Hospital staff settle into “new normal”

By: Cody Sellar

Pre-recorded announcements play on loop at the entrance to St. Boniface Hospital. 

“Attention. Please do your part… stay two meters apart… unauthorized visitors…”

Here on the front lines of a pandemic, changes can be rapid. Hospital policies, procedures and safety measures can change from day to day. A patient’s condition can change in moments.

“One second someone will be fine,” said Joanne Hince, a nurse on the COVID-19 unit at St. Boniface Hospital, “and the next second they’re going into respiratory distress. Then they’re getting sent to the ICU.” Others’ conditions may not change as drastically, but nurses can’t know until it hits.

With friends and family barred from visiting patients, nurses are taking on more holistic roles by addressing personal needs beyond their medical duties. 

“Patients are suffering more, so you spend more time comforting,” said the RRC alum. “And they’re lonely.”

A sense of fear lingers all around, said Hince. Patients are asking a lot of questions about COVID-19, and nurses do what they can to reassure them. 

The undercurrent of anxiety affects hospital staff too. Hince said she has to be extra cautious where she goes and to whom she gets near because she doesn’t know if she’s been infected.

And it’s not just nurses feeling this way. 

“I’m a little bit paranoid,” said Camilla Cappellano, a health unit clerk at Health Sciences Centre, “just in case I bring something home.”

Joanne Hince, 30, works on the COVID-19 unit at St. Boniface Hospital. /CODYSELLAR

But hospital staff are adjusting to these issues. They screen many employees before their shifts at designated entrances. They take temperatures and ask the same questions they ask patients.

Hospital-wide, staff wear standard masks and face shields or goggles. When performing higher risk procedures, they wear the N95 mask and gowns.  

“It’s a little bit risky,” said Cappellano, also an RRC grad, “but I do feel safe at work.”

Like many others, Cappellano wondered if her job would disappear or if her hours would be cut. She said she’s happy her work continued.

Cappellano books CancerCare patients for virtual appointments and works with nurses and doctors to provide care, cautious to protect patients particularly vulnerable to the virus, like those in chemotherapy. 

Hince, too, said she’s glad to work with her coworkers.

But, as nurses, she and her colleagues must find balance as they “settle into a new normal.”

They must consider worst-case scenarios, manage the stress those thoughts bring yet focus on the tasks at hand.

“We always say it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said Hince. “So let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

Everyone is feeling the tremors of COVID-19. But hospital workers like Hince and Campellano willingly enter the epicentre to help those the pandemic threatens most.