I read a disturbing article in the Winnipeg Free today by Melissa Martin. It brought home the situations in our Intensive Care Units (‘ICU’). I wish all Manitobans would read it. Especially those who have been reckless about endangering others and our health system by their careless and selfish attitudes to Covid-19.
Martin pointed out how our ICUs are being stretched to the limit. The nurses there, particularly those temporary and poorly trained extender nurses who don’t normally work in ICUs, told her a little bit about what life was like in the front lines of this war. The stress is nearly unendurable.
First, there is the stress of working in life or death situations without proper training. One of the nurses said she has been “gripped by constant anxiety.” She was an experienced nurse, but she was not experienced or trained to work in an ICU until she was called in as an “extender nurse.” Manitoba was forced to increase its ICU capacity by 50% because of the steady influx of patients. As Martin pointed out, “Still, pressure on ICUs remains high: as of Monday, 102 patients were in critical care, including 38 with COVID19-related illness. Before the pandemic, the province had 72 total ICU beds.” Normally, nurses like her who move to an ICU get months of training including hands-on learning. She got one day’s training! Then she is put in charge of patients whose lives are at risk! Think about that stress for a minute.
She called it a “steep learning curve.” The nurse said that every day in December when she went to work, she cried. As Martin reported, the nurse “often felt as if she was left to fend for herself. It wasn’t for lack of support from the regular unit staff; it’s just they had too many demands on their time to take her fully under their wing. That made worse the uncertainty of navigating medications and devices with which she had little experience.” I sometimes thought I had a high-pressure job. That was nothing compared to this pressure! Unsurprisingly, the nurse said, “my mental health has taken a nose-dive.” You think?
The nurse said,
“The extenders I’ve talked to, it’s mostly been negative experiences,” Isabelle said. “They’re not happy. They’re anxious. They’re nervous they’re going to be placed in a situation where they’re not comfortable.”
Another of the nurses pointed out she understood why others could not help her. Everyone in the ICU was overwhelmed. As a result, even though she was not properly trained, she had no choice to deal with the problems. Her superiors were also overwhelmed. This was particularly acute because they lost some staff during that time. As she said,
“They couldn’t really monitor everything I was doing… It’s not for lack of people trying to support me. It’s just been this overwhelming surge of acuity like we haven’t seen before, and also this reduction in staff.”
The nurse explained what it felt like to work under such conditions. She compared it to war conditions! Here is what she said,
“COVID was spoken of as a war. It was, “We’re fighting COVID, and the front-line people, they’re our soldiers.’ But I didn’t know we were going to staff this army with like, three people. I’ve never seen that level of excellence we’re talking about. I’ve only seen people in war, and in suffering.”
I feel profound empathy for anyone who had to work under such war-like conditions. As Martin explained that nurses felt it in different ways. During the peak nurses saw as many as four patients die in one shift. Each emptied bed was filled swiftly by what Sarah called a “conveyor belt” of incoming COVID-19 cases, a new set of lives hanging by a thread. Those deaths were made even harder by the fact, in most cases, families were not allowed in the building.
Understandably some of the nurses feel they have been treated badly. They have been treated badly. The ones to blame here are not the health care officials who supervise hospitals in horrendous circumstances. They are dealing with a new coronavirus. The ones to blame are Manitobans! Ordinary everyday Manitobans who have been treating Covid-19 cavalierly and negligently are to blame. People who have not been treating the disease seriously and following the Manitoba health guidelines. That includes many of us. Not just the Christians from my own community who have been selfishly putting their own need to join in religious services with their fellow congregants, but definitely those. Is exercising our “right” to ignore health guidelines and our right to religious freedom more important than protecting our health care workers and the patients they are trying to save? We all could have done better and made the jobs of health care workers easier. As a result of our actions they are incredibly stressed while they try to save lives. Many of us have blood on our hands!