Regina nurse reflects on 19 months of COVID-19

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It’s -sweater- misery weather Fusion Medical Animation via Unsplash

Things worse than ever

In the 19 months since the Carillon first reported on COVID-19 (which we were then still referring to as the “novel” coronavirus), in early March 2020, the situation in Saskatchewan has gone from a state of mild concern to something absolutely catastrophic, although much like the proverbial frog in a pot of slowly boiling water, it’s hard right now to have perspective on how far we’ve fallen in the past year and a half. In March 2020, Dr. Saqib Shahab (then unknown to most residents of the province) told the media that “We all have this fear factor of COVID-19 as a new virus, but if it was to come here, for most of us it would be just a respiratory virus that makes us sick for a few days and then we’re better.” That message, which came a little over a week before Saskatchewan marked its first COVID case in a man who had recently travelled from abroad, is markedly different than the message Shahab sent the province last week, when he declared that the province was headed towards a “fall and winter of misery.”

“I don’t know how we got here,” said Lauren, a Regin-based RN who graduated from her program less than a year before COVID-19 hit and has seen most of her career so far marked by the virus. She’s referring to the fact that, as of last week, Saskatchewan had the highest rate of COVID deaths in Canada, a pace that does not appear to be relenting.

Lauren, who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym because she’s not authorized to talk to the media, said that last spring her fears of the virus were minimal. “There was a lot of talk about flattening the curve, but honestly that didn’t really feel applicable to me because […] our numbers were so low.” She said she remembered being “furious” at a group of healthcare workers who contracted COVID-19 at a curling bonspiel they attended in Edmonton, but “it still really, really wasn’t something I was worried about.”

She said she was “freaked out” and “sad” by the outbreaks in the province’s north, but even those seemed distant. “We were just so far ahead of the other provinces in terms of just not having high numbers from the get-go. I thought things could stay like that.” The virus didn’t really strike home for her until early May, when her cousin’s husband was one of more than 900 workers at a Cargill slaughterhouse in High River, Alberta who were potentiall exposed. Although her cousin’s husband never required hospitalization, nor did his wife or stepson contract the virus, “That was pretty terrifying, and it felt a bit like maybe things were a bit too close for comfort.”

Lauren said that after her cousin’s husband got sick, “I started to feel pretty angry about things, like, why were so many people not being protected? Like people are dying so someone else can buy meat? Are you kidding me?” And then, she said, “there were the care homes […] And that should have never happened. And I felt like, ‘I’m a nurse’ and even though I don’t work in that area I was like, ‘I started doing this to help people and I’m not helping these people, what am I doing?’ And my grandma was in long term care before she died in 2016 and it was just like, how do you watch these people die in such bad circumstances?”

She was relieved when the first vaccines arrived in the province in December 2020. “It was so big,” she said, laughing. “It was like ‘woosh!’ We’ve got this now! I’m going to be first in line when it’s time. No hesitation here.” She said it “felt good” to drive past Evraz Place when the drive through vaccination clinics opened for the public and to “see those long line ups and think ‘okay, we’ve got this.” In June, she and her husband celebrated their third wedding anniversary and took a long-delayed trip to visit her parents and sister out west. “I hadn’t seen them in so long and my family is super duper close, so it was like, ‘yes, finally!’ Things are turning the corner. And then like, we got home and spoiler alert, things had not turned the corner. Or they had turned the wrong corner, I guess you would say.”

Lauren said that when the province decided to eliminate all public health orders in July 2021, “that was when I felt scared, actually, for the first time. Because it seemed like things were not where we needed to be with vaccinations and all sorts of other things. Like we just weren’t there and a lot of the girls at work were saying the same thing. Like we just aren’t there.” She was right that the province had turned the wrong corner. “Things just went crazy. It was crazy. And people were being so horrible. Like, I haven’t had a lot of problems with patients, but I know the girls in scheduling, they’re just getting a lot of people who are screaming at them and mad at them because they’re frustrated and scared because their stuff is being cancelled. And it’s not the schedulers’ fault, right? There’s nothing they can do. And people are just run off of their feet and you can’t schedule any time off, and even when you do get some time off, you’re getting called in. No one has any juice left, you know? But things aren’t even better and who even knows when they will be because we haven’t done anything.”

Lauren said she’s not the kind of person who likes to get angry, but the past year has made it hard. “I don’t want to be mad at the government or anything, like I don’t think me being mad is helpful, but also why aren’t they doing anything? We need a circuit-breaker. We need to be paying people to stay home,” she said. “It’s so crazy how a year and a half ago when things were pretty okay here, we were locked down and people had CERB and stuff, and now when we have the most deaths of any time and organ transplants are being cancelled, we aren’t even doing anything.”

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