May 11 to 17 marks National Nursing Week in Canada.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife in honour of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.
Always there and always a source of comfort, nurses and the work they do are especially appreciated during the COVID-19 crisis.
“It’s very different this year. The attention to what we’re doing seems to be greater (due to COVID-19),” said Michelle Rosso, Sault Area Hospital (SAH) registered nurse and intensive care unit/cardiac catheterization lab clinical educator, speaking to SooToday.
“It’s always nice to be recognized. My colleagues, the nurses I work with every day are getting the recognition they deserve for all of their incredible work. They work so hard every day.”
The term ‘hard work’ would be an understatement.
Nurses (and all medical and non-medical staff, along with administrators) have had to deal with a new health emergency coming with a multitude of changes and uncertainties.
Amanda LePera is a SAH registered nurse and emergency department clinical educator whose job is to make sure other nurses have the most up to date information they need as soon as it comes in.
“It’s slowing down a little bit, but in the beginning (of COVID-19) there were definitely times when things would change from morning to afternoon in terms of the recommendations and the protocols that were being given to us, best practice guidelines, PPE requirements. All the staff shared in the burden in multiple updates a day and took it all in stride. I can’t stress that enough,” LePera said.
When COVID-19 arose, SAH divided its emergency department into a ‘cold’ ER for patients without COVID-19 symptoms, a ‘hot’ ER set aside for patients with signs of the virus.
“We worked very quickly. There was a lot of planning going into making one department become two. Typically, right now, my days are about making sure I know of Public Health Ontario and Algoma Public Health updates that I need to make people (coworkers) aware of,” LePera said.
There’s a lot of protective equipment nurses need to ‘don and doff.’
A greater or lesser amount of PPE must be worn depending on the type of procedure a nurse must perform and whether a nurse is attending to patients in the ‘cold’ or ‘hot’ emergency room, LePera said.
“If somebody is on enhanced precautions I would be wearing, at minimum, a mask, a face shield, gown and gloves. The gown, the face shield and the gloves will come off whenever you leave the patient’s room. A mask stays on for your entire shift, so that was definitely hard to get used to at first...it gets hot. It took a bit of getting used to. And definitely wearing the face mask for an extended period of time is the biggest challenge for us.”
“As a clinical educator I’m a resource for the frontline staff for information,” Rosso said.
“I spend the better part of my day in the units answering questions about appropriate isolation for patients, PPE…we’re meeting with the staff every day, sometimes twice a day to keep them updated with the latest information.”
“This week has continued to be a celebration for nurses and a reminder why we became nurses. We’re truly there to look after the patients and make them feel safe and I think we’re doing a pretty great job at that,” said Sharon Abrams, SAH registered nurse and patient care manager.
“It’s been stressful but I love my team...when COVID first came to light it was 16, 18 hour days. We needed to get everything ready to have great outcomes. Everybody stepped forward, everybody stepped out of their comfort zones. As stressful as it’s been, it’s been amazing to see the work and preparation everybody’s accomplished in a very short period of time.”
“We know we can do anything now, we can accomplish anything, which is wonderful,” Abrams said.
In addition to the added stress COVID-19 has caused, this year’s National Nursing Week is also a sad one.
Brian Beattie, a registered nurse who worked at a long term care home in London, Ont., died of COVID-19, the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) announced Tuesday.
“That is absolutely heartbreaking,” LePera said.
“It hits more close to home when you hear it’s a fellow nurse this has happened to, who is on the frontline trying to do their best every day to provide quality care to patients.”
“It does play a bit on your mind. You have this bit of fear at the back of your mind, but you learn to control your fear and fall back on protocols and make sure you do your due diligence and use your PPE,” LePera said.
“It’s devastating,” Rosso said.
“It really shines a light on the risks to what we do. I’ve been a nurse for 20 years and I always knew there was a risk, but there was this sense it wouldn’t happen to me, but this crisis and seeing what’s happened to many of my colleagues around the world has thrown a light on the reality of what’s in front of us. We have to be aware of it and diligent in protecting ourselves and others.”
“I would like to extend my sincere condolences to the friends, the family, all the people surrounding Brian...it’s awful, awful news,” Abrams said.
“I’ve worked through SARS, I’ve worked through the threat of Ebola coming. Every day is a risk, not just for nurses, it’s for everybody.”
Interestingly, Abrams said “I actually feel safer at work because I know we’re doing all the right things, but I don’t want to set foot into other places right now. It’s so true. I walk in there and I feel a sense of relief, I’m in my second home.”
Did any of the three nurses we spoke to ever imagine a virus causing such changes to the world?
“This pandemic is not something you think would happen in a northern Ontario community. We (in the north) feel a little removed from things. So it’s been a challenge. I think we’ve risen to the challenge, but definitely it’s not something, when you enter nursing school, you think you’re necessarily going to encounter,” LePera said.
“You know at some point you may face it but until you're there you really don’t understand what it’s going to mean to you and the people in your life,” Rosso said.
“I didn’t think about this when I went through nursing school, but I still wouldn’t change from being a nurse,” Abrams said.
“Normally this week (National Nursing Week), in this community, the nurses come together from many organizations and have a celebratory dinner. Due to this pandemic obviously that celebration has been cancelled. It’s something people very much look forward to every year. There’s been a lot of emotions this year. I find myself being a little more reflective this year,” LePera said.
“It’s been a challenging few months but I’m so incredibly proud of the team that I work with and all they’ve prepared for and accomplished in the last few months. I can’t stress that enough. It’s not just nurses, it’s the whole team, but the nurses in the ER are the frontline, the point of entry for people who come into the hospital, seeing potential COVID patients...I’ve been more reflective of that this week, definitely more than in years past.”
The community has shown its appreciation for the nursing staff at SAH, Rosso said.
“Every day there are cupcakes, or pizzas, lots of baked goods coming our way from different businesses in the community, families in the community, and administration’s always been great at recognizing us during this week.”
As stressful as nursing can be, would any of these women trade nursing for another profession?
“Not a chance. I’ve been doing this for 17 years and I am drawn to the emergency room,” LePera said.
“No, I absolutely wouldn’t. That question is brought up a lot to us. ‘Looking back, if you could be anything else, what would you have done?’ and every time I think about it, it’s nursing. My career has been so satisfying, interesting, rewarding, the growth potential in the career of nursing is endless...I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Rosso said.
“Absolutely not. Never,” Abrams said.
Abrams had one key message for the community.
“I just want to say ‘thank you’ because they (the public) are the reason Sault Area Hospital is still in a really good state. Without the social distancing, without them doing proper hand hygiene, self isolating when they're told to if they have symptoms, we wouldn’t be in the good spot we’re in, compared to other communities. As hard as it is, people (in the Sault and area) are doing the right thing.”