ER nurse diary: waiting for the storm

She's a veteran nurse at a Winnipeg hospital who has seen her fair share of medical emergencies. But nothing in her past could have prepared her for what's unfolding on health care's front lines amid the novel coronavirus crisis.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/04/2020 (1019 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

She’s a veteran nurse at a Winnipeg hospital who has seen her fair share of medical emergencies. But nothing in her past could have prepared her for what’s unfolding on health care’s front lines amid the novel coronavirus crisis.

The woman, who has requested anonymity, first shared her first-person account with Free Press columnist Dan Lett last week, after back-to-back ER shifts.

One week later, and the calm before the COVID-19 storm remains in place. However, the last seven days have brought new observations.

More time preparing, wondering

It’s a very interesting time in my hospital, right now. It’s still not like New York or even Toronto. We’re not overrun with patients, we’re coping and we still have equipment and supplies. But we still live with the constant threat that it could change. There are also rumblings in the background we’re close to running out of PPE. On the front lines, it’s hard for nurses to figure out the situation with what we have in stock. We’re still getting supplies in my ER and when we run low, we order more and its provided. But another nurse told me she had heard there are only about 11 days of stuff left.

At the hospital, we’re still preparing for the big wave. We’ve been told if it doesn’t arrive by the third week in April, we might not see a big surge at all. But they’re still making preparations and bringing in new policies all the time. We’re not allowed to order pizza anymore because it’s in a paper box, and we can’t bring in coffee in paper or Styrofoam cups anymore. You can’t clean any of these things with disinfecting wipes, so now, the security guards stop you at the door if you try to bring in a paper cup of coffee.

Waves of appreciation

People, in general, have been great with us. The general public appreciates what we’re doing now, more than ever. I still get called names and stuff like that but now, random people on the street, when they see you in your uniform, are coming over and saying, ‘Thank you.’ Right now, everyone is running away from this invisible enemy and we are running towards it. And it’s not just nurses; support staff, the support staff, everyone who is part of the health-care team.

A lot of people are making surgical caps for us, the ones with the buttons on the side to hold mask straps. A couple of my co-workers have neighbours who make this stuff on their own and just drop it off at houses where they know a nurse lives. Those caps are pretty important for covering our hair. If we are not touching our hair as much, then it helps stop the spread of the virus. We’re all trying to get five or six of them, so we can wash them and always have a clean one on hand for when we go into work.

Unsung heroes of the pandemic

I’m pretty worried about people like grocery store clerks and the people working at gas stations. We need them to be at work now, and a lot of them didn’t sign up for something like this. There’s quite a debate among nurses that people like store clerks are getting danger pay and we’re not. I try to remind them we are already pretty well-paid and have all of our benefits and things like that. But also, we did sign up for stuff like this. We have the training and the equipment. At a store, these people have no idea what to do and there are people yelling at them because there are no more Lysol wipes. We all need to be more supportive and understanding for everyone who is out doing their jobs right now.

Misusing masks, gloves

To be honest, I’m more scared now at the grocery store than I am at the hospital. In the stores, I see people touching their faces, then touching boxes and other surfaces. I’ve watched store clerks put on gloves and then touch their faces and hair. I’ve seen lots of people wearing gloves, but I saw one person put their fingers in their mouth to pull a glove off. I just want to tell them that they are going to hurt themselves if they keep doing stuff like that. I saw a little boy wearing a N95 mask. He was probably three years old, and it was so big it practically covered his whole face; it was doing nothing for him. These masks can only protect you if they’re property fitted.

People need to know it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, as soon as you touch your face, it’s garbage. But most aren’t receptive to that message, they don’t want to hear your advice. All those masks and gloves, it’s all a false sense of security if you’re not using them correctly.

If I could say anything to people right now, it’s: just stay home Manitoba. I don’t want to do this for another two years.

Dan Lett

Dan Lett

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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