Health and Wellness

Helping our teenagers cope in the COVID-19 pandemic

Sarah Coleman with her baseball-loving son, who misses the camaraderie as much as the game, she writes.

Greetings! I recently took on the role of medical director of PeaceHealth Cottage Grove Community Medical Center. I have worked in the emergency departments at PeaceHealth hospitals for 18 years, and grew up in a rural farming community in Oregon. I know from first-hand experience the importance of access to care in our smaller communities and I’m committed to making sure we’re here for you when you need us.

Welcome to another month in the time of COVID-19.

Working in the emergency department during a pandemic has been the most challenging time of my career. But as difficult as it has been keeping up with the rapid changes at work related to protocols and protective equipment, even more challenging are the decisions I’m faced with at home as the mom of teenagers, two of my own and my husband’s son part-time.

I imagine most parents are feeling the same stressors I am, as the pandemic has upended our usual patterns. Before the pandemic, I had switched to working solely nights to allow me to better balance work and getting my kids to school and their after-school activities. This routine no longer worked as well when everyone was at home while I was trying to sleep during the day. I decided to stop working solely nights when I realized we wouldn’t be returning to our regular routines anytime soon.

My family’s usual schedule of juggling school, sports practices and work ground to a halt. I eased previous rules limiting online time when it became my kids’ only lifeline to school and their friends. As things have settled down, and we’re into summer, I’ve tried to set limits. But it’s a constant struggle, balancing their need to interact with friends online with my worry that they are becoming entirely too comfortable isolating in their rooms, avoiding the outside world.  

Preparing to go back to school is looking markedly different this year. So far, back-to-school shopping has consisted of finding various masks that I hope they’ll wear. My goal has been to find masks that reflect their personalities, hopefully making it more likely that they’ll accept them as part of their appearance. For my oldest, that means wild patterns and bright colors. My youngest is more inclined toward camo prints and purple, a nod to his love of South Eugene Babe Ruth. The loss of his baseball season was a tough blow for him. We offered to take him to batting cages or even play catch with him, but he refused, saying, “I just want to be with my team.” That’s the hardest part about quarantine. He is a kid who loves being with his friends. Looking at our choices for the upcoming school year, we’ve decided to decline the online-only option in the hopes that at some point he can start having safe interactions with his friends. 

Beyond buying the masks is finding ways to try to ensure my sons will wear them. We’re lucky to be healthy, with no chronic medical issues. But I’ve talked to them about the risks involved in my job and the measures I take to protect myself and therefore them, as well. 

I remind them that the most important reason to wear masks is to protect others. They may not be able to grasp the thought of danger to themselves, as they consider themselves, as most teenagers do, invulnerable. However, I ask them to remember friends, teachers and family members who do not have the luxury of good health, and need our protection. I can only hope that I’ve raised children with enough empathy and sense of community that they keep their masks on even when I’m not around to remind them of the importance.

As a health-care professional and a mom, the pandemic is forcing me to rise to new challenges. It helps to know that I’m not going it alone and that we have much to share with each other. I look forward to sharing more with you in additional columns in the coming months. 

Sarah Coleman

Dr. Sarah Coleman is medical director of PeaceHealth Cottage Grove Community Medical Center.