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Restricted Access: Caring for Manitobans inside the Red Zone

“What frightens them more is going outside, not just outside the unit, but outside the hospital, where we don’t know who is carrying this virus.” – Anna Marie Papiz, Manager of Patient Care, Surgery

Inside Manitoba hospitals, a battle is raging.

Health-care workers move swiftly and with purpose throughout facilities, carefully donning personal protective equipment (PPE) prior to every patient interaction.

“We’re doing really great work here, it’s an extremely stressful situation for all involved,” says Aaron Turner, a clinical resource nurse at Manitoba’s Health Sciences Centre. Aaron and his colleagues have seen their day-to-day responsibilities shift dramatically in recent months as their orthopedic surgery unit has become a Red Zone unit dedicated to COVID-19 patients.

“It was a huge change for everybody. The number of deaths we are encountering is far greater than what we have experienced as surgery nurses,” says Anna Marie Papiz, the unit’s Manager of Patient Care.

Papiz’s admiration for the staff working in the Red Zone is palpable as she talks about the commitment of health-care workers dedicating themselves to patient care while battling their own fear of the risk posed by COVID-19 to themselves and their loved ones.

“Everybody has their fears, that is only natural,” says Papiz. “Everyone working long hours, with lots of overtime, and missing breaks in order to provide the best care possible for these patients. It has been difficult, but this staff in this unit have been a huge support for one another.”

That support is vital, Papiz and Turner agree, as staff care for patients that are much sicker than those they would normally care for post-surgery.

“It’s very emotional,” says Turner, as he shares his experience supporting families in saying their goodbyes from a distance. “For families from out of town, who are unable to come in, we are setting up iPads for them to say goodