“A lifeboat in the ocean:” Life nurses at a downtown Vancouver hospital

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VANCOUVER – As a registered nurse in the emergency department of St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, Zoe Manarangi Bake-Paterson wonders if she will be the same after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is palpable stress in the department, she said, as she and her colleagues prepare for a spate of cases that may or may not happen.

“It looks like we are in a lifeboat in the ocean awaiting the arrival of the tsunami,” said Manarangi Bake-Paterson.

“I just wonder how it will change me or my colleagues in our practice or in my personal life, because I think a lot will happen. I just wonder, when we get to the other side, how different will we be? “

St. Paul’s has long been at the forefront of the treatment of the most vulnerable in Vancouver.

In the 1980s, it was one of the few treatment centers for HIV-positive patients in British Columbia. Many of his patients today are residents of the Downtown Eastside, which was the epicenter of an overdose crisis.

More than a dozen hospital health workers agreed to be interviewed by The Canadian Press and described how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting them and their jobs.

They shared feelings of uncertainty, fear, hope and solidarity.

Even though B.C. is successfully slowing the spread of COVID-19, many nurses say they are preparing for a possible epidemic in the Downtown Eastside where many are homeless and physical distance is a challenge.

The hospital is closed to everyone except patients and staff.

The beds were released and the triage was reviewed so that patients with respiratory symptoms could be isolated immediately.

Staff receive updated instructions – sometimes hourly – as new evidence of the epidemic emerges. They repeat urgent intubations after their shift and adapt to work in zero pressure rooms.

Potential COVID-19 cases come to the emergency room in different ways.

“It looks like pneumonia. They are out of breath, usually quite high fevers, and they tend to worsen fairly quickly, people who are really not well, “said RN Duncan McTavish.

Other patients seem OK, so it’s hard to say, he says.

In some ways, the new coronavirus is like a ghost in the ER.

Staff generally do not know if a patient has COVID-19 after taking tampons. Patients can be sent home with instructions to manage their symptoms or be in intensive care by the time the test results arrive.

The specter that anyone could be a carrier of the virus has changed the way nurses think about everything they do.

“Every action I take, I have to think about it,” says McTavish. “What type of mask do I need and if I go into the room, dab on that person, leave – I need to make sure I have changed my gloves and wash my hands between steps.

“We do it all the time, but the awareness of that right now is really heightened. “

Nurses wear glasses, stuffy surgical masks and other equipment throughout their shift.

“People have joked about how their skin is already feeling abrasions because of this constant friction with the masks,” says Manarangi Bake-Paterson.

Registered nurse Rachel Mrdeza says she had never really thought about the equipment she wears for protection, but now she is fully aware that it is her shield.

Feelings in the hospital sway like a pendulum, she said.

On the one hand, staff are concerned for patients and their families. On the other, they are elated by the roaring cheers of health workers crossing the city at the same time every night and by the donations of food and other supplies that have been deposited.

“At such times, it’s incredibly joyful to experience this,” says Mrdeza.

There is also a sense of unity among the staff.

“Even in the masks where you can’t see the smiles and the glasses of the fogged up people and … there’s this physical disconnect, it feels like we’re together,” said Manarangi Bake-Paterson.

Many have had to make personal sacrifices or have had difficult conversations with their families about what would happen if they fell ill.

Registered nurse Leah Ventura said she greeted her parents’ window the other day because she couldn’t enter.

Amanda Hickey, clinical nurse responsible, says her mother recently moved to a nursing home and Hickey has not been able to see her for more than a month.

“It was really difficult. “

Registered nurse Maria Alonzo says her heart sank when she woke up one day with body aches, fever and a dry throat. One of the doctors she works with has contracted the coronavirus and is in contact with potential cases every day.

As a single mother who lives with her 73-year-old mother, Alonzo struggled to express the relief she felt when she was negative.

“In fact, I cried when I got my result,” she says. “Every time I go to work, my fear is 200%, because I always think of my son, my mother who lives with me. What would happen if I got sick? “

Yet Alonzo says she will continue to work alongside thousands of other health workers every day.

In many ways, the jobs of emergency room nurses have not changed at all. They are always responsible for providing the best care possible and they have a system in place to do so.

Registered nurse Erica Wong urges everyone to continue to follow public health protocols that will give nurses the best chance of success.

“So far, we’re fine, but it can change from second to second. Continue to be cautiously optimistic. We are all in the same boat, ”she said.

“We just have to keep going. “

This Canadian Press report was first published on April 14, 2020

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