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COVID: A Corridor to Beginning

In March 2020, our world halted. Entering March 2022, what have we learned from shutdowns? What opened because of closures? What previously shuttered parts of life are lit?

A speech language pathologist, professional singer, and pediatrician walk into a pandemic…


The VanAelst family L to R: Cade (16), Sydney (21), Brian (husband), G.G., Brinley (13) and Ellery (18).

G.G. VanAelst – A Speech Language Pathologist  

Speech language pathologist, co-owner of SpeechWorks and mother of four (ages 13, 16, 18 and 21), G.G. VanAelst thought she’d seen it all. Cue COVID-19. Learning how to support her own mental health needs became vital; she realized she needs people. Virtual meetings weren’t filling the interaction tank.

TBPM: How has your workday changed throughout COVID 19’s course?

G.G. V: Before COVID, I held back-to-back sessions inside pre-schools. When everything closed, our workload decreased by more than half. Most patients are younger than 4, so virtual visits weren’t viable. Now, some schools allow us with face shields—not ideal for speech therapy. I set up a home office, and we continue virtual offerings for families not yet comfortable face-to-face or who are quarantining.

TBPM: Over the last two years, was there an especially challenging aspect of your professional life?

G.G.V: The period between shutdowns and SpeechWorks offering virtual care. I knew kids desperately needed services, but I couldn’t get to them.

TBPM: Did COVID cause a change that you’d like to see stay?

G.G.V: Face shields and virtual options. Shields present challenges, but they also allow us to be cautious without cancelling appointments for fear of illness. Virtual enables continued services while patients travel or are well enough for therapy but too ill for school.

TBPM: What would you put in a time capsule for a speech language pathologist to open in 100 years and support his/her own mental health?

G.G.V: A handwritten note sharing, “Find your people, find your niche and find time for breaks.”

TBPM: What’s your biggest takeaway from the pandemic?

G.G.V: We can make things work. It takes flexibility and acknowledging we hold varying thoughts, feelings and fears. More than ever, meet people where they are.


Covid
Robyn Lista, Professional Singer with Phase5 Band

Robyn Lista – A Professional Singer

Renaissance woman Robyn Lista is a Registered Financial Professional at Raymond James, professional singer with the Phase5Band and a Pure Barre instructor. She’s also an active mom in the equestrian world as daughter, Addisyn (8), rides. Accustomed to being booked, changing paces throughout the pandemic ignited creativity and appreciation. Pacing shone a light on the need for both balance and mental health visits with a licensed professional. Practicing self-check-ins, forgiveness and gratitude daily outpaced pandemic stress.

TBPM: How has your workday changed throughout COVID’s course?

RL: With RJ, helping retirement age clients navigate Zoom was a funny challenge. With Phase5, everything was cancelled. Today, I’m thankful RJ is back to in person meetings. Phase5 is busier than ever; 2023 is almost fully booked.

TBPM: Over the last two years, was there an especially challenging aspect of your professional life?

RL: Not singing. Singing defines me. I have a newfound appreciation for the band.

TBPM: How has mental health played out across the pandemic?

RL: I loved more family time but working from home while facilitating online learning was stressful. I’d wake anxious I’d fail. My husband, Corey, enjoyed working remotely; I need my coworkers. I’m appreciative we’re back to our normal. I’m re-learning how to practice patience and compassion with both myself and others. I’m grateful for my life, my people and my jobs.

TBPM: A friend says, “I don’t think the pandemic will ever end.” What’s your reply?

RL: It’s here long term, but we’re nearing the end of this phase and adjusting to change. We’re more cautious, but we have more safety from treatments. We’ll move on.

TBPM: What would you put in a time capsule for a professional to open in 100 years and support his/her own mental health?

RL: If I could, for all my roles, I’d bottle up patience and compassion. We’re fortunate we can form opinions and ideas; we’re responsible when we show compassion for those who think differently. It’s a difficult lesson for many, and it’s a priority.


Covid
The Hayes family. Lisa, husband Alex, and their boys Brody, Hudson and Dylan. Photo credit: Laura Gattis Photography.

Lisa Hayes – A Pediatrician

Doctor by day; boy mom 24/7. With three boys (19 months 4 and 7 years), and a husband who’s also a physician, Hayes’ life is exciting. Inspired by the compassion of her childhood pediatrician, Dr. Jean Bennett (University of Florida’s College of Medicine first female graduate), Hayes feels affirmed in her role as a resource for families. Though peppered with overwhelming moments, the pandemic punctuated her love for educating patients and supporting family.

TBPM: How has your workday changed throughout COVID-19’s course?

LH: Pre-COVID, toddlers climbed in my lap and we hugged. No PPE. Shifting to telemedicine, providing quality care was limited because not all things work virtually. I’m back in the office, and COVID was a catalyst for joining a new practice. I’m happy at Coastal Pediatric Care—connecting with patients and having ownership over the quality of care I provide.

TBPM: Over the last two years, was there an especially high point in your professional life?

LH: Receiving my COVID vaccine was emotional. It meant I could let my guard down a little, at work, and worry less about bringing COVID home.

TBPM: Did COVID-19 bring about a change that you want gone?

LH: Masks are important for minimizing infection risk, but I hope they aren’t forever because I miss my patients’ smiles.

TBPM: How has mental health played out across the pandemic?

LH: In March 2020, I was pregnant with our third and uncertain about delivery. Keeping everyone healthy and seeing the kids disappointed over cancellations was challenging. We’re thrilled they’re back to school and sports. We’re not taking simple things for granted. My family is my north star—keeping me energized and guiding my decisions.

TBPM: A friend says, “I don’t think the pandemic will ever end.” What’s your reply?

LH: I don’t think it will end, but life will go on and we’ll support each other. We’ll make decisions we believe best for our families. I’ve seen great disparity in kids’ education and mental health over the past couple years; disparity must end.

TBPM: From March 2020 to now, has anything changed in how you consume information?

LH: I maintain much trust in my colleagues, peer-reviewed journals, and evidence-based medicine.

TBPM: What would you put in a time capsule for a pediatrician to open in 100 years and support his/her own mental health?

LH: Running shoes and weights because exercise saves sanity. A journal. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve felt anxious but uncertain about why. Writing gratitude lists, things I needed help with, and planning for accomplishments helped.    

A speech language pathologist, professional singer, and pediatrician walked into the COVID-19 pandemic corridor armed with change, creativity, compassion, flexibility, family, affirmation and appreciation. They will emerge resilient because their hearts and minds are open to all that has begun.


Originally Published in March 2022 | Photos provided by participants

Tara Payor, Ph.D.
Tara Payor, Ph.D.https://www.elevate-inc.com/
Tara Payor is a language arts educator and has taught students from the middle school level to adult learners at the doctorate level. She earned a Ph.D., in curriculum and instruction, from the University of South Florida. A member of the Junior League of Tampa and KNOW Women, she has two children—Harlow and Hendrix.

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