Staring down COVID-19, one x-ray at a time

Radiology Technologists Joanne Schutter (left) and Rubab Mohammad with a mobile x-ray unit
Radiology Technologists Joanne Schutter (left) and Rubab Mohammad with a mobile x-ray unit

There were days at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when Joanne Schutter finished her shift at the Jewish General Hospital and her light blue scrubs had turned dark blue. As a radiology technologist preparing patients for chest x-rays, her work pace was so intense that sweat soaked through her uniform.

Ms. Schutter performed her job under a protective gown, a thick N95 mask, a face visor, plus a 4½ kilogram (10-pound) protective lead shield. As waves of patients arrived in the Emergency Department, she was tasked with taking x-rays to determine if they had been infected with COVID-19. It meant pushing around a heavy, mobile x-ray unit, then lifting and properly positioning nervous patients at their bedside.

The work was gratifying—but also deeply exhausting. She handled up to 20 patients during hectic shifts, compared to the usual three or four.

Ms. Schutter’s work on the Radiology Technology team in our CIUSSS was critical in the frontline battle against COVID-19. This year, to mark Radiology Week, organizers in the Radiology Department have had to forgo the usual gatherings and lectures that were traditionally held in the past. Instead, they are focusing on something simpler: Recognition. They want to bring attention to the often-overlooked work of radiology technologists, whose contributions were invaluable in diagnosing COVID-19 patients and aiding in their treatment.

“You can’t treat it if you can’t see it,” says Ms. Schutter. “We’re the eyes of all diagnoses.”

Giuliana Reda, Clinical Instructor in the Radiology Department, says technologists worked side by side with doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and other professionals during the outbreak, providing vital care to patients and their families.

“Radiology technologists are frontline workers,” she says. “They’re in the Emergency Department, in the operating room, in the Intensive Care Unit, and every unit throughout the hospital where they’re needed.”

When not helping in the battle against COVID-19, the team of about 110 radiology technologists at the JGH are busy with everything from broken fingers to stomach aches and chest pains. Whether they perform X-ray exams, ultrasounds, CT scans or MRIs, they collaborate closely with radiologists and other healthcare professionals to help make diagnoses and prescribe a course of treatment.

When it came to COVID-19, that meant doing more than readying and positioning patients for chest x-rays. Technologists had to offer a reassuring bedside manner at a stressful time.

“People think we’re just taking a picture,” says Rubab Mohammad, a Radiology Technologist. “But we’re calming the patients down, talking to them, lifting them and moving them.” Lead aprons to protect them from harmful radiation add to the physical stress. The morning after a busy shift, Ms. Mohammad would wake up with muscle aches that resembled the feeling after an especially hard workout at the gym.

However, both Ms. Mohammad and Ms. Schutter say they feel proud to have taken part in the CIUSSS’s fight against the virus, and they now feel better prepared for the second wave.

“The scariest thing was the unknown,” Ms. Schutter says. “Now we know the protocols and we’re not as afraid of getting COVID-19 and giving it to our families. We know what to do.”

Radiology Week, which runs from November 8 to 14, commemorates the anniversary of the x-ray’s discovery by German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen on November 8, 1895.