International Nurses Day: Nurses share experiences on COVID-19 front lines

TORONTO — As health-care workers continue to work on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, International Nurses Day has taken on new significance this year.

International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world every May 12 to highlight the importance of nurses and thank them for their work. Over the past several months, nurses and other medical professionals have put their lives on the line to fight COVID-19.

Chelsy Vanderberg is one of those workers. She is an emergency room nurse at Grey Nuns Community Hospital in Edmonton, Alta. and says the pandemic has changed the way she now does her job.

“When you come into this career you like you said you come in to help people, but no one ever actually plans to help this much, so it’s definitely changed our life,” Vanderberg in an interview with CTV’s Your Morning. “When the pandemic started, it was a heartbreaking realization the first time I walked in to see the changes after they’d been kind of putting into play with all of the extra PPE, the gloves and masks because we couldn’t see each other anymore.”

Vanderberg said on Tuesday that COVID-19 has made her job as a nurse more difficult with the donning and doffing of extra personal protective equipment (PPE) taking up more of her time.

“Every amount of care that we have to do now takes twice as long as it did before… [And] the process that we have to go through before we go home every day. With my husband being a medic, we both have to be very careful, making sure we’re washing every ounce of everything that we had taken with us to work that day before we come home to the kids,” Vanderberg said.

This year’s International Nurses Day falls on what would have been the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, which prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to designate 2020 as International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. The theme for this year is “Nurses: A Voice to Lead — Nursing the World to Health.”

This week is also National Nursing Week in Canada.

Suzanne Schell, a registered practical nurse in Kingston, Ont., told CTV News Channel that her biggest worry as a front-line worker is potentially spreading the virus to others.

“We worry about us getting sick, we worry about making someone else sick, making one of our loved ones sick. We’re taking all the necessary precautious that we can in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones, but it is an additional stress,” Schell said in an interview on Tuesday.

Despite her concerns, Schell said her hospital has adequate supplies of PPE, making her feel protected while on the job.

She added that being a nurse is “an amazing job,” even during a pandemic.

“It’s challenging at the best of times but certainly we know the pandemic has caused additional stresses to the job. We’re made to make sure that we take additional precautions in regards to infection control and screening in order to keep all of our patients safe,” Schell said.

Nurses account for more than half of all the world’s health workers, yet there is an urgent shortage of nurses worldwide with 5.9 million more nurses still needed, especially in low- and middle-income countries, according to the WHO.

Vanderberg said when the pandemic began that every day at the hospital was changing. Now, she is seeing the possibility of a nurse shortage with case volumes starting to increase as public health restrictions are eased.

“Every day we’d show up to work [and] there’d be something new put in place, and then it got to a point where it became our normal,” Vanderberg said. “Then, as the announcements started to come in that things are going to open up again, we started to see the volume in the hospital and not necessarily just COVID, all sorts of cases.”

Vanderberg said the volumes in her hospital have already started to rise “quite drastically” although Alberta is only in the early stages of reopening.

“It’s a little bit unnerving as to what each day is going to be again,” Vanderberg said.

Kathy Bouwmeester, an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse in Calgary, told CTV News Channel on Tuesday that she is concerned that the reopening of provinces will create a second wave in hospitals.

“I don’t think we’re over the worst of it, but we are prepared in case [a surge] does happen. I think this has to be taken very slowly. This virus is nothing to laugh at, it’s not the flu, it’s not a cold, it’s deadly,” Bouwmeester said.

Bouwmeester said the hospital she works at has registered nurses from across the province re-training to help assist those nurses in the ICU.

“We’ve always been a cohesive team, but the teamwork that we have now is amazing. There is fear, but that fear has settled now and we are just working together,” Bouwmeester said.

“Before I went in to start my work in the ICU after being out of isolation, I was really actually quite scared and I’ve never been scared like that in my 40 years of nursing,” she added.

Despite the ever-changing work environment, Vanderberg said the support from the community is helping her and her fellow nurses get through the pandemic.

“We really truly appreciate the support and the outpouring of love that has just been flowing for months now. So thank you very much for everything,” Vanderberg said.

Throughout the pandemic, there has been strong support for front-line healthcare workers with Canadians across the country joining in nightly applause from their porches or balconies to show their gratitude.

Schell said nurses really appreciate being acknowledged by their communities during this time.

“It so nice to see the support, the signs that are posted on people’s homes and outside workplaces and posted on social media. It’s actually really nice to know that people are thinking about and supporting us,” Schell said.

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