Pushing beyond our limits – voices from inside the ICU
Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) has recently converted some areas of the hospital into temporary intensive care units (ICU) so we have room for the sickest COVID patients. At the same time, we’re working to ensure that the team members with the specialized skills and expertise required to care for them are available and supported. HHS has now increased ICU beds by 43%, adding 20 at the Hamilton General Hospital and 18 at the Juravinski Hospital to go from 88 to 126 overall.
For each ICU patient, there is an army of healthcare professionals and staff required to provide care: nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, infection control and prevention specialists, social workers, perfusionists, dietitians, pharmacists, occupational therapists, medical radiation technologists, clinical educators, physiotherapists, speech language therapists, health care aides, business clerks, porters, environmental services staff and more.
In this third wave, it’s time to hear from them, in their own words:
“The effect that this virus has had on patients and our healthcare system is devastating.”
“I wish the public could see within our walls.”
“My days are long, busy, and emotionally exhausting.”
“Our healthcare system and our ICU team are being stretched to their limits.”
“It’s been over a year and we need the community to understand that this is real.”
“Every day at this point is controlled chaos.”
Amy Teichmann, Registered Nurse, Juravinski Hospital ICU
“This pandemic has had a massive impact on the physical, mental and emotional capacities of our team in ICU. Pushed beyond our limits but not willing to give up for our patients, I worry about the long term effects on us as individuals.
It’s difficult to sum up the impacts, the concerns of this situation in just a sentence or two. The whole thing saddens me. It’s such a terrible time. I wish the public could see within our walls. I wish they could see our hurt. I wish they could see our tears. I wish they could see our fear. I wish they could feel the heartbreak we feel for the patients, their families and for each other.”
Jodie Konior, Social Worker, Hamilton General Hospital ICU
“As a social worker in the ICU, much of my job has become focused on supporting families of loved ones who are extremely sick or dying from COVID-19. My days are long, busy, and emotionally exhausting. Please think of everyone working in the hospitals and these families when you’re considering whether or not to follow public health guidelines.”
Elise Loreto, Physiotherapist, Hamilton General Hospital ICU
“Our healthcare system and our ICU team is being stretched to its limits. With the surge in ICU patients, my work days have become increasingly more stressful and tiring. I work with an incredible team that excels in times of crisis but we can’t do this alone. We need everyone to continue adhering to public health guidelines to ensure our family, friends and fellow citizens have access to care when they need it.”
Dr. Bram Rochwerg, Site Lead, Juravinski Hospital ICU
“Every day at this point is controlled chaos. The ICU is operating at 150% capacity compared to pre-pandemic times, and we are constantly planning for where and how we can care for more critically ill patients with COVID. The nurses, respiratory therapists and doctors are stressed but working hard to care for patients as best as they can, including the staff that have been redeployed from other places.
We are incredibly lucky to have such a hardworking, compassionate and caring team. There’s no way we would have gotten through this without each other. We know stay-at-home measures are hard on everyone, but from the perspective of the ICU they are absolutely needed. We all appreciate what everyone is doing to help bring cases down. The future is filled with hope, we just have to get through this surge.”
Dr. Sunjay Sharma, Medical Director, Hamilton General ICU
“Treating COVID in the ICU is a difficult job, but the incredible team I work with helps me cope. The more everyone follows the rules, the faster we get back to normal, and the easier it is for us to take care of you if you ever need ICU. Teams at the hospital are working above and beyond, 24/7, to help keep the community safe and take care of those with COVID.”
Bianca Llanora, Registered Nurse, Juravinski Hospital ICU
“This third wave is hitting us hard as we’re seeing younger, sicker patients come in every day. I feel fortunate to work with a great team who supports me and helps me cope through these difficult shifts.”
Lara Gobrail, Registered Nurse, redeployed to Juravinski ICU
“I’m a registered nurse. Since November of 2020, I have been in a Clinical Informatics Specialist role for the new hospital information system project. Prior to that, I worked in the JH Emergency Department. This week, I was temporarily redeployed to the JH ICU.
It can be challenging and stressful to work in a department that you’ve never worked in before, and the ICU is an extremely specialized area that demands a high level of physical and mental effort. I’ve had to quickly learn new skills and draw on much of my previous nursing experience to adapt to this environment. I have the greatest respect for my colleagues who have been caring for patients throughout the entirety of the pandemic; they truly are heroes.
Cindi Neptune, Registered Nurse, Hamilton General Hospital ICU
“Pre-pandemic, although our days were unpredictable, they were manageable. Now, not only has the unpredictability multiplied, but resources and support has dwindled. We have been doing this for a year, we are more than exhausted. We are no longer the frontline or the last line. The public needs to save themselves. We are seeing multiple family members, within a family, die from COVID-19, as though their holiday and family gatherings are more important than life. The COVID fatigue on the outside of the hospital walls pales in comparison to the suffering and moral injury on the inside. We are not coping, we are showing up because we are nurses and that’s what we do.”
Deb Anstee, Nurse Clinician-Educator, Hamilton General ICU
“Our role as ICU educators has changed in the way that we have been stretched thin and pulled in various directions. With the increased pressures, we have been onboarding redeployed staff as well as supporting our current ICU staff. We are constantly juggling onboarding new staff through redeployment, as well as new ICU nurses. Everyone is afraid of the unknown. The redeployed staff are learning how to care for an ICU patient and the ICU staff wonder how can they manage all of these patients that are admitted and transferred to us.
We are all going through so many different emotions daily, hourly and even minute by minute. It’s been over a year and we need the community to understand that this is real. Things are not glorified or put on show to scare them. People are truly sick and entire families are affected by this virus. How am I coping? I’ve taken things to a day-by-day thought process or else I would become too overwhelmed. Surround yourself with positive people who can make you laugh. Do things you truly enjoy and make you happy.”
Jeff Benner, Registered Nurse, Oncology, redeployed to Juravinski Hospital ICU
“As a nurse that has been redeployed to the ICU, I have seen first-hand how the pandemic is affecting our population and healthcare system. Please stay safe and follow the safety measures. A big thank you to the ICU staff for being so welcoming and the amazing care you’re providing during these extremely difficult times.”
Daneus Orig, Registered Nurse, Hamilton General Hospital ICU
“My day at work, nowadays, is like an endless triathlon where I’m running the race for nursing, riding the pandemic with the healthcare team, and swimming, to avoid drowning in the madness, for my patients. We are exhausted, every single minute, hour, every day.
A day in the ICU is normally overwhelming because the people we care for are critically ill and it takes a village to get these people better. Now, with the pandemic and the increased beds, we see more people than ever on the unit because of all the changes in the workplace – we now see information technology support team, engineers, infection control, and more. The level of severity in the ICU is very high with all patients being on ventilators and multiple medication infusions to stabilize them. One minute these patients are stable and the next, they are crashing…again. With so many COVID patients, it’s been chaotic and it has been non-stop.”
Deb Harding, Registered Dietitian, redeployed to Juravinski Hospital ICU
“People might not even think about nutrition for someone on a ventilator. These patients are most often fed specialized formulas through tubes going from their nose or mouth into their stomach. As a Registered Dietitian it is my job to make sure they getting enough calories and protein on a daily basis, but also the right mix of nutrients to help with their recovery. I didn’t fully understand the threat from third wave until I started working in ICU myself. I cannot imagine how terrifying the experience must be for the patients and their loved ones. The public should know what to do to help. In the meantime, I’ll keep showing up to lend a hand to my colleagues who have been at this for over a year.”
Thanks to all ICU staff, pictured and not pictured
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