Registered nurse discusses working in hospital amid coronavirus pandemic

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Registered nurse describes working on the front line amid COVID-19 pandemic' Coronavirus outbreak: Registered nurse describes working on the front line amid COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH: A registered nurse describes working on the front lines of the new coronavirus pandemic – Apr 8, 2020

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.

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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.

READ MORE: With strong controls, Canada could see 11,000 to 22,000 coronavirus deaths — officials

“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.

READ MORE: No return to ‘normality’ until coronavirus vaccine is available, Trudeau says

Below are just a few of the questions Stephanie answered. For a longer version of the interview, watch the video above or click here.

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Global News: How did nurses prepare for the novel coronavirus?

Stephanie: I don’t like to use the word disorganized, but it is a bit disorganized because we were learning every day new things about the virus and so were our educators and our management. You have to basically rely on checking your emails daily and then checking out our work website for updated information. And then we didn’t really receive much education on the actual virus itself and what it does and who it affects. Any information that I have about [COVID-19] is what I’ve done on my own or from the news, which I rely on partly.

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.

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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.

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Let’s talk a little bit more about personal protective equipment. Do you feel that there’s enough?

I think it was March 24th, whatever the Tuesday night was, that day we had an email saying: “When you come into work tonight, starting at 7 p.m. tonight, you will be receiving two masks if you’re in a patient-facing area.” And you have two masks for your whole shift. You’re expected to use those two masks and no more. And if you want another one, you have to contact your manager. So that was what tipped the scale for me, when I said that I no longer felt safe because now I’ve been limited to two masks and I work with patients that are, you know, coughing all the time or are very sick. N95s [mask], which are different, those are more protective, they said we could use it, we should use it if we’re doing the NP [nasopharyngeal] swab, which is the test for COVID[-19]. And you go right in, you know, right in the person’s nose and face. And then they said last week: “Oh, you don’t need to wear for that anymore.” And this is what really scared me because I don’t believe that that’s based on science, I believe that’s based on conservation measures, and so that scares me because I feel like it could be putting me and my family, honestly, at risk. 
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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.)


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