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Coronavirus: Toronto nurses open up about struggles, challenges amid pandemic

Global News follows frontline nurses at Humber River Hospital
WATCH ABOVE: It’s National Nursing Week and Humber River Hospital welcomed Global News into its emergency room to follow one of its longtime nurses around on one of her shifts as she cares for COVID-19 patients. Caryn Lieberman reports.

There may be less trauma patients in the emergency room at Humber River Hospital lately, but the nurses are no less busy.

“We’re just getting tons of respiratory distress patients now,” said registered nurse Kendra Leo, reflecting on her time in the hospital amid National Nursing Week.

The nursing team is consumed with caring for COVID-19-positive patients, or people suspected of having the virus.

“Some days are super busy — you can’t really predict what’s going to happen when you come in,” Leo said.

READ MORE: ‘Thank you to B.C.’s nurses for moving heaven and earth to help people with COVID-19’: premier

“From the beginning of the shift to the end, it’s just back to back to back.”

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It doesn’t matter how many patients she has, Leo takes her time with each one.

“It’s definitely hard to see people suffering. I don’t think everyone outside necessarily realizes how bad it could get and sometimes is,” she said.

Frontline nurses describe challenges amid COVID-19 pandemic
Frontline nurses describe challenges amid COVID-19 pandemic

Leo started as a student nurse 17 years ago at Humber River Hospital during the SARS outbreak.

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“This is different, this is everywhere,” she said.

“It’s here, it’s at the grocery store, it’s everywhere you go.”

She also works a second job at Toronto Public Health doing case and contact management as well as tracing the new coronavirus, so she knows first-hand how easily the virus can spread.

“We need to care about each other,” she said.

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One of her biggest struggles, Leo explained, is the need for personal protective equipment (PPE).

“It’s so hard to interact with your patients, like you look like an astronaut coming in, when you’re trying to hold their hand or be there for them and it makes it feel so much more impersonal,” she said.

READ MORE: Inside the ICU: What staff at a Toronto hospital have learned about COVID-19

Leo explained often these are patients at the end of their life and the nurses might be the last people to be present with them since family members may not be able to be in the hospital.

Another challenge is what happens when she gets home from a long shift at hospital.

Leo is a mother of four, with children between the ages of 6 and 13.

She tries to keep her physical distance from her children, due to her own exposure at work with the virus.

“What they’re struggling with is not being able to be so close to me. When I go home I try to self-isolate. I sleep in my own room, use my own bathroom,” she said.

Manitoba Nurses Union on National Nursing Week
Manitoba Nurses Union on National Nursing Week

Another nurse is also struggling with staying physically apart from her children — aged seven and 11 — at home.

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“I say, ‘Please stay away from me I can’t hug you. I love you, but please stay away from me for now,'” said registered nurse Victoria Deac.

“It’s hard. I feel so sad at night to go to sleep by myself.”

Like Leo, Deac said she also feels for her patients, who are mostly from long-term care homes and missing their loved ones.

“I think about the families of the patients and the patients [themselves] — how they are feeling right now in this situation: scared, isolated, lonely,” she said.

“I try my best when I go into the room and spend time with them to talk to them, support them emotionally.”

READ MORE: Here’s how hospital staff at a Toronto ICU are treating coronavirus patients

Fellow nurse John Reyes said he worries about the emotional toll this health crisis is having on nurses.

Reyes said he hopes when the COVID-19 pandemic eases, there will be support for frontline nurses.

“I feel like the nurses need help after this because I feel like it’s so traumatizing for them,” he said.

“I don’t think there is enough reflective process for us to go through.”

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