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Reprinted with permission of Toronto Life
Veteran nurse Janet Pilgrim manages the COVID ward at Toronto Western Hospital. Here's how she managed their outbreak in October.
As told to Isabel B. Slone
"I've been a nurse for more than 30 years. I work at Toronto Western Hospital, part of University Health Network, where I manage the general internal medicine ward and lead a team of 66 staff. I love building a human connection with people and helping them through their most vulnerable moments.
"In March, my ward was designated as the unit where all the COVID-19 patients would be isolated in the hospital. I was terrified – back then, there was still so much we didn't know about COVID. I felt like I was being asked to walk off the edge of a cliff blindfolded. I also have a husband and two children, and I was worried about taking the virus home to them. That day, I had a morning huddle with my team to tell them the news. It was one of the hardest meetings I've ever had. My chest went tight, and I could feel my heart racing. I could sense the fear in the air. Some staff started crying; others' faces just went blank.
"But I had been through this before, working on the front lines during SARS. I'd already experienced the shock and fear that comes with working at a hospital during a pandemic. I'd already pulled 12-hour days in an N95 mask. I was amazed at how it all came flooding back.
"In the first few weeks, we came up with strict protocols to keep our staff safe. At the height of the first wave, we were taking care of 30 patients. By the summer, when cases were low, we got to the point where we didn't even have any COVID patients in the hospital. Like everyone else, I hoped the worst was over.
"It wasn't. In mid-October, we learned that one of our team members had tested positive. Before I even had a chance to meet with my staff, I found out a second person had tested positive. I was devastated. I thought we'd done so well protecting ourselves from this virus. I was able to keep it together for the staff, but when I got home, I collapsed into my husband's arms."