Fear, dread, and anxiety have become maternity ward nurse Samantha Brown’s closest friends as she navigates working at the popular Cornwall Regional Hospital during COVID-19.
Brown says that every day, she fears for the safety of herself and her family. “Because it’s a new virus, a novel virus that they are still learning about, so every day, we learn of new mutations of the virus. Like three days ago, we heard that it’s now in semen. When it just started out, they said that it couldn’t travel through semen or vaginal fluids, and now, we hear that it’s through semen, so we have to be super careful, and another factor is that we don’t have sufficient protective gear. We have to be conserving and just trying to make ends meet with what we have.”
Opening up in a no-holds-barred interview with The Gleaner on Wednesday, Brown said that her fears were heightened recently by two pregnant women who left St Catherine in the middle of the increase in the workplace cluster cases and the lockdown of the parish.
“They get through the loop during the lockdown. One of them, her excuse was that she came to stay with family; one said that she came to be closer to her boyfriend. And they were already here, so we couldn’t turn them back, so we had to put them in our makeshift isolation room.”
According to her, the isolation room was not yet ready to accommodate patients. Looking back, Brown said that if the women had coronavirus, the porter and the security guard who transported them to the labour unit would have caught it, as well as the nurses.
“Neither of them stopped at triage, and the only protection we had on was the surgical mask, and when they came in, they did not have on any mask, and you know that COVID is [transmitted] through the air and droplets and those things.”
Brown noted that since then, pregnant women now have to stop at triage before going to the labour ward.
HARD TO ESCAPE
Before leaving home in the mornings, Brown prays earnestly, asking God for protection, but even after she walks out her door, the feeling of unease and trepidation lingers throughout her day.
“Sometimes I try to not think about it, but you can’t avoid it. It’s there; it’s what you deal with every day.”
Brown, like many of her colleagues, has stopped wearing her nurse’s uniform because of the stigma attached to the job. At least two nurses have been doused with what was believed to be sanitiser while at a bus stop awaiting transportation.
“People are scorning nurses or anybody who they can identify as coming from the hospital, whether nurses, PCAs (patient care assistants), or janitors who wear their uniforms,” she said. Her colleagues are being called disease carriers.
“We are much cleaner than many who subject us to the abuse because we put on our gear. Before we leave work, we bathe, and [we] change before we go on the streets, and it’s not like the word ‘COVID’ is marked on people’s foreheads.”
Six years now on the job, Brown says that nurses in the profession who have been around for over 40 years say they have never experienced anything like this.
Heartened by the donation of two buses to transport hospital staff recently, Brown said there has been improvement. She is, however, concerned about plans to reopen the country.
“There will be more cases because people are going to come into the island with the virus, so my fears will not go away any time soon,” she said.
In the meantime, she wants counselling to be put in place for nurses. “We, as nurses, have been talking that we need some serious counselling after this because we are mentally and emotionally exhausted. But we don’t get counselling. I think we should because this thing, it really affecting us.”
Brown has ceased watching the news because just seeing the numbers climbing in places like the US depresses her.
As fearful as she is, the labour ward nurse says that she has never discriminated against anyone because she felt they might be carrying the virus.
Her challenges are not unique to her; she says, “My colleagues talk about theirs every day.”