[Editor’s note: This story on frontline healthcare workers in Revelstoke was originally planned for our April/May 2020 issue, and it appears here in a modified format. The interviews began before the COVID-19 shutdown.]
As the first cases of COVID-19 appear in Revelstoke, our limited healthcare system is already starting to show signs of strain. And as the pandemic spreads, our healthcare workers will be the first ones to face what’s sure to follow.
Doctors and nurses in hospitals are at the forefront of this, but other hospital workers like cleaners, food service workers, technicians, and countless others are just as important. And it’s not only hospital workers. There are also those working in long-term care homes, caring for the most vulnerable among us.
These are the people we will be leaning on more and more as the virus spreads through our community and threatens lives. These are the people who work unimaginably long days and go home worried about passing the virus to their families or bringing it back into the workplace. These are the people on their feet all day, exhausting themselves physically and emotionally to help us.
As healthcare workers gear up to face some of the most challenging times of their careers, we wanted to find out what kind of struggles they face in their line of work and what motivates them to go on.
Christina Godfrey is a registered nurse working in the operating room at the Queen Victoria Hospital. Helping people at pivotal points in their lives is a big motivator for her.
“Working in the OR, I get to deal with people in pretty important times in their lives, whatever it is, whether they’re having a baby or having a surgery, and the relationship that you can create in those moments is pretty powerful,” she says.
“Being with people when they feel vulnerable or they’re going through something that is a big deal with them is a privilege.”
Godfrey often faces a struggle that’s common in a small town: helping patients she knows. She considers it a privilege to do so but says it can be challenging and that she is always working on ways to better deal with the emotional aspect.
She says her family and support system help. She makes sure to spend time with her husband, her children, and her animals. Having ways to de-stress and stay grounded are key to her ability to do the job and continue to be the type of nurse she wants to be.
“It’s easy to focus on the task at hand and get it done, but there’s always the emotional side of things there lingering after the task is completed,” she says. “I really do care about the people that I look after and being emotionally available, that’s just the kind of nurse that I want to be.”
Godfrey is quick to recognize the work of other hospital workers, pointing out the importance of cleaners as well as the admitting staff. She says the admitting staff, in particular, can be hesitant to recognize the importance of what they do and don’t give themselves enough credit.
“We would be absolutely lost without the auxiliary staff, people that keep everything running,” she says. “The hospital, it’s like an organism and every little part of it is really important.”
Taryn Ward is part of the admitting staff at the Queen Victoria Hospital. She’s responsible for fielding calls that come in and directing patients who show up in the emergency room. As expected, she seems a bit hesitant to talk about the importance of her role. But there’s no doubt that it’s a crucial one. Without her work and that of her coworkers, there would be no order to hospital operations.
Ward faces her own motivations and struggles. She says being available to help the doctors are nurses when she’s needed is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.
“I really wanted to help people and be involved in the healthcare system, but I didn’t think I’d be the right fit for a nurse,” she says.
“It can be tough seeing people are in pain in that way. I can make you feel sad or you feel bad for them if they’re not doing well.”
Beyond hospital workers, Revelstoke has its fair share of workers in long-term care homes whose work is more important now than ever before.
Kime Laliberté works as a licensed practical nurse at the Mt. Cartier Court long-term care living facility. Laliberté does shift work, spending 12-hour days caring for the elderly by administering medication, caring for wounds, dealing with patients’ families and much more.
Laliberté knew she wanted to be a nurse when she was a kid. There was never a question in her mind that it was the kind of work she was meant to do, but she’s certainly been through times that have tested her resolve.
Working primarily with the elderly, dealing with patients passing away is a common occurrence for Laliberté. She says this is particularly difficult when patients don’t have any family or friends to be with them at the end of their life. On the other end of the spectrum, she’s also spent time working in delivery, where new life is just coming into the world.
Laliberté says the work has gotten even more stressful since the outbreak of COVID-19.
“It’s definitely hitting healthcare workers pretty hard. I think what’s stressing me out the most is what I can give someone else. I’m not invincible, obviously, but I feel like I could pull through it. But if I get sick, and then I get my residents sick, then that’s a whole different story,” she says.
“We can’t stress enough about how this self-isolation is very, very important.”
Healthcare workers are incredibly strong people and do some of the most important jobs in our society, especially right now. But they’re only human. They won’t be able to handle the repercussions if we as a community don’t do our part. We need to step up, if not for our own sakes, then for the hard-working individuals dedicating their lives to saving ours.