COVID-19: A Navigator’s Perspective

May 2020 Vol 11, No 5


Sherri L. Smith, BSW
Patient Navigator, The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center

As I sat at my kitchen table today midway through week 3 of working from home amid the COVID-19 crisis, I noticed the quiet yet again. I do not take for granted how lucky I am to work for an organization, and in a position, that affords me the opportunity to work in this setting, but the whole situation is a bit unsettling. No morning chitchat walking into the office, no background noise aside from my dog’s snoring, no banter from my colleagues in the office across the hall, no lockers slamming shut as staff members clock in and out, no ringing phone on my officemate’s desk or tuning out her conversation so that I can focus on reports, not even a frustrating morning rush hour commute.

The quiet hit me in a new way today. I wonder how often the patients who we are privileged to work with, to navigate, to advocate for, to guide toward resources and information, feel this way. I wonder, once they leave the office with a new diagnosis, overwhelmed with new and confusing information, or get a phone call asking them to come in for additional tests, adrenaline pumping, emotions running this what their “new normal” sounds like? Is there quiet where there once was laughter? Is there stillness where once there was the hustle and bustle of daily life? Is there terror where once there was fearlessness?

Over the course of the past few weeks, as this pandemic has evolved, I have watched on social media as communities have come together, people working to take care of their neighbors and friends, and even strangers. I have seen companies large and small adjust to do what is best to be able to support their employees. Organizations have shifted their focus to create funds to help those in need or change to manufacturing needed equipment and supplies. I have seen stories of nurses and doctors, truckers and food service workers, essential workers of all kinds stepping up in a moment when our world seems to be spinning off its axis. All of this has worked to shift my perspective, as I am sure it has for many of us as we traverse these uncharted waters. It has made me reflect. Have I taken enough time with my patients? Have I helped to settle their fears? Or have I navigated them to the right person to talk to? Have I really done all I can do with each one? What would someone’s story say about me?

I wonder if within the silence, the unsettling, and the changes to our normal lives, we could take an extra moment and be mindful of the fact that, whereas some of these changes are hard or uncomfortable, or even a bit scary, many of these things are what our patients are dealing with on a regular basis. Their world has been turned on its head, and everything is now a “new normal” for them. They have a before and an after, a line in the sand. I know that it can sometimes be easy to slip into a bit of an autopilot mode, knowing what resources are available or ways to navigate different issues with insurance or financial matters, but that is the case for us, as navigators, not our patients. For our patients, this is personal. And I think, for them, it can probably feel a lot like being dropped in a quiet place when they are used to being surrounded by noise.

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Last modified: August 10, 2023

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