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It is not business as usual—change of plans and a burning building
Mar 25, 2020, By: Barb Shellian
a health care worker at a registration table in front of a computer
A health care worker sits at a registration table during a media tour of the COVID-19 Assessment Centre at Brewer Park Arena in Ottawa, on Friday, March 13, 2020. The assessment centre, operated by The Ottawa Hospital and CHEO, is an out-of-hospital clinic where people can be assessed and tested for COVID-19 if required.

It’s 2020—the Year of the Nurse. I had great plans, and now I have different ones. Prior to and after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in our country in late January, nurses have been working in a situation that you plan for but hope never comes. And, well—here we are. We all know that this is not a short-term event, and we will need to pace ourselves to work in the “new normal.”

Hospitals are eerily quiet, with no visitors. Restaurants, shops, churches, and ski hills are closed. For the past weeks I have been going to just two places—work and home. All the while, we have it in the back of our heads that some health care workers will become ill and some may not survive. But we continue to come to do the work we love, to keep our promise to the public, and to do what we are trained to do to keep ourselves and our patients safe.

… this is not a short-term event, and we will need to pace ourselves to work in the “new normal.”

What has become increasingly evident to me over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic is that there are essentially two types of people—the helpers and the hysterics. It is not fun when the hysterics come to work, because they interfere with what the helpers need to accomplish. But the helpers outnumber the hysterics, and they have a realistic optimism that keeps everyone moving forward.

Some days when I cannot take one more meeting related to COVID-19 to talk about the shortage of ventilators, what flow we are using for prescreening and cohorting, how many staff are self-isolating, whether we have enough masks, etc., I need to take a breath and look around at what is happening where I work. And then I am reminded of how proud I am to be part of the nursing profession. We are educated, we are trusted, and we are committed to our patients—and that is why we shine in times of pandemics (and every other time).

We know what we need to do

Firefighters train to enter burning buildings—safely, with equipment that will help them rescue others. Some will go through their entire career without having to enter a burning building, but they know how. COVID-19 is our burning building. I can attest that I see courage, caring, and expert knowledge demonstrated by Canadian nurses every day in many settings as we navigate the virus and live history as it unfolds.

I planned to do fun things at the beginning of 2020 to celebrate the Year of the Nurse, and now I am doing other things. But I am still celebrating our year. I celebrate the fact that Canadian nurses are prepared, resilient, and relentless in the face of adversity. We can be nimble and flexible as the situation changes rapidly. We will keep our promise to society and work as a team.

I have every confidence that we will come through this and look back and say, “Well done, nurses of Canada—well done.”

COVID-19 will not be over in the short term, and we must look after ourselves and our team members. Be kind. Know where your resources are when you need to talk and when you need a break. I have every confidence that we will come through this and look back and say, “Well done, nurses of Canada—well done.”

Plans and burning buildings aside, there is no place I would rather be in a pandemic than side by side with my nursing colleagues, making a difference. History will remember COVID-19 in 2020, but the most important thing is that our patients will remember us as nurses who knew what to do.

I want to take this opportunity to thank each of you for what you are doing. You do not hesitate to be at work even though you are worried about your family at home. You maintain optimism and caring in the face of pandemic, and you are truly my heroes.

Editor-in-chief Barb Shellian is a registered nurse committed to nursing practice, health care reform, and people. She is the immediate past president of the Canadian Nurses Association and also Director of Rural Health, Alberta Health Services Calgary Zone, and is located in Canmore, Alberta.