How three Calgary nurses are navigating COVID-19

How three Calgary nurses are navigating COVID-19

How three Calgary nurses are navigating COVID-19

Does it feel to you like COVID-19 is everywhere all of a sudden? Scores of people I know are either testing positive, learning that they may have been exposed, or sharing such stories about their family and friends. News reports that case numbers are rising exponentially are starting to feel closer to home every day.

Image credit Robson Fletcher, CBC News, used with permission.

Different jurisdictions have different restrictions, but should we be doing more than what’s required? What exactly do “Stay home,” “Maintain physical distance,” and “Do what’s right” mean in practice? 

Should we still shop in person? Have dinner with a close friend or family member? Meet them for a walk? Plan to see family for the holidays? Is it safe to travel?

If you’re living with heart disease, you know you’re at elevated risk, and you’ve likely been very careful. But still, does that mean you can’t leave your house until this is over? No social contact at all for over a year is neither feasible nor healthy. So where do you draw the line?

Meet the nurses

To explore this topic, I reached out to three friends who are Registered Nurses (RNs) here in Calgary. If you’ve worked with RNs, you know they are highly skilled, knowledgeable professionals who, among many other things, help people translate evidence-based medical guidance into real-life behaviours.

Together they have more than 75 years of clinical experience, working in hospitals and community clinics. I’ve changed their names to protect their privacy. All three now work in community settings, and one works part-time in a Calgary hospital as well.

They were kind enough to answer my questions about life in a rapidly accelerating pandemic, and when I asked “Is there anything else you think people should know?” I got some fascinating insights into life in their shoes right now. 

(Comments in italics are from me. As with everything in my blog, this is for information and education. Consult your personal healthcare team if you need advice about your unique situation.)

The bottom line

The key message is that while everyone, including these three, has different levels of risk tolerance, they’re all saying no to social interactions they might have considered just weeks ago, in recognition of the rising numbers. 

Would you have dinner with close friends or extended family members?

Ellen: “As it’s progressed, my comfort level has changed. We were more conservative in the spring. When things loosened up, we loosened up. But I haven’t had people in my house. I’m still super mindful of social distancing and mask wearing. We’ve had friends over for drinks, but only outside. Lately though, I’ve cancelled plans with friends. We’re especially careful about my husband’s parents. We cancelled our Thanksgiving. My cousin was getting married but decided to cancel it.”

“When people are making these decisions, do they have any idea what’s going on in the hospitals? People are getting burned out. They’re doing 16-hour shifts. That can only go on so long. In March everyone had their head down: “We’ve got this.” Now, people are tired. People in the community talk about COVID fatigue. What about healthcare professionals?” – Ellen

Kathy: “It’s so dynamic. If you would have talked to me two to four weeks ago, then maybe. But now, in the last month, no. And we haven’t stayed at my mom & dad’s. We haven’t seen my husband’s family since last Christmas.”

Mary: “I had been in the summer, more outside, but in the last month, we’ve made a concerted effort to avoid social gatherings. The risk for myself may be low, but we’re all trying to do our part.”

Do you let your kids visit inside with other kids?

Ellen: “The kids were initially not seeing anyone. Now they do have their small cohorts. They’re not totally isolated. My son was playing basketball (until recently when sports were shut down). But definitely no sleepovers. And no parties with kids from another school. But they might go to a party with kids from their class/cohort. It’s hard to be the parent who says no. And what about their mental health? But social circles haven’t gone much beyond a few really close friends.”

How about kids carpooling?

Ellen: “My son has been in a car with two other boys in his cohort, but that’s it.”

“Appreciate that we’re in a pandemic like we’ve never experienced. The system is overwhelmed. Are you frustrated waiting on hold for 811? (Alberta’s nurse advice telephone service.) 811 is absolutely inundated. Of course it’s not perfect. Understand that people (healthcare workers) are trying to do their very best. ”  – Mary

Kathy: “That’s a no for me. I’m on the board for my son’s swim team and we’re strict about no carpooling allowed.”

Can kids spread the virus?

Kathy: “Absolutely. That’s the scary part: A young healthy ten year-old who doesn’t know she has it and gives it to her grandmother.”

Do you shop in person?

Ellen: “Yes, I always have been. I’m super mindful of social distancing, masks, hand-washing. I don’t wipe groceries down or do any of that.”

