According to CBC News, major hospitals in Canada only allow staff to use one mask per shift. Before this outbreak, the litterature said PPE had to be changed after each exit from a patient’s room to ensure full protection of the staff and the patients as the integrity of the mask would be compromised within a short amount of time. Now, healthcare professionals are told to only change their mask if it is visibly soiled or damped, which forces them to wear the same mask while moving between multiple patient rooms. This poses both a moral and ethical dilemmas to healthcare professionals who are patient focused, as the fear of exposing themselves to the virus impairs their ability to provide care safely.
Health care facilities are currently under immense pressure with COVID-19 patients who are being admitted for additional care. Consequently, health care professionals are having to work twice as hard and people are working over-capacity. They are also exposed to the viral load more frequently, as they have to perform skills, such as suctioning, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and intubation which generates aerosols. According to the provincial data provided to CBC News, the evidence around occupational exposure shows that healthcare professionals make 1 out of 10 people infected by the virus. However, looking outside that 10% share of people, many healthcare professionals are experiencing mental health and social consequences by providing direct care to patients with COVID-19. According to nurse practitioner Tony Amberg, the repercussions go far beyond exhaustion, isolation and anxiety (NBC News). Thousands of patients are dying in their care, and they are facing scenarios they had never anticipated before. The traumatic effects of the pandemic include working long hours, fatigue, psychological distress, burnout, physical violence, insomnia, acute stress which will all vibrate long after the virus is contained and cause post-traumatic stress disorder as a result (NCBI). Medical professionals already suffer from these conditions at baseline, and the population now needs mental health support more than ever. Surrounding yourself with a strong support circle is useful to build psychological resilience, as is reaching out to colleagues (Nursing Reference Center Plus). Institutions such as the MUHC in Montreal have expanded therapy options for providers. They have launched a psychosocial support hotline for workers who are anxious, tired, grieving, suffering from insomnia, or trying to manage a host of emotions related to uncertainty.
While researching the working conditions of healthcare professionals at this moment, I was not surprised at the stories I was reading online. Medecine is a stressful profession under normal circumstances, but now the physical demands and psychological strain is bearing an even heavier weight on healthcare professional’s shoulders. I am experiencing it first hand and witnessing it in my colleagues, where we are doing everything in our power, in spite of the constraints and the challenges brought on by the pandemic, to continue to help patients. The current situation forced nurses to change their work environment, to go to unknown units far from their usual field of expertise. We work long hour shifts with little break and sleep before we go back on the job the next day. Right now, there are places where things are going well, and there are others where being a medical professional can be a real ordeal. One doctor told BBC news that: “Seeing people die is not the issue. We’re trained to deal with death … The issue is giving up on people we wouldn’t normally give up on.” Doctors and nurses can have bad shifts, but now these days repeat and pile up. I believe that I am coping with it as best that I can. I am exhausted at the end of every shift, my feet and legs are numb but I do my best to not let that bother me. What I truly find difficult is making sure my patients, family and friends are okay and safe. Our hospitals are no longer allowing visitors, and all of my patients are battling this virus alone. I don’t think I was ever prepared for something like this. In nursing school, they always tell you to prepare for the worst case scenario and how to intervene quickly. This pandemic has proved to all of us that we were not prepared to deal with this kind of situation, but every person in the front lines is doing the best they can to face adversity and to get through it every day. This is why I would prefer that rather than being presented as guardian angels, we instead speak of nurses as competent and expert healthcare professionals.