For nurses, the fight against COVID-19 has brought increased stress, anxiety, and even danger to an already complex job.
It’s made an already hard job dramatically more difficult. But as they face off against the toughest foe that Canada’s health-care system has encountered in a century, nurses are also experiencing new levels of camaraderie, purpose, and appreciation.
“It’s a period of high anxiety for most of us,” Christine Sorensen, head of the BC Nurses’ Union and a longtime nurse, told Black Press Media.
Some hospital departments and health-care facilities are seeing large numbers of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases.
Others have many empty beds – a rarity in normal times – as they anxiously await a potential surge in cases.
And while the details shift, the exhausting facts remain the same: to prevent the transmission and spread of the virus, every health-care worker must continuously keep COVID-19 top of mind.
On top of all that, they also have to deal with shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Nurses and other health care workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 battle across the province are highly dependent on the availability of personal protective equipment to do their jobs.
Especially after an outbreak of the virus was confirmed this week at Ridge Meadows Hospital in the acute-care ward.
This is why nurses want the public to continue to abide by public health measures that have been put in place by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Because there is not enough personal protective equipment to manage a large second wave in this province, said Sorensen.
“This is critical. We cannot under estimate this virus. It is critical for the public to continue to maintain social distancing and physical distancing measures and stay within their homes,” said Sorensen.
If another wave of the virus takes place, said Sorensen, it will put nurses and other health care workers at great risk because of the lack of PPE supplies.
Outbreaks will continue to happen in acute care facilities as more people come into hospitals with symptoms, as more people are tested, or are identified as contacts to cases, noted Sorensen.
And, for that reason, she said, nurses are stressed and very concerned about their limited access to N95 masks and surgical masks.
“You may be providing care for a patient that is showing no signs of symptoms of COVID. They may be asymptomatic. And then for some reason they are tested or they start to show symptoms and the nurses will second guess their activities with that patient,” explained Sorensen.
Nurses also have to deal with more anxiety than ever before.
There is the stress of the heightened level of care they are now providing and a lot more time being spent putting on and taking off of personal protective equipment – properly.
Some have to wear a surgical mask all day when they’re working.
There is a persistent the fear of the unknown, said Sorensen.
“Does this patient have COVID? Will I become sick from COVID? Will I have to self isolate at home,” are questions nurses have to face every time they go to work, said Sorensen.
Not only are they worried they will pass on the virus to their families. But they are worried about passing it to each other, to their patients, and the community.
They’ve also found themselves dealing emotionally with a high level of anxiety in patients that have been separated from their families at a time when they are the most vulnerable.
“So, they are needing to provide a lot of emotional support or for their patient as well as managing their own moral distress around the impact of the pandemic and the impact of all the public health initiatives that have gone on in the community,” said Sorensen.
But, Sorensen added, there is an incredible amount of camaraderie amongst health care professionals.
And, support from the public has really provided a lot of inspiration and emotional support for nurses, she said.
“They are feeling valued by the public,” said Sorensen.
And they are reaching out for help when they need it and “coming together as a team,” she noted.
Valerie Spurrell, executive director of the Ridge Meadows Hospital, sees firsthand, every day, how hard physicians and staff are working to provide care to patients.
Many of her staff are working long hours away from their families, and Spurrell says the outpouring of support from the local community keeps them motivated.
“I hear daily how patients and their families feel cared for when they come to Ridge Meadows Hospital,” she said. “As our team works hard to support patients and their families, now, more than ever, it is important that we all do our part to flatten the curve.”
– With Black Press Media files