Nurses are the heart and soul of health care.
Whether it’s at the beginning of life, the middle or end, they are there– handing out medication, making sure patients are comfortable, inspiring patients to get out of bed again, making sure they are pain-free, holding hands, lending an ear, and being supportive however they can.
It is not a career for everyone asserted Teresa Reinhart and Laura Gondos, both registered nurses/patient care coordinators at Ridge Meadows Hospital – but one that is truly rewarding and full of possibilities.
However, this past year has stretched the nursing profession to its limits. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress levels of nurses and other health care staff to the point where they are taking their work home with them and are at the brink of burnout.
But they continue on, because it’s not only in their nature to never give up, but also because they enjoy the connections they make with people, either at their worst point in their lives or best.
Both Reinhart and Gondos went into nursing upon graduating from high school.
Reinhart had always wanted to be a nurse. Her father had been in the hospital a few times when she was a child and so she attributes her admiration for the profession from sitting at the hospital and observing. She also had a dream to wear a uniform.
“I think I wanted to wear a uniform at the time with the whole cap and everything, but by the time I graduated, they didn’t have that,” she chuckled.
Reinhart graduated from high school in 1991 and went straight into a four year program at the University of Victoria. She did her practicum at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital in Vancouver, where she was first hired and worked as a bedside nurse on a medical floor for the next six years.
In 2002 she was involved in opening up the first subacute unit at Queen’s Park Care Centre, providing rehabilitation and recovery services to patients who do not require specialized or intensive monitored care, and worked there for about the next seven years.
During this time she had her first baby in 2000. But it was her second child in 2007 when she decided she wanted to work closer to home and transitioned to Ridge Meadows Hospital.
Twelve years later, as a patient care coordinator in the rehabilitation unit, Reinhart is in charge of dealing with the needs of patients and staff, liaising with the physicians, working on discharges and admissions, making sure patients are moving through the hospital, and as a connect point for families.
“The thing that I love most is the appreciation that you get from the patients,” explained the 48-year-old nurse who moved from Maple Ridge to Chilliwack only two years ago.
“Even if it’s something small that you’ve helped them with, their appreciation, that’s why we’re here. That’s why I became a nurse, I wanted to help people,” she said.
She also loves seeing a patient progress to going home.
“It’s a good feeling,” she said.
Gondos agrees with Reinhart. The patient care coordinator for post anesthetic recovery enjoys the bonds she makes with strangers.
“People, especially in surgery, a lot of them have been waiting for months and months and they are so happy when their surgery is done and you really get to connect with them when they are doing really well,” explained Gondos, whose mother and grandmother were both nurses.
On the flip-side, she said, there are those who are not doing well health-wise, but she gets to connect with them and help them on that level as well.
“I just think it’s a special job that way.”
Gondos took a year off after high school and then went to Trinity Western University where she did her Bachelor of Science and Nursing. When she graduated in 2006, she did her practicum at Peace Arch Hospital in a medicine unit, and upon graduation she went to the surgical unit at Richmond Hospital. In 2007 she completed her perianesthesia specialty, a three-month program for recovery room nurses to learn about different anesthetics and taking care of people after they’ve had their surgery, and transferred to Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre before moving to Ridge Meadows Hospital in 2013, where she started in the recovery room.
One of Gondos most difficult days at work was when she was taking care of a woman at Richmond Hospital who had given birth to a stillborn baby. As the woman was recovering from the C-Section, Gondos will always remember the hour she spent with her, holding her hand.
But the bad is always balanced with the good.
While doing a temporary stint in the recovery room at the Jim Pattison Outpatient Centre there was a patient who had a heart attack post-operation where the team had to perform CPR and shock her to bring her back. Then she was sent to Royal Columbian for a procedure.
When someone leaves, you don’t know how they do, said Gondos, but this patient came back to thank them.
“She had flowers for us and she told us all about how we had saved her life,” remembered Gondos.
She came back, said Gondos, because she wanted to say thank you to everyone in person.
“You never see that usually,” she added.
Both Reinhart and Gondos concur that the stress of this past year has exacerbated working conditions in local hospitals. Hospitals, they want to remind people, were already crowded before the pandemic hit.
“I think the challenge is always space. Hospitals are never big enough and that affects everyone. It affects the patients. It affects the staff,” said the 37-year-old Gondos, who has held three different positions during the pandemic: clinical nurse educator for the surgical program; manager of the COVID testing site; and now patient care coordinator.
Hospital occupancy with COVID, added Reinhart, is a real problem right now.
“It adds a lot of pressure and anxiety and stress on everybody working in the hospitals to assure that we can get patients moving through and support them the best way we can,” she said.
Both nurses say the pandemic has added undue stress and anxiety to the profession they both love.
“The added stress of not only do I feel there are more patients, more congestion – but I also don’t know if I’m safe,” said Gondos.
Reinhart’s unit has had three COVID-19 outbreaks over the past year and, she said, the worst day ever working at Ridge Meadows Hospital has been the first day she worked on a COVID outbreak in April 2020.
“It was a situation we’d ever experienced before,” she said, adding that there were so many unknowns at that time, and anxiety surrounding those unknowns.
“Honestly I wasn’t stressed to come into work. I was more stressed about being able to do what we needed to do to prevent any further spread,” she said.
Gondos’ unit has had one outbreak, and she said, the stress of trying to figure out who took care of the patient and waiting, thinking they were next to catch the virus, was unimaginable.
Now they are at the point where they wish the general public was doing all it could to end the pandemic.
“Honestly, you wouldn’t know how burnt out and exhausted everyone is unless you’re here.”
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