By Christy Laing, RN
Clinical Support Nurse at a pediatric hospital
Health Care Coordinator, Camp Kwasind
Central Baptist Church, Oakville
I get up at 5:30, dress in the dark, pack my breakfast and lunch, then drive to work on dark quiet streets. The highway feels like it’s a Sunday, since the traffic is sparse. I listen to music and mentally prepare myself for another day—but not just any day. I drive into the parking garage, flashing my badge at a security guard, proving I’m allowed to be there. I park and exit into the main building, walking through the designated staff area, again flashing my badge to another security guard I’ve never met, who allows me to enter the place I’ve worked for 20 years and freely walked into whenever I wanted. I notice that the halls and ER waiting areas are empty; this feels eerie. I notice that the once open-concept atrium is now cordoned off into areas, but without the fun and anticipation of Disney World. I line up behind 20 other staff in the area sectioned off for the elevators, where we make small talk to hide our stress. We are two metres apart, standing on stickers that have been measured out at proper distances. These are not the cute coloured footprint stickers that travel from the front atrium to the back annex prompting kids to hop, skip and jump, but ones that remind us of the grim reality we are in. I wait my turn for the security guard to allow three of us into an elevator, forced into the corners.
I walk onto my floor, noticing that all the wards have the doors closed and giant signs directing staff and parents what to do. Closed doors at all exits to the ward just enforce that we are caged in. When I enter my unit, I immediately wash my hands, don a “social distancing” medical grade face mask, then head to the coat room to hang my bag and fetch my goggles. I am a Charge Nurse, so spend my shifts helping my colleagues, and may enter up to all 25 patient rooms on one shift. With ONE mask. I will be allowed two masks for the entire shift if needed and must wear each until visibly soiled before being allowed to change it. This is a far cry from previous days. Germs may be invisible, but to a nurse, they are in plain sight. I cannot do my job without being closer than two metres. Something that has always struck me as normal in providing care is now being avoided in the real world. When entering patients’ rooms, I will add extra PPE (personal protective equipment) such as my goggles, mask, gloves, and face shield to protect myself from their respiratory illnesses, gastro bugs, or—heaven forbid—COVID-19. The goggles will get washed, the gloves and gown tossed, but the mask stays on. I will be allowed to switch out for an N-95 mask, if the type of isolation determines this, and put my “social distancing” mask aside temporarily.
My ears hurt from the straps of the mask. Women have become creative with clips in our hair to hold the straps away from the back of the ears; the men apply protective dressing behind theirs. Our noses are raw, our cheeks are scratched and dented from 12 hours of mask and goggle pressure; our skin is breaking out. Our hands are bleeding and more raw than usual, from the even more diligent handwashing we do. Our hearts and bladders are heavy, our stomachs empty. I provide care, empathy, kindness, love, compassion, patience, information, medication, treatments and pain relief, without asking for anything in return. I enforce isolation rules, monitor my patients for symptoms beyond just which underlying illness brought them back into hospital, and test at least one patient per shift for COVID-19 via nasal swab. I see the fear in their eyes, and stress on their faces. Only one caregiver is allowed with each patient, and they are confined to their hospital room for the duration of the admission. They ask us questions that we don’t always have the answers to and are scared about what results might come. They try to hide fear from their kids, and explain why they must stay in the room at all times.
The staff are all smiling (behind the masks) but know this is the calm before the storm and are anxious about what may come in the next few weeks. I talk to God in my head regularly and silently pray that my transplant patient will not be positive for this illness, as I know it could kill them, then add the same for myself as I am immunosuppressed also. I pray I won’t accidentally bring this home with me and spread it to my family. When I drive home, I sometimes cry. At home I quickly change (clothes in the laundry asap) and wash off the day. I call my oldest friend Allison, who is a Charge Nurse in the Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital ER. We commiserate on our stress and concern. She tells me she triaged next to no one last weekend, as people are finally leaving the ER for emergencies. She agrees it’s eerily calm and knows what will come in the days ahead. We pray for each other, then I find a few moments to mentally unwind, before going to bed and preparing for tomorrow. I am a nurse and I’m scared.
I work in one of the world’s most respected institutions and have been trained for very serious situations. But with COVID-19 comes a new set of rules, and these change by the hour. Our managers meet with the staff twice daily with updates. Our leaders host Town Hall meetings broadcast to staff. We are supported but also left feeling unsure. We’ve had to fill out a survey on our skills, with the possibility of being deployed to a different area of the hospital should things become overwhelming. We wait for the days when that may be implemented. No one really knows what is coming next but are so grateful we work where we do, as it’s likely to impact us less than the adult hospitals.
How can we pray?
I’ve been asked, ‘what can we pray for?’ Please pray for energy for front-line staff when we are exhausted during our shifts; pray for rest on our days off. We don’t get to stay home right now. Pray for continued hope that things will improve; pray for us to trust that they will. Pray that we can find peace in our thoughts and not be kept awake at night worrying. Pray for us to be supported by the world around us, and the leaders within our hospitals, making decisions about how well I’m protected.
How can we show care?
I’ve also been asked ‘how can we show care?’ Please phone, text, or email to remind us you’re rooting for us. Bang pots and pans at 7pm every night when nurses are going into shift change. Offer to pick up groceries for a front-line worker so we can avoid the grocery stores and get our rest. Post fun pictures in your windows to provide love and hope to the outside world – we notice these! And more than anything: stay home so we don’t have to make up a bed for you or your child in our hospitals.
Christy Laing is a nurse with a passion for kids’ well-being. Christy works at a pediatric hospital in the Transplant Unit. She is also on the Camp Kwasind management team where she oversees the health centre, volunteers every summer and has volunteered at Blizzard, CBOQ’s senior high retreat for the past seven years. Christy is a member at Central Baptist Church, Oakville.