Aug. 26, 2020

New RN recognizes strength in all during pandemic

Cathy Lee reflects on resiliency in those contracting COVID-19 and those working to save their lives

When the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the world seemed to shut down overnight. I was still completing my final practicum hours as a fourth-year nursing student on Unit 93/94 at Rockyview General Hospital (RGH). Upon completion of my hours and writing my NCLEX exam, I was hired on as an RN on the unit, an internal medicine/pulmonary department, and now RGH’s main designated COVID-19 unit.

We were preparing for a surge of COVID-19 patients, and with it came uncertainty in how overwhelmed staff would be. While many of the people around me were home during the peak of COVID-19, I was beginning my career. 

Cathy Lee, BN'20 currently works on Unit 93/94 at the Rockyview General Hospital which is currently the designated COVID unit.

Cathy Lee, BN'20, currently works on Unit 93/94 at the Rockyview General Hospital which is currently the designated COVID-19 unit.

I thought I would be more scared, but being on the unit made me realize that caring for these patients was just like caring for any other patient. The first and foremost priority has always been and always will be the health and safety of these patients, and ensuring that I do my best in my role to help them whatever stage they are at in their lives.

For some COVID-19 patients, this means ensuring their oxygenation is adequate, administering blood thinners to prevent clots, and monitoring intake/outputs to ensure proficient kidney function. For many, it meant providing proper measures to help them pass away in a dignified and comfortable manner. 

Loss is not an uncommon experience on our unit, but COVID-19 was scary and unexpected and took an emotional toll. There are really no words to describe the experience of having patients deteriorate as quickly as this virus overtakes them.

The worst part of it all was at the beginning when researchers were still figuring out the disease process and what precautions were needed. No one deserves to pass without someone by their side. And yet COVID-19 stripped many patients of this right. Whether it was due to travel restrictions, or family members being too scared or not healthy enough to come to patients’ bedsides, sometimes it was just the nurse at the bedside during their final moments. And while we tell ourselves it was better than no one, sometimes you cannot help but know that it was not enough. 

Beginning my career during a pandemic makes me realize how resilient and adaptable people are. I have a newfound appreciation for all those working in health care, especially nurses.

The nurses on my unit stepped up in a way that is under-appreciated and unseen for many. In a time of fear, confusion and anxiety, nurses continue to put other peoples’ lives before theirs. Nursing is an occupation that prepares you for the unpreparable, but watching my unit evolve and adjust during a pandemic makes me truly proud to join the profession.

While the end of this pandemic still remains unforeseeable, I can say this with certainty — nurses will always rise to the occasion. 

UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.