By Felipe Bida – 1851 Contributor
The first time I took a COVID-19 test at Lasell last Fall, I accidentally contaminated the cotton swab by letting it touch the table for approximately 0.2 seconds. That’s when I first took notice of Neusa Do Nascimento, the testing coordinator. She took the swab, threw it out, opened me up a new one, and with a warm smile that shone through her mask she said, “Sorry, you’re probably gonna be so sick of me by the end of the semester.”
When I told her my name she figured out I am Brazilian, we chatted about how her husband and I have the same first name, and how she has the same name as my aunt. The next week when I went to get tested, she remembered me and actually apologized for only remembering when she saw my name, as if I would be offended she didn’t immediately recognize me from my eyes and forehead alone. And again, she was as friendly as could be.
By the third time I went in for a test, I caught myself looking forward to seeing Nascimento again. Out of all the adjustments those of us on campus had to make last semester, the weekly COVID-19 tests were for me the least disruptive, in large part because of her. “She’s just a sweetheart,” says her co-worker, junior Kalli Arruda, “Very easy to talk to, I’m even interested to hear her conversations with other people, because she talks to pretty much everyone who comes in.”
Before starting at Lasell, Neusa worked as a certified medical interpreter for Boston Children’s Hospital, and before she moved to the US she was an English teacher in Recife, Brazil. When the pandemic hit and the world shut down, and her job at the hospital was being reduced to per-diem. Lasell’s COVID-19 taskforce was determining the path forward in the Fall would need to include weekly tests for its community.
Having worked in both medical and educational fields, Nascimento was a perfect fit for the job of COVID-19 Testing Coordinator at Lasell. According to Director of Health Services Richard Arnold, “Neusa was chosen because of her history of working in a medical setting in a position requiring great interpersonal skills and crisis management. Her calm and comforting demeanor was readily evident in the interview.”
“Neusa is a caring, competent professional, eager to contribute to the ongoing health of our community,” says Dean of Student Affairs David Hennessey, Nascimento’s boss. “She moves people through the testing center efficiently while engaging people pleasantly. Still, she seems to most enjoy getting to know people at least in some small way. I think at heart, she is always an educator.”
But what really puts Nascimento right at home with the Lasell community is her lifelong perseverance amid changing circumstances; adapting and moving forward, always striving for better. She is no stranger to seizing opportunity.
Nascimento and her family moved to the US in 1999 when her two daughters were 10 and 14, because she wanted a better life for them. She got a job in Fitchburg as a babysitter for a woman who was also a pediatrician running a private practice. Eventually, she was hired as a receptionist for the practice, and word spread that there was a Brazilian who could translate what a doctor was saying.
“Soon I was doing everything there – answering phones, filing paperwork, and translating for all the Brazilian parents coming in with their kids,” she says. Nascimento was able to turn that experience into a job qualification and was then hired at Boston Children’s Hospital as an interpreter. They helped her to take the right courses and become certified as a medical interpreter. Now with the pandemic, she has been able to pivot again as COVID-19 Testing Coordinator.
When I asked if I could interview her she asked me, “How long? There’s a lot I can say, you might need to write a book!” And it’s true; part of what makes her interesting is that she’s led an interesting life. As a teenager, she spent a year in Michigan as a foreign exchange student. In her 20s, she packed up her stuff, sold her car and traveled through Europe. She’s lived in Italy, Germany, England, and Portugal. In the US, she’s traveled to Chicago, New York, Florida, Philadelphia, and other states.
In fact, traveling is one of the things she misses the most about living through a pandemic. Ask her what the most rewarding part of her job is, and she’ll tell you it’s interacting with people. “I adore diversity, seeing people from all walks of life, different races coming together; I think it’s amazing. I’ve memorized so many people’s names at this point, and I love seeing them come in every week.”
The changes we’ve had to make at Lasell were massive. Social distancing guidelines. Outdoor dining in tents. Trash heaps of take-out. Tape telling you where to sit. Tape telling you where NOT to sit. Muffled, frustrated questions and answers repeated multiple times in classes, because masks are the absolute worst. And the never-ending Zoom video calls. I’ll be honest, I’m sick of it all. When I ask Nascimento what her hopes are for 2021, with no hesitation she says, “No more COVID! Even though that means I will be out of a job, I can’t wait until we can all go back to our normal lives, we can hug each other again, and no one else dies from COVID.”
And I realize although I may be sick of the pandemic, Nascimento was wrong when we first met and she told me I would get sick of her. While I agree with her hopes for 2021, it will be a bittersweet day when Lasell no longer needs Neusa to be our COVID-19 testing coordinator.