A Message from the AAHN President
May 2020

I have been struggling to write this message for over a week now, trying to decide what to say to AAHN members during this crisis. So many of you are not only historians, but also nurses, and are all too familiar with the overwhelming challenges the COVID19 virus presents today. No doubt all of you are also familiar with how nurses have responded to other epidemics in the past, including smallpox, measles, polio, and AIDS -- in addition to influenza. 

So, my mind has been racing with ideas for which perspective to take to make this message relevant. Should I highlight the social determinants of health and how this disease is affecting minorities and underprivileged populations? Or perhaps the effect COVID is having on families without jobs, and how the lines of cars at food banks is reminiscent of the food lines of the Great Depression? Or maybe I should write about the shortage of public health nurses and a depleted public health infrastructure? Then again, I could reflect on society’s expectations for nurses and physicians (and other healthcare providers) to be heroes and martyrs during a disaster like this.  Another thought flies in: perhaps I should stick to comparing this pandemic to the influenza pandemic of 1918? My head spins with possibilities, including the idea of not posting a message at all.

But then yesterday I caught a glimpse of a news conference in which New York’s Governor Cuomo revealed a quilt of homemade face masks, made to commemorate the current pandemic. What came to mind immediately when I saw the “mask quilt” was the image of the AIDS quilt displayed on the mall in Washington D.C.

(Courtesy Library of Congress)

Indeed, spread out over acres, the quilt, begun in 1987, provided a visual image to help people understand the devastating impact of that frightening disease. More than 48,000 colorful 3-foot by 6-foot cloth panels commemorated the lives of more than 93,000 people who died from AIDS. Perhaps the “mask quilt” I saw yesterday will turn out to be one panel of a much larger quilt –one so visual that people can grasp the impact of the current disaster. I hope so.

In the meantime, I hope that you and your families are well. If you get a chance, you might visit our web page to see links to various news columns, webinars, and other information of interest at this time.  We are still working on possibilities for future conferences:  every decision is complicated right now, so stay tuned. 

Please stay safe, and feel free to send me your thoughts. I am particularly interested in hearing your reaction to the possibility of having a virtual conference this fall. That would require more time on zoom perhaps, but maybe getting to present papers sooner rather than later would be beneficial to those in academia?  I can be reached at [email protected]. Really, I would love to hear from you!

Arlene W. Keeling, PhD, RN, FAAN