A Toronto-area nurse on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic says she began feeling unsafe working at her hospital when she received an email saying staff would be limited to two masks per shift.
“That tipped the scale for me,” the nurse says. “I no longer felt safe.”
Stephanie, whose name Global News has changed to protect her identity, smiles as she thinks about the reason why she became a nurse.
“One of the main reasons I became a nurse is my mom… she’s always loved her job,” she says. “We’re basically the same person. Our personalities are very similar. So I knew that I would like it.”
She knows it sounds cliché but Stephanie really does enjoy helping people. Ten years into her nursing career, she continues to help patients at a Toronto-area hospital as a registered nurse, now in the midst of a pandemic.
As of April 9, more than 1.4 million people worldwide have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, according to the World Health Organization. In Canada, more than 19,000 cases have been confirmed with 461 deaths. The hardest-hit provinces include Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
When the virus first appeared on her radar, Stephanie says she wasn’t especially concerned.
“I didn’t really think too much about it,” Stephanie says, adding that she thought it would be a virus similar to influenza. “We deal with that every year.”
But in March, Stephanie began realizing the novel coronavirus was not on par with the flu.
“By the end of that first week of March or the second week of March, it was full blown,” says Stephanie. “This is actually really serious.”
Stephanie is just one of the many front-line workers helping those diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. She spoke to Global News about her hospital’s procedures on dealing with COVID-19, the concern over personal protective equipment, support for front-line workers and the importance of social distancing.
Below are just a few of the questions Stephanie answered. For a longer version of the interview, watch the video above or click here.
Global News: How did nurses prepare for the novel coronavirus?
Do you find it frustrating having to do all this research on your own?
It’s high anxiety and high stress, for sure. As nurses — I’m not going to speak for everyone — there was a lot of frustration, especially if you’re doing triage. You’re right at the front lines, like right at the front line. You’re the first contact with the patient. And the nurses there felt they weren’t getting enough information on what protective equipment they should be wearing, and it would change on the daily, like what mask to wear, face shield — you should wear or not, you know? The screening changed almost daily as well. So there was a lot of frustration around that and just uncertainty. And yeah, I mean, I’m a little disappointed that I’ve had to do a lot of research, but that interests me.
What’s the procedure like for you when you enter the hospital?
I think that was about the third week of March that they started screening the actual health-care workers and not just the patients coming in. So you basically come in, they ask you some questions like our screening questions: are you feeling unwell? Have you had any contact with someone who’s travelled recently, like in the last 14 days? Do you have cough, shortness of breath, runny nose, sore throat or fever? And if you say “no,” then they scan your badge, which means you are saying to them, “I’m healthy enough to work.” And they scan your badge and you can go in. So that’s what they do on your way in. On the way out, nothing happens. So you’re not screened on the way out. It’s only on the way in.
Let’s talk a little bit more about personal protective equipment. Do you feel that there’s enough?
What do you think the public and the media focuses too much on versus not enough of?
I think they don’t focus on the health-care workers enough. I think we should be getting hazard pay. I think those are issues that need to be brought to the media. And I think it’s important to talk about mental health right now, not only for health-care workers or front-line workers but everybody because this is unprecedented times. Like anxiety and depression, people cope different ways.
How’s your mental health?
To be honest, I think I’m struggling. I’ve also lost an outlet, which was the gym. So you lose that as an option really to let out that stress and anxiety. So, yeah, I struggle every day. My sister and I have a daily gratitude list that we send to each other. That’s one thing that helps me because there are a lot of things to be grateful for, for sure. But sometimes we forget about those things when we’re in the midst of feeling so panicked or anxious.
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)