It doesn’t seem long ago that my colleagues and I were sitting around the lunch room table discussing the effects of COVID-19 abroad. It seemed so far away and discussions commenced about whether it would make its way to LHSC’s Victoria Hospital. As a physiotherapist on the Respirology Unit, my role in acute patient care focuses on maximizing my patient’s respiratory and mobility status.
Knowing that COVID-19 was presenting as a respiratory illness immediately placed my unit on high alert and I knew we would become the ‘COVID-19 unit’. We went through various phases of readiness and the initial lack of PPE was a significant concern amongst staff. While my commitment to patient care remained the same, my unease was rooted in the possibility of providing treatment without being able to keep myself or my family safe. Within the first few months of the pandemic hitting Ontario I had roughly ten COVID-19 patients within my care. Immediate changes within the hospital included more extensive screening, altering strategies of treatment delivery to minimize exposures to staff, and training on using negative pressure rooms. Considerable time was also spent on making sure the proper PPE was worn correctly at all times. Our new approach to patient care was to minimize the number of staff exposing themselves to the virus which sometimes meant that I was performing tasks outside of my PT role, such as helping with toileting, feeding and other personal care to ensure that our patients received the best care possible.
At the start of the pandemic, there was very little information about what COVID-19 actually was, and the energy in the hospital emanated a “calm before the storm”. The situation was changing rapidly, new information was coming hourly and emails were daily. Uncertainty and anxiety were palpable amongst staff. Although my daily role within the hospital hadn’t changed, being on the front lines had an impact on my personal life and daily routines as well. Staying away from family members became an expectation, and limiting my contact with anyone in the community was a daily concern, especially since we were not sure how easily the virus spread. There were numerous tasks that were consciously added to my routine to help protect my loved ones. I started to bring a change of clothes to the hospital and to shower immediately upon coming home. Anything that I touched from my glasses to the interior of the car was consistently cleaned as we were not sure how easily the illness could be transferred through objects. Simply deciding whether to go get groceries or stay at home became an ongoing mental debate.
I tried to avoid social media as the misinformation regarding COVID-19 was frustrating. As a frontline worker I could see my patient’s health deteriorate rapidly because of this virus and I wanted everyone to play their part in flattening the curve. At the end of the day, coming to work as an acute care physiotherapist during a pandemic came with an immense responsibility as well as a privilege. Helping these patients get home to their families was extremely rewarding. I’m proud to say that I’ve been part of the COVID-19 frontline journey and I’m confident that our physiotherapy team will continue to shine as an essential service at LHSC.