This First Person piece is by Melissa Fuller, a mother and registered nurse in rural Saskatchewan. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
I feel lonely.
And it’s not only because of the physical isolation to avoid COVID-19. As society embraces the lack of any government restrictions, I’m left feeling like I’m not valued here as a registered nurse, a mother to a child too young to be vaccinated, and a woman recovering from cancer.
My husband and I have listed our house for sale and we’re ready to leave Saskatchewan behind.
In 2016, I landed a job as a registered nurse in rural Saskatchewan and we moved here from Toronto six years ago with great expectations.
We were drawn by a different kind of life that we saw when we visited some friends. Things cost less, were less polluted, and although everyone lived further apart, they seemed to be closer together. It was surreal to find a place where you could feel personally significant despite being so awesomely dwarfed by the land and sky.
In 2019, several years after moving, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
I underwent a successful operation but was left with lymphedema, a condition that can be managed but only gets worse. There were days at work where my leg would swell to double its size and functioning with the pain became hard to bear. I had appointments sometimes twice a week which involved three to four hours of driving. The constant travelling was its own new affliction that made life hard.
Dealing with cancer was already isolating, especially being so far away from my family. Then the pandemic began and we felt extremely vulnerable. My son’s history of asthma combined with my chronic illness prompted us to take every public health measure, and then some.
I had returned to work but found bedside nursing grueling with my debilitating condition. As I fought through a haze of pain, exhaustion, and hours long daily therapies just to work in the health-care system, I was growing frustrated with how that health-care system was being stretched beyond its limit.
Throughout the Delta wave, it became clear to me the Saskatchewan government wasn’t respecting the work my colleagues and I had done throughout the pandemic.
At every turn, they seemed to be downplaying the severity of the problem despite rising hospitalizations. Experts were begging to be heard and were ignored. Therapies and treatments were being cancelled and delayed.
Premier Scott Moe’s letter of support to “trucker rallies” in late January was insulting to me. I’ve never heard him rave about health-care workers like that. He also made the false claim that vaccination doesn’t reduce transmission and pledged to remove proof-of-vaccination requirements.
I found myself increasingly disillusioned by the ineptitude of our provincial leaders. I could see that their strong-headed decisions and disengagement from science was impacting real people.
I myself am sick and have substantial health-care needs. I am waiting for a surgery for my condition that will change the way I live the rest of my life. I could feel an alignment between my pain, and the pain of other patients whose needs were far greater. Where before we suffered from our afflictions, now we also suffered from a growing sense of abandonment.
I love being a nurse because I get to connect with people and help them reclaim their dignity amidst the towering unfairness that illness brings. I get to use my skills to relieve their suffering, and my attention to let them know they are more than just a body to pump medicines into and take samples out of.
Many people will not understand what illness and hospitalization truly involve until their time of weakness comes. I feel demoralized and desperate when witnessing health-care policy that prioritizes petty inconveniences over real and substantial suffering. I love being a nurse and I hate that the pleas of my profession have been wholly ignored throughout this pandemic.
And now I feel out of place here.
Every move is a risk. My family and I traded convenience and dizzying real estate gains for a different kind of life in Saskatchewan. Now we feel spurned by a government whose vision of health care seems bent on capturing the style of failures we’ve seen in America.
The future undoubtedly holds many crises for Saskatchewan. I firmly believe that facing them with a government that is anti-science will drive away the professionals needed to solve them.
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