To focus on care’s “human side,” staff taped photos of their faces to their protective gowns
When Nurse Suzanne Djomkam was told in April she would be working with COVID-19 patients, her first response was panic. “I was in shock. I was afraid I’d get contaminated and contaminate my family.”
Two-and-a-half months later, the rehab nurse from Catherine Booth Hospital says it was one of the best things she’s done in her life.
Her change of heart reflects the remarkable transformation among staff at Catherine Booth during the coronavirus pandemic. In mid-April, this rehabilitation facility of our CIUSSS, which is temporarily housed at the Jewish General Hospital, was designated a COVID-19 treatment centre by the Quebec Ministry of Health.
In the space of about a week, Catherine Booth had to transfer out its non-COVID-19 patients, prepare for COVID-19 cases, and adapt to doing rehab in a hot zone.
And staff stood at the vanguard of the changes, day in and day out.
“The team was phenomenal in being able to take it all on,” says Sharon O’Grady, Rehabilitation Nursing Coordinator at Catherine Booth. “It started out as a big shock. But everyone rallied.”
Kinsley Adakalum, Interim Head Nurse, says the experience carries an important lesson as the healthcare network faces the possibility of a second wave of the virus.
“What the team did on short notice is incredible,” he says. “We came out stronger. We’ve seen the potential in everyone, and we know we can count on them.”
Change has been a constant at Catherine Booth. Last year, the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce rehabilitation centre moved into the fourth floor of the JGH’s C and D Pavilions while its site was being renovated. And in mid-April, it had to quickly adapt to its heavy responsibilities during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Throughout, the team continued to help get patients back on their feet after hip fractures, cardiac bypass surgery or, under a new mandate, strokes.
But now, those patients had COVID-19, too. The virus is known to attack many of the body’s organ systems, and rehabilitation plays a decisive role in helping patients recover their mobility and strength.
Catherine Booth’s team of physiotherapists, patient attendants (PABs), social workers and other essential staff learned to do their jobs in cumbersome personal protective equipment, and to follow strict and evolving protocols.
Yet their focus remained on care. Some patients may have developed the virus while hospitalized for a stroke, for example; others caught COVID-19 in the community and, after a prolonged stay in acute care, required rehabilitation before leaving hospital.
“Staff always remembered the patient first and focused on the human side,” says Dorianne Lee Chong, Interim Chief of Program Administration at Catherine Booth. Staff even took the novel approach of taping photos of their faces to the front of their protective gowns, so patients could see the person behind the mask and face shield.
The team was also mindful that patients, many of them elderly, had been apart from their families for a long time. “We wanted to be empathetic, to help get them through these difficult times,” says Julianne Noseworthy, an Occupational Therapist. “In the end, it helped get us through our own difficult times.”
So did the support of colleagues and managers, who offered training and an attentive ear, she adds. “There were nerves and anxiety at first, but the support of the team and the managers prepared us very well, and eased our concerns. We banded together. I felt reassured.”
As the COVID-19 crisis recedes, staff members are taking stock of their experience. Ms. Djomkam says she’s glad she overcame her early fears, and now feels she made a difference.
“I’m proud to say I did it. Not everyone had a chance to work with COVID-19 patients,” she says. “I braved it, and I feel I did my share during the crisis. In a way, we became heroes.”
Her lesson? “Sometimes you have to dare.”