Kathy: “Yes, even at the beginning. I’ve always been very diligent: Mask wearing, hand washing. Now, though, I do think we need to reconsider how often we’re going out for groceries.”

Would you eat indoors at a restaurant?

Ellen: “I have gone out for dinner with girlfriends. But we just cancelled one for this upcoming weekend.”

Kathy: “We have gone. I’m selective about where we go. Are there barriers up around the table? Six feet from other patrons? Servers in masks? But right now, no restaurants for us.”

“We’re trying to support struggling businesses whenever we can – it is so sad what this has done to people’s livelihoods. Truly heartbreaking. We will order out to support restaurants now that we are not eating out. I hope to shop in the stores for Christmas gifts to help out the stores rather than online. I will do what I can. So important to support one another during this time.”  – Kathy

Mary: “Yes, although very infrequently, and I’m also very selective. You wear a mask until you sit in your seat. There are lower capacities — maximum 6 per table — with plexiglass between. Restaurants are trying so hard.” 

Would you work out at the gym?

Kathy: “Oh God no. Not even before this spike. I run outside. I won’t even do that if I’m not feeling well. And if I’m joining friends for a run, I trust them not to come if they’re not feeling well.”

Mary: “I have been. You wear a mask until you get to your machine, and take it off just when working out. The equipment is spaced far apart.”

Will you travel for the holidays?

“Vaccines? Great, but that’s not tomorrow. I mean, who’s supplying all these needles? Who’s giving these shots, to all these people?”  – Mary

Ellen: “We’ll just be going to our place in the mountains.”

Kathy: “We’ll travel to our cabin too, but no extended family.”

Mary: “We’re still discussing whether or not to go to BC to visit my mom. We’re leaning towards not getting together, because that’s what’s been asked of us.”

Would you fly?

Ellen: “I did fly in September and it was a very different experience. Not as easy to drink my coffee! And I was more mindful to wipe down my seat area with the wipe the airline had given me. Felt very different sitting so close to someone. But no plans to fly at this point.”

“You can’t just walk into the ICU and be a nurse or a physician. You have to be trained in that. If we burn out those doctors and nurses, people are going to die. They’re not at a complete maximum, but they’re pretty close. One bus crash and the system would be maxed.”  – Ellen

Kathy: “We cancelled our flight plans in September and currently have no plans to fly. We really don’t need to be going anywhere right now and are staying away from airports and other destinations.”

Mary: “I’ve flown a couple of times. There’s hardly anyone at the airport. They’re checking temperatures and everyone wears a mask. At that time the planes were half full, and people were evenly spaced out, although they’re no longer blocking the middle seats. You can’t maintain social distancing anymore.”

Would you have different advice for people who are at higher risk?

Mary: “It’s very individualized. People can try and stay as healthy and active as possible in a safe environment, like at home, outside, or if it’s too icy, walking in a mall before it opens. People with comorbidities need to maintain optimal wellness by staying in healthy targets (blood sugars, blood pressure, etc). Exercise, eating healthy, sleep, and minimizing stress are are important ways to manage your risk, and seek help when there are challenges.”

Is there anything else you want people to know?

Ellen: “Part of my job is to screen people entering the hospital for appointments or to visit, although that is extremely limited. Some people are understanding and nice, but some people are rude: ‘The answer is no to all of your questions.’ Understand I have to ask them anyhow. It’s frustrating — you can tell that some people don’t take it seriously.

“And I’ve been in tears before at the door. Say you were in the hospital. No one under the age of 14 is allowed except for end of life, so your kids couldn’t come in and visit you. Say your dad is dying. Only one person can say goodbye, so you’ll have to decide – will it be you or your sister? It’s absolutely heartbreaking. 

Kathy: “We basically have no contact tracing here right now, so we really do need to limit the people we’re around. I’m speaking very differently from 3 weeks ago. We have to really limit our exposures and where we go.

Mary: “People are petrified because of what they’re hearing out there. Unfortunately the media does that — a lot has to do with ratings. That’s not to say let’s all run out and ignore common sense —  wear a mask, socially distance, and wash hands well, with soap. Minimize your bubble. But put things into a little bit of perspective. Are you doing your part? Good. Deep, deep breath. Eventually we’ll be through this.” 

How about you?

What are you saying no to that you might have done a month or two ago? Chime in on Facebook. And stay safe out there!