Sask. health care workers continue to battle COVID-19 1 year after pandemic began
REGINA -- One year ago, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. One day later, the first case was reported in Saskatchewan.
For healthcare workers like Calle Goeres, life hasn’t been normal since that day.
"It’s been very interesting, I’m not really an anxious person and I’ve probably experienced periods of more anxiety than I ever thought imaginable," Goeres, who has spent time working in the ICU during the pandemic, said.
With a young family, there was a lot of stress for Goeres early in the pandemic about potentially infecting her husband and son. She said the unknown at the start was the hardest part.
"It was hard to imagine, it felt surreal at the time, but it also felt really scary, there was a lot of uncertainty, there was a lot of questions," Goeres said.
"I didn’t know if I needed to come home and strip my clothes down in the garage, or come home and jump in the hot shower before touching my family, but now we have more knowledge, we’ve learned a lot in the last year."
One of the biggest adjustments early on was getting used to the process of wearing the additional personal protective equipment needed to stay safe when treating COVID-19 positive patients.
"We’re used to PPE, but we had to practice, we had to watch each other, we had to be vigilant," Goeres said.
Dr. Bonnie Richardson, the IHEC physician Regina area defence chief, has been leading the acute care for COVID patients in the city during the pandemic.
She said working on the frontlines has been challenging for healthcare workers.
"We all feel it," Dr. Richardson said. "I’m tired, just tired of the whole thing, we’re feeling this not just in healthcare, but all across the board, we’re tired of the whole thing and want to be back to better times."
Dr. Bonnie Richardson and healthcare workers. (Courtesy: Dr. Bonnie Richardson)
Dr. Richardson has a 107-year-old grandmother living in a long-term care home in Regina and she also had her father die, unrelated to COVID, early in the pandemic.
She said she sympathizes with what everyone is going through over the past year.
"I just can’t imagine what it’s like for the caregivers and the family when you have a loved one in the hospital and you’re not seeing them," she said. "We’re seeing patients' condition changes when they’ve had a prolonged stay."
Saskatchewan hit a peak of 238 people in hospital in early February. Dr. Richardson said morale was at its lowest at that point.
That was when Goeres, who had found out she was pregnant, volunteered to go back into the ICU to help deal with the influx of patients.
"My family, my husband, everyone thought I was crazy, but I just had this burning passion inside that you have to help when disaster strikes," she said.
"I got to that first shift and it was my people there, my coworkers were there and it was like, 'I’m good, I can do this.'"
One healthcare worker in Saskatchewan has died from COVID-19, while more than 1,800 have tested positive during the pandemic.
While the past year has presented many challenges, Goeres and Dr. Richardson said the teamwork and passion for helping others has been amazing.
"The teamwork is really what keeps you going through the day," Goeres said. "Our teamwork has always been great, but it has really, really shone through during this time."
"We are short-staffed here in Regina in certain areas of medicine and the heart and soul of these people that have come in and down the work and put in the extra hours, they’ve really risen up to the challenge," Dr. Richardson added.
The fight isn’t over. Regina continues to deal with high case rates and increasing hospitalization numbers. Dr. Richardson said concerns that variants may take hold in the city are real.
"We’re very concerned about having a third wave," she said. "When we say third wave, it almost feels like a tsunami and you’re on the beach and you’re waiting for this wave to wash you across the beach and you’re waiting to see how big and what that damage will be."