An interview was conducted with a COVID-19 frontline nurse. Here is Cassandra’s story.
- Briefly describe your journey in becoming a COVID-19 frontline nurse: The previous months leading up to the pandemic were filled with such uncertainty and not exactly knowing what was really going on in the world. I think I finally woke up when the residents where I worked started becoming infected one by one. I was working as a PAB in a long-term care facility and our PPE was extremely lacking. It was not long before I was personally infected with Covid-19 and was forced to take time off to recuperate and be thrown back into the fire. Once I was cleared to return to work, I then began my nursing journey at the Jewish General Hospital. Although Covid numbers began dropping, it wasn’t long before Montreal became a red zone once again. My hospital was getting ready to battle a second wave and requested volunteers to start taking on Covid patients. Four colleagues and I collectively decided to be transferred to a Covid unit where we would be caring for patients of all ages battling this virus. People ask me every day why I chose to go and I never really have a good answer other than it is but my duty.
- What was most challenging? You can name multiple aspects. When I was personally infected with Covid-19, it gave my family and I great concern because I share a home with my 90-year-old grandfather. As a healthcare worker, I knew that I had to stay isolated in my bedroom at all times and use a separate washroom. My mother, not being immunocompromised, was responsible for bringing me my meals throughout the day. Word got out within my family that I had contracted Covid-19, and without trusting my process in isolating, I was threatened with the law and told to immediately find somewhere else to stay. I believe that Covid brought some of us together, but it also tore friends and families apart. Covid’s uncertainty brought the hatred out in people and being caught in the middle of it has truly been challenging.
- What was your greatest lesson? The term “essential worker” came to light during the start of the pandemic which meant that the only services available were the ones that were essential to survive. I’ve always known health care workers to be essential, however, what really opened up my eyes was exactly how little we were cared for by the government and how much we had to fight to only get something small in return. Doctors were being offered a ridiculous amount of money to continue working during terrible conditions, while nurses were putting their blood, sweat, and tears into every shift and receiving only but a tiny fraction of what they truly deserved.
- What brought you the most pain? I don’t think that anything in this world has pained me more than watching people slowly die in an isolated room with no one by their side. I cannot imagine the feeling of dying alone. Being a nurse, and not being able to help is something that haunts me every single day.
- What brought you the most joy? It is difficult to think of something that brought me joy during a pandemic. I can probably name a few things that brought me pain and disappointment. This pandemic should not be challenged alone, so I guess what brings me joy during this trying time is knowing I have the never-ending support from my colleagues and friends. They constantly check up on me and my well-being on a daily basis and I really take that to heart.
- What tools and resources for coping, working, staying healthy, etc. have been most helpful to you? Since a lot of establishments are closed due to the pandemic, I have found myself spending more time indoors rather than expending my stress at the gym or enjoying socializing at a gathering. Being around people is what makes me the happiest so you can imagine how out of place I have been feeling since the pandemic started. Luckily, I have amazing friends and a supportive partner that keep the joy in me alive. I spend a lot of time reading and enjoying the company of my animals. But to be completely honest, I do find comfort in my work. My colleagues and I lean on each other for support and if one of us has fallen down, we collectively pick that person back up.
- How has your life changed from this? And how do you think it will impact you in the future either in your personal life or in your career? I’ve always been a pretty resilient person. Having gone through so much in my life I’ve taught myself that life doesn’t necessarily get easier, but it will definitely make me stronger. No one really predicted that the start of my nursing career would happen during a pandemic so I can only imagine that the outcome of all of this will lead me to becoming a pretty amazing nurse.
- Which of your strengths is best highlighted in this period of your life? People always tell me that I’m fearless, which is completely wrong because I’m afraid of a lot of things. I just don’t think that fighting a virus is one of them. When they ask for volunteers, I am usually quick to step up to the plate without feeling any sort of regret. I’m really not sure if that’s considered a strength or just pure recklessness!
- Do you have any advice for other nurses? (from students to veterans to other Covid nurses) I think that the only advice that truly matters right now is to always stick together. No one can fight this pandemic alone. If you have friends and family that are health care workers, check on them. A lot of us don’t speak up in times of need so it is always best to look out for one another