From the front lines of a global pandemic

by Lisa Gaglione

Special to The Wreckhouse Weekly


EDMONTON, AB – I’m sitting at home, self-isolating in my bedroom waiting to go to the Expo centre to get tested. Sore throat.


Meanwhile, my work family is carrying on. Our 8-bed ICU at the Grey Nuns Hospital now has 17 patients. Read that again. Most of the RNs are taking care of two patients each. Having the usual 1:1 care is impossible. We work in teams, making our way down the hallways proning and unproning the sickest patients on ventilators. The ventilators are often ‘maxed’ out - the highest settings of oxygen percentage, the highest pressures. The Respiratory Therapists are absolutely running their butts off to maintain all of those ventilators.


We work together, with them often staying in the isolation rooms to help turn our patients, hold an iPad so families can see their loved ones, who are most often paralyzed in a medically induced coma so they cannot fight what the ventilator needs to do. Medications run constantly through large IVs to keep their hearts beating somewhat normally and their blood pressures high enough to oxygenate major organs.


We are exhausted, heartbroken, making phone calls that we hate, crying with patients and in our break room crying some more. We can’t hug each other or offer that kind of support when one of our work people has to turn off the life-support that they probably helped turn on a few weeks ago.


We get to know our patients loved ones who call multiple times a day – we’re on a first name basis. We do our absolute best to take their calls or call them back as quick as we can. No one can visit. That is absolutely killing us. Watching someone’s mother, father, uncle, sister, daughter, son, etc., struggling to fight and very often, not winning.


This isn’t about wearing masks or staying at home. This is about what it’s like in your hospitals. The emergency departments are doing their best to control their environments so that everyone who needs care, gets care. But I’m telling you right now, we are at the cusp of change. For the worst.


Soon our ‘ICU’ will spill over into our recovery room as they have done in other hospitals in our city. AHS is looking at giving the ICU Nurses THREE patients! THREE each – all of them requiring life support and multiple modalities of care that only ICU trained nurses can administer.


What happens to other patients needing major, emergency surgery requiring an ICU bed post operatively? The elderly man with severe pancreatitis? The overdoses and suicide attempts? Questions my work family hold at the backs of their minds all the time. Our doctors will have to make decisions. The hardest decisions they’ve ever had to make.


Thank goodness for all of the extra staff who have been redeployed/reassigned to help us. We would not be able to do this without them. Seriously. They replenish supplies for us, they help us turn, reposition, prone/unprone, wash and change our patients. They bring and mix meds, answer phone calls, watch the monitors while we sneak away to the bathroom to pee after holding it for too long. They are priceless to us. RNs, LPNs, HCAs, from medicine, surgery, recovery, the OR, emergency. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.


Our unit looks like a war zone.


There are carts of supplies everywhere. Hallways are super crowded. It’s noisy. Because we’re all talking, yelling to be heard through masks and face shields. Monitors and alarms sing their songs constantly. Ventilators alarm continuously. We move quickly. All three phone lines ringing off the hook. Doctors everywhere. Pharmacists, dieticians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, nurse practitioners.


Our PPE suppliers keep changing. I’ve had to refit healthcare workers for new N95 masks because we run out of certain sizes. At one point, the nurses were wearing pillow cases on their heads because we ran out of hair caps. They took it in stride, making jokes about it because that’s how we cope.


I, for one, wore a blue bootie on my head every time I went into an isolation room. AHS is doing the best they can. I believe that. They can only do so much with what they’ve been given by our provincial government.


This (Facebook) post today (Friday, Dec. 11) was meant to paint a picture. Please don’t feel scared because we’re healthcare workers. Please don’t alienate us because of your fear.


Trust me, we don’t go far once we get home to our families. We are not the ones going to the malls or having people over for drinks. We buy groceries online, shop online and only go out if we absolutely need to. Honestly I feel that we’re more protected at work than in the general public. If you know a healthcare worker, please reach out to them. Offer to pick up their groceries, write them an actual letter and post it, send them an uplifting book, text them, video chat, have a weekly check in, whatever. We are all dealing with this in some way.


I love all of my work family so much. We, are truly in this together. Stay strong my family, stay healthy, find the joy.


Lisa Gaglione is a Registered Nurse, working in the ICU/CCU department at Grey Nuns Community Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta. She hails originally from the Southwest coast.

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