As a staff emergency physician at a Barrie, Ontario area hospital, Natalie Cousineau is on duty 24-7. The exercise science graduate says that the unknowns associated with COVID-19 are what pose so much difficulty.
“It came on the scene as a very unpredictable disease. For many of us, it was the first time in ages that we were working 10 hours and then coming home to read for another three. Things were changing so fast, especially at the beginning. It was an exercise in flexibility and thinking on your feet, but on a completely different level.”
Another hurdle Cousineau had to overcome was how to best balance patient care with the need to self-protect and protect others, whether non-COVID patients or family members at home.
“I know a lot of colleagues — single moms — who sent their kids to live with relatives when this first started,” she says. “They either lost their childcare or couldn’t go to work, because of contagion concerns.”
Cousineau is thankful her two children, aged 10 and 12, are old enough to be aware of the pandemic but not so old that the enormity of the crisis overwhelms them.
“We sent them to live with relatives, but when my husband and I realized this was going to be a marathon and not a sprint, we brought them home. I make sure to go through a very extensive decontamination after every shift.”
‘It’s our job’
Cousineau has felt cheered — and somewhat bemused — by the moral support directed at health-care workers since the start of the pandemic. A note was recently left on her doorstep that read: “Thank you for the work that you do. And thank you for putting yourself out there on our behalf.”
“It feels kind of awkward to accept that kind of praise,” she says. “Most of us have been doing this behind the scenes for so many years because it’s our job. Practically speaking, what would be most appreciated is having the personal protective equipment and tangible support that we need.”
To help meet that demand, volunteers have stepped up at the hospital where Cousineau works.
“They’re sewing us masks and surgical caps. The masks are really just for staff to take home, to use when we go out in public or with our families, but it’s so nice to not even have to think about it.
“It’s very heartwarming. It feels like we’re supported and like everyone is behind us.”