While the COVID-19 pandemic leaves many patients alone and isolated, there are people who take it upon themselves to always be by their side – nurses.
“Whether it’s through putting a warm blanket on someone when they’re sleeping or holding their hands, we take those small moments to make a connection in whatever way we can,” says Britt McConeghy, a nurse at Royal Jubilee Hospital who works in the emergency department and in-patient care units. “We’re that person for them.”
May 11 to 17 is National Nurses Week in Canada and while people across the country grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout, nurses continue to work hard to care for those who need it. After four years of working as a nurse, McConeghy says she never anticipated having to deal with something like this virus, but she and her colleagues have adapted.
“We’re resilient, nurses,” McConeghy says. “You just have to assess the situation and change with it and make the best decisions you can in the safest way you can.”
Nursing is McConeghy’s second career. Previously, she was an addictions worker in a medical detox unit. She’s also worked with not-for-profits, supported people with special needs and spent time in South Africa working in an orphanage. She says everything led to her becoming a nurse.
“Helping people, being there to support them and trying to make things better or more comfortable for people has always been important to me,” McConeghy says. “It’s not a job. Nurses are a breed. There are certain characteristics we all share that are important to us.”
Cathy Andrews, a home care nurse who works for community health services with Island Health, expressed similar feelings. After working in acute care for five years she moved to home care and says it revitalized her passion for nursing.
“What motivates me is being able to ease people’s suffering,” Andrews says. “Seeing people in their homes is so special. You’re getting to meet people where they’re at and provide their care – it’s a real intimacy you develop with your clients.”
Both nurses shared fears surrounding the pandemic, such as the risk of them bringing the virus to their patients as well as the risk they face as they work closely with others.
“I’m living with that sense of fear that I’m going to possibly infect other people,” Andrews says.
Andrews, who earned a degree in psychology before becoming a nurse, says recognizing mental health struggles nurses and their patients go through, whether there is COVID-19 or not, is important.
While Andrews works mostly from her vehicle as she drives from client to client – keeping her space thoroughly sanitized – she has had to keep up with new procedures and policies as they come.
Policies at the hospital are constantly changing as well, McConeghy says, so nurses are always updating to new practices and guidelines. A shift in mindset has also been necessary, McConeghy says, as they’re not used to physically distancing at work.
Both say the addition of masks and face shields has made connecting with patients difficult. Some patients, who rely on lip-reading because they have trouble hearing or have language barriers, struggle as well according to Andrews.
Despite the challenges, Andrews says nurses are proud of their profession and have the courage to show up and continue providing care. She says they’ve all been supportive of each other, recognizing this situation has been a struggle for people.
The daily cheers for health care workers that ring out at 7 p.m. help McConeghy remember why she does what she does.
“It gives me goosebumps,” McConeghy says. “It fills my heart with love and hope and it just brings tears to my eyes because it reminds me we are in this together all doing our part and that’s important.”