ABBOTSFORD (NEWS 1130) – An Abbotsford nurse’s poignant account of losing a COVID-19 patient and the emotional toll the pandemic has had on her mental health is something that many frontline workers are facing, according to the Canadian Nurses Association.
“It’s really sad to see colleagues in that sort of distress,” said Tim Guest, association president. “Unfortunately, she’s not alone — we’ve seen it a fair amount over the last number of months during the pandemic.”
Kendall Skuta, a nurse at Abbotsford Regional Hospital, according to the Abbotsford News, posted to Instagram on Tuesday a photo of herself, her hand across her mouth while she is obviously very upset.
She wrote about the loss of a COVID-19 patient, a man who was in his 50s, saying she can’t count the number of times she’s cried behind her mask and that the amount of death she’s seen in the last year weighs on her everyday. Her post was widely shared online.
Stress, human suffering
Guest says many nurses across several sectors were stretched thin even before the pandemic started. The health crisis has exacerbated that problem.
“There’s been increased workloads, concerns about availability of resources early on, there’s certainly a lot of talk about availability of personal protective equipment — now it’s the burden of wearing it all day,” he explained, adding nurses and many others have also had to change the way they work as they deal with a virus that continues to change and that we knew very little about at its onset.
But on top of the challenges of the day-to-day and the stress that comes with it, Guest says nurses have also witnessed “a significant amount of human suffering” through this crisis.
“A lot of loss, and many nurses experienced those things when families weren’t able to be present, and they have bridged the space between families, and patients, and individuals that they’ve gone through these life-altering [moments with] and sometimes even where they did not survive. And those experiences have taken a toll on nurses,” he added.
"I can’t count the number of times I’ve ran to a bathroom or an empty stock room to take 5 minutes to cry by myself behind my mask." An #Abbotsford nurse is begging people to stay home, wear a mask + get vaccinated after the death of another #COVID19 patient. More on @NEWS1130. pic.twitter.com/fud9AvbR7E
— Monika Gul (@MonikaGul) April 21, 2021
Many nurses and frontline workers have also had to do their jobs all while worrying about catching COVID-19 themselves.
Not just that — they’ve also worried about bringing the virus home to their own loved ones.
In her post, Skuta says she felt like she had reached a breaking point and wanted to remember the moment she captured in the photo.
“I ask myself every day ‘when will this all end?’ and ‘when will people take this seriously?'” Skuta writes.
A toll on mental health
Guest has stories similar to Skuta’s from others on the frontline, all of them detailing the tragedy suffered at the hands of COVID-19.
“It’s very, very difficult to get past some of these experiences,” he told NEWS 1130, adding the emotional toll often comes after the fact, when nurses are able to decompress.
“And sometimes it’s hard to be able to talk about it. You can’t take these things home, and a lot of times nurses will just carry it around.”
The Canadian Nurses Association says about 80 per cent of Canadian nurses surveyed rated their mental health as good or excellent before the pandemic. However, that number dropped to 47 per cent when another survey was conducted just a few weeks ago.
Guest says that’s a very concerning drop, and notes there has been talk from more and more nurses about leaving the field and retiring.
With vacancies across the health system, he adds it’s also concerning to hear that more young people are thinking about different career paths after experiencing the challenges the pandemic had brought.
Echoing some of the frustration he feels Skuta was conveying, Guest says he’s also heard from other nurses who are fed up with people not following public health guidelines or spreading misinformation.
“We all, collectively, need to abide by public health measures,” he said, calling people who blatantly flout the rules part of the problem.