-Integrated Learning and graduate employment
  9. Balancing work with child care, elder care, and other competing priorities and responsibilities
  10. Finding our way into a new reality for PSE, one which can offer students choice and “hyflex” learning opportunities across a range of face-to-face, online, and hybrid credentials and micro-credentials…all pretty unimaginable just six months ago!

As we prepare for a fall semester in which so much is uncertain, and in which our students are placing so much hope and trust in us, the axiom that “we are all students, and we are all teachers” has never been more real. We are on an extraordinary learning journey together. It’s not going to perfect, it will certainly be messy at times, and the occasions when we get things absolutely right will be worth celebrating.

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