Celebrating Montreal’s reluctant heroes during Nursing Week

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WATCH: They've been in the trenches for nearly 15 months, caring for COVID-19 patients, often to the detriment of their own physical and mental health. Yet some nurses refuse to be called pandemic heroes. They prefer to be honored during Nursing Week for their professionalism and dedication to their craft. Global's Phil Carpenter has more – May 14, 2021

It’s National Nursing Week and across the country, people are pausing to reflect on the tireless contribution of nurses, as well as other health-care workers, over the last year.

In Montreal, some nurses, like Sarah Bachand, an endoscopy nurse at LaSalle hospital, are thinking about the mental toll the pandemic has taken on colleagues.

“It’s definitely been my most challenging year as a nurse,” she told Global News just outside the hospital.

She says navigating the first wave was like walking into the unknown, and the toughest part she experienced was working in a seniors’ home for the first time.

“To see the devastation of COVID was very hard,” she said.

Read more: West Islanders rally to support Lakeshore Hospital medical staff

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West Island health board nursing director Beverley Tracey John agrees that it’s been arduous for medical staff, and it’s why measures are put in place to help make sure mental health is a priority.

“I mean, we can’t hug,” she joked, “but we definitely give a lot of support and a lot of time maybe listening.”

In spite of that, she admitted that some health professionals, including nurses, just didn’t make it, saying there have been mental health breakdowns, burnout and other illnesses.

“This is our equivalent of a war for the health-care professionals,” she said.

Some have also died.

To honour a fallen comrade who died by suicide, and to draw attention to the need for health professionals and everyone to look after their mental health, Bachand and a group of nurses are having an event Sunday.

“We’re going to run in honour of Sonia Brown,” she said. “We’re going to write her name on our T-shirts.”

Brown was a nurse who worked in the east end of Montreal.

Bachand and her colleagues say they want to help make sure something like this never happens to another soul.

“It makes me so sad,” Bachand said, “especially her situation was that she asked for help. She went to the emergency, was discharged and two days later committed suicide.”

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The fundraising run starts at the Lakeshore Hospital in Pointe-Claire. They’ll go past nine hospitals and two seniors’ residences to encourage the staff working at those places. The total distance: 53 kilometres.  All funds raised will go to the Quebec Mental Health Movement.

Read more: Montreal students raise money for Lakeshore hospital while ‘bringing back the rainbow’

In spite of the sacrifices, though, John refuses to be called a hero.

“We are not guardian angels,” she laughed, referring to the term used by many to show their appreciation for what nurses did during the pandemic. “We are trained professionals.”

Francine Dubé, a patient at the LaSalle hospital, doesn’t see it that way.

“Yeah, it’s her job first,” she said. “But if they’re not there, and with all the strikes that they have to do for what they earn and the hours and the overtime, they have to work! They cannot say no!”

Bachand and John just plan to keep on fighting.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

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Learn more about how to help someone in crisis here.

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