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A Frontline View of COVID-19

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Masked Healthcare Worker

Nancy (McDougall) Wells graduated from Providence in 1979 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She pursued further studies in nursing, and is now working as a Registered Nurse at the Health Sciences Center in London, ON. She spoke to us about what it is like to be a healthcare provider during these COVID-19 days. Read our interview with her below.

Can you paint a picture of Providence (formerly known as Winnipeg Bible College) back when you and your husband (Jim Wells, BA 1979) attended and studied here?

My time at WBC was life changing. I first applied, only wanting to attend for one year, but I stayed for three years because I loved it so much. It was the community that I loved most, living with eight girls in dorm and sharing one bathroom! Since we were all away from home, we depended on one another. I enjoyed being invited to someone’s home for a weekend, but I also learned to live with solitude which was a good thing for me. I had exposure to Christians from different church backgrounds. There was a lot of fun in community – including pranks, lots of pranks! (Jim was often the instigator).

Classes became more important throughout my years. Exploring scripture ignited a flame within me. My favorite class was with Dan Block, learning Old Testament. It was the 1970s, and we didn’t have laptops. It’s hard now to imagine writing essays on manual typewriters.    

The music at WBC was out of this world. I was energized by the harmonies. In my graduating year, Jim and I toured with the choir during the month of May and then went with a smaller choral group called ‘Daybreak’ to the East Coast in June. Jim and I were friends all through college, but a few months after graduation, we got engaged.

How has your time at Providence prepared you for your nursing career and caring for your patients?

I’m so glad I did my Nursing School after my time at Providence. It allowed me to grow in maturity, to learn how to deal with difficult questions surrounding ethics and life/death issues. At Providence, I learned to pray about all things. I learned the value of people and how God sees us.

Now, I am a Registered Nurse and practice at London Health Sciences Centre. I work in the Cardiac Surgical Recovery Unit (post heart surgery/transplant) and Medical Surgical Intensive Care Unit. We have 40 beds in total. I have worked there for more than 36 years including the time of SARS and H1N1.

How has the COVID-19 virus changed your work life? What measures are you taking to ensure everyone (including yourself) stays healthy?

It’s just Jim and me at home, and he does all the shopping. My schedule consists of home, work or out for a walk in my neighborhood. I try to make sure we eat well, sleep well, stick to routines and exercise. I find it helpful to do something each day to care for someone other than ourselves, whether it be a note in the mail, a phone call, a meal for someone else or treats to bring to my coworkers. Also, regular phone calls and FaceTime with our children and grandchildren refresh our souls.

We stay connected with our church via Zoom and online services. I love listening to music and singing along. We encourage one another with scripture and take time to pray, and continue online with our Bible Study group. Jim and I play games daily! Every day, I try to laugh. I also do one ‘non-news’ day a week. We are gentle with ourselves and our expectations. God is kind.

How do you feel as a healthcare provider during this pandemic? Are there any scenarios you’ve experienced that you can share?

There are daily challenges and changes in procedures because of COVID. The decrease in personal protective equipment (PPE) has made a huge difference in my practice, and it is physically demanding. There is unbelievable sadness. I have coworkers who have moved out of their homes and now live in a trailer (or moved in with other coworkers) to ensure the safety of their families. Some haven’t been to their real homes for over a month.

We’ve had to do a lot of training of staff from other floors – CCU, Transplant Unit, Recovery Room, etc. – so that they can work in our unit. We are grateful for the extra bodies, but it is an added stress to teach while still trying to take care of our patients. Fatigue levels have certainly risen. It takes a couple days after finishing a set of shifts to feel normal. I give myself a full day after working to rest. I have a new appreciation for amazing coworkers who give generously in the midst of great stress, and the ability to laugh together.

We’ve had, and still have, patients with COVID-19 on ventilators. Their ages range from 20 to 85. We have a COVID-positive patient in his 50s who’s been on a ventilator for two to three weeks. His COVID-19 tests are now negative, however he still needs to be on a ventilator. Some patients have been on ventilators for three weeks and counting. I can’t give any more specifics because of privacy laws.

The issue with COVID-19 is that we don’t know who it will affect or how it will affect people. It is the unknown that troubles us. I’ve worked through the SARS and H1N1 eras, and the COVID-19 virus is the most unpredictable and alarming.    

Do you consider yourself and colleagues who are treating COVID-19 patients as heroes?

No, we’re just humans doing what God has designed us to do in spite of our frailties. There are so many people within healthcare who jointly contribute to the efforts who are often overlooked including respiratory therapists, dieticians, pharmacists, physio, housekeeping, kitchen workers, security, screeners, tech people and the list goes on.

What message do you most want to give to Canadians about COVID-19?

The COVID-19 measures that are in place are not overkill. This is a serious illness. We need to show compassion for others and their frailties even if we are not personally affected. This too shall pass. Be patient. We need to listen to each other’s stories and pray for God’s perspective, calmness, kindness and peace to be evident in our lives. Show care and receive care.

How does your faith help you? How do you see the Holy Spirit working in your life and those around you?

The Holy Spirit gives me peace of heart in the midst of so much uncertainty. He brings verses to mind that remind me of His truth, especially when I am just too tired to pray or read scripture. His presence is so evident. I am touched by the people He has brought into my life to check on me and bring kindness. In the first couple of weeks of the changes, I was frustrated and angry by people not taking things seriously, and the lack of PPE. But God used the verse in James 1:19 to help change my perspective.

Taking time to listen to worship music cannot be over emphasized. I am loving the creativity of people as they share how they are dealing with things. God is the source of all creation and creativity. I am inspired by the different ways people have been encouraging others during COVID-19.

About Providence
Providence is an accredited, interdenominational, multi-cultural, Christian institution that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in Arts, Biblical Studies, Business, Professional Studies and Science. A learning community that transforms students into difference-makers, Providence teaches people to grow in knowledge and character for leadership and service.
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