Coronavirus: Frontline nurses find ways to deal with stress of COVID-19, grief of losing patients

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WATCH ABOVE: Nurses are front and centre in the fight against COVID-19. This is a stressful time for all frontline workers. As Caryn Lieberman reports, there are a few practices that are helping to ease the burden – May 14, 2020

At Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, clinical educator Cailtin Kroll has found a way of helping frontline healthcare staff honour patients who have died and find closure so they can move on and treat other patients.

“We were finding it was really difficult to move from patient to patient facing these difficult situations and then have to move on like nothing has happened,” explained Kroll.

About a year ago, while working as a frontline nurse in the emergency department, Kroll recalled completing a particularly difficult shift.

“I had a young patient pass away pretty much back to back with another patient who didn’t make it either and then going into the next room was just really really difficult to put that happy face on,” she said.

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Kroll, whose mother, father and brother are all physicians, went home that day wondering what doctors and nurses can do to move on from the moment and even become more resilient.

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She learned about American emergency room and palliative care nurse Jonathan Bartels, who created a practice called The Pause, to be implemented after the death of a patient.

On his website, Bartels described it as a practice that “offers closure to both the medical team and the patient. It is a means of transitioning and demarcating the brevity and importance of this moment.”

All it takes is a few words and then silence at the bedside of the patient.

“Just to really acknowledge yourself, acknowledge your team, the work that you did, help you not to feel like such a failure and also to acknowledge that that was a person that lost their life, that had family, that had friends,” said Kroll.

A practice that has spread across Trillium Health Partners’ various sites and departments, including the COVID-19-designated unit at Credit Valley Hospital, where people have died as a result of the virus.

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It’s a unit where registered nurse Deana Drozdowsky with the clinical resource team works. In fact, she can be called to complete a shift anywhere in the hospital.

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Drozdowsky acknowledged that in the beginning, it was concerning to herself and other frontline nurses to be working with COVID-19-positive patients but that has since changed.

Once she is with the patient, no matter the diagnosis, she is focused on caring and treating the individual.

However, COVID-19 had an effect on the way she does her job.

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“We’ve had to change the way we think and the way we nurse especially when it comes to infection control and having to wear [personal protective equipment] all the time,” she said.
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“For nurses, our instinct is to react to a situation and that’s had to change where we have to stop, think, protect ourselves before we can go protect our patients and help them.”

No one knows that better than registered practical nurse Joseph Parilla who has spent the last 13 years in unit 3A at Trillium’s Mississauga Hospital.

“On our unit we’ve had patients and staff be affected by COVID so there’s always that anxiety that you might take something home or you might give it to someone you know, you just never know,” he said.

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Parilla said he felt worried mostly for his family, but the fear was never enough to keep him from going to work.

“I’m always present here and I want to be part of the solution. COVID is obviously an ever-evolving virus so we have to be flexible as an organization and a unit in terms of dealing with anything new that’s happening and new developments,” he noted.

His way of coping with heightened stress is by remaining positive.

“We take care of patients we see people probably on the worst day of their lives. We try to stay resilient and we try to stay positive and we work together,” Parilla said.


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