Deafening silence

“It’s hard not to feel like people have given up on us, and we take it personally.” Those heartbreaking words came from Lisa Roszel, director of intensive care at Guelph General Hospital, who was describing the sentiments of her ICU staff.

Roszel’s words may have been shocking for some readers, but for people in the healthcare field, or those close to them, they have become all too familiar.

Next week marks National Nursing Week, which will surely feature countless politicians and other talking heads offering myriad empty platitudes about the importance of the profession. No doubt the tributes will include the word “heroes”, but as the husband of a nurse in the thick of the pandemic in Peel Region, I can tell you many nurses are, quite frankly, sick of this label.

After all, heroes shouldn’t have to scrap and claw for a pay raise, settle for a 1 per cent increase and then watch as other civil servants are awarded more generous increases. They shouldn’t be subjected to verbal and physical abuse from those they’re trying to heal/save. They shouldn’t have to fight their superiors for the right to wear proper PPE. They shouldn’t have to campaign for mental health supports and paid sick leave to combat burnout.

And they sure as hell should not have to watch morons on TV and social media put them further at risk by suggesting the pain, heartache and death they’ve been witnessing daily over the past 14 months isn’t even real (imagine for a second how that must feel).

It’s been a long, gruelling battle against COVID-19 and the situation is now worse than ever for nurses. Not helping is the noticeable lack of outside support the profession has received lately.

Remember how supportive we were during the pandemic’s first wave? People and organizations proudly displayed lawn signs, took part in car rallies, banged on pots and pans at common shift change times, played musical tributes, and offered small gestures like gift cards to nurses and frontline healthcare workers.

And now, during the deadly third wave, when they’re at the end of their rope, literally pushed to the brink of physical and mental collapse, and as the vocal anti-mask/vaccine/lockdown crowd continues its repugnant campaign of misinformation, what do they hear from most of us regular folks? Nothing.

And the silence is deafening.

It’s no wonder they feel defeated, often breaking down in tears, with next to nothing left to offer their own families when they get home (though more often than not, they somehow rise above it).

A recent survey by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario indicated 16 per cent of nurses will leave the profession within a year. Anecdotal feedback suggests the total could be higher, with the feelings shared by both longtime nurses and those new to the profession. It’s an absolute travesty.

Just as this pandemic has proven the government and a large segment of society has abandoned those living in long-term care facilities, so too has it revealed that many of those same people have deserted perhaps our most noble profession.

Clearly major political and industry changes are long overdue, but what can the average person do? Well, we can champion those changes and vote accordingly when the time comes and we can start by taking a moment to show nurses how much they’re appreciated – and not just during Nursing Week.

It might not seem like much, but something as simple as a card or text or call can make all the difference in the world for them. They need us now more than ever.

Mental Health Week

Exactly one year ago, I shared in this space that after eight weeks of the pandemic, I was “spent” and that, for the first time in my life, I may not be “fine” at all.

To quote Yogi Berra, this third wave is like “déjà vu all over again.” Like many of our readers, there are some good days, some bad days and more than I care to count that fall somewhere in the middle.

For the first time though, with vaccines coming, there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel. As Roszel pointed out, “We just need to hold on a little longer.”

Of course, if you are in immediate need of help, reach out to someone you know or to a mental health professional. People do care.