As a Registered Nurse (RN) working at HealthLine 811 since 2004, I know how quickly things change in our world here.
We have been through the wave of calls seeking information for influenza seasons and flu shot clinics, Avian Flu, and even the one that we thought had kicked our butts: the H1N1 pandemic. We were so overwhelmed with calls at that time and information was changing so rapidly that it was just a chaotic time for our RNs and our Mental Health clinicians. Callers were scared and panicked and had multiple symptoms to assess over the phone. Little did we know, these past events were just a little ripple in what HealthLine would experience in 2020-2021. Nothing could prepare us for the chaos that COVID-19 would bring into our working lives.
One night in January of 2020, I was charge nurse for the evening. I had been hearing little snippets about this influenza-like illness originating from Wuhan, China. Having worked at HealthLine for over 15 years, I recognized patterns in the influx of calls when something is in the news. I printed off some Health Canada information on Coronavirus and placed it at each of the nursing workstations at the 811 office so we had something to reference when we got the “few” calls I expected. The day after and the day after that, we were starting slowly starting to get more calls from travellers arriving in Canada from China asking about this coronavirus.
Fast-forward a few weeks, and my family and I were forced to return home from our vacation to Canada due to COVID-19. I did my isolation for two weeks and when I returned to HealthLine, it was like I was dropped into a middle of a war with no orientation to guide me and everything had changed while I was gone.
It was so chaotic and I felt so unprepared.
There were so many people I didn’t know in the building, it was like I had showed up to the wrong place. We were reading to callers from bundles of curled up papers and information was changing hourly. We relied so heavily on each other to break down the information from the callers and try to figure out if they were a contact or close contact or what they were. I still feel incredibly guilty for not being there for and with my co-workers when this really started.
We have had huge technology and process changes happening since March 2020 at HealthLine811. There has been an incredible amount of rapidly developing information and we have had to learn and adapt to changes very quickly. Many of us have been able to work remotely since February 2021, which is wonderful, but brings its own new challenges, including feeling isolated and out of the loop.
As Registered Nurses at HealthLine 811, we want to be consistent; we want to share good evidenced-based information with our callers; and we want to be concise and clear on our directions for them when they call about COVID-19 or for any other reason. We want to be reliable for the people of Saskatchewan and for them to know, when they call, they can trust what we offer them. We want them to know we try our best despite long lines in the queue and that sometimes it takes a bit for us to find the information they need.
I have felt frustrated and often like I may have failed our callers sometimes because at times, due to new and changing information, I have been unsure and needed more time to sort out a scenario. We don’t always have the answer on the tip of our tongue at HealthLine 811, but we always try to find the answer or help connect our callers to someone who may. I work with an incredible and knowledgeable team.
I have felt a lot of anxiety before my shifts this past year and especially if I have been off for a few days, as I know there will be so many changes in the information we give out to callers since I last worked and I know the queue will be packed full of people wanting to speak to an RN.
My biggest fear arriving for work is that I won’t know the answer to a question someone is asking and because of so many scenarios that need sorting out,
that I will fail my patient by telling them the wrong things.There are so many pieces at play here.
It makes me angry when I see all the misinformation and the people who try to stir issues up by saying this COVID-19 pandemic is not real. To that small number of people, I say this:
It hurts. It hurts all of us fighting this fight day in and day out every time you spread misinformation, every time you don’t wear your mask, every time you put down those health-care workers who may some day have to care for you or a loved one. You may think COVID-19 won’t affect you or it’s not that bad, but how about this scenario: Your young daughter falls and hits her head. She has a brain bleed and needs an ICU bed, but the ICUs are jammed full because of COVID patients. Think about how that might affect you or your family.
The impact this pandemic has had on the health-care system is huge and is more than I think the general public or even I know. The resources and revenue that is being directed to this pandemic has surpassed what I think many of us thought could happen.
There are so many people fighting to get to the other side of this pandemic; physicians and RNs who work the ICU; Respiratory Therapists who hook up ventilators and adjust oxygen levels; housekeeping staff who sanitize our hospitals and clinics; paramedics who bring you in because you can’t breathe; the massive number of nurses who do COVID testing and vaccinating; administrative/management staff who have, in the background, kept things running; Mental Health and Addictions social workers who have seen huge increases in anxiety, addiction and mental health issues along with food security problems and finding places for people to stay on isolation; IT people who have had a huge workload ensuring those who can be working remote have their laptops and software available; and so many other valuable teams working to help win this fight.
So, if we ask, if we plead, and if we beg for you to wear a mask, social distance, FOLLOW the public health orders and restrictions, get COVID tested AND go get your COVID19 vaccinations – please, this is what the general public can do to help us win. We know you are tired of doing all of this. We are, too.
What has given me hope the last few days is that we turned a corner with the number of vaccinations for first doses. Many people in Saskatchewan are doing the right thing and getting vaccinated. If you’ve been hesitant and on the fence for being vaccinated, do your research, call HealthLine 811 for more info and go get yourself vaccinated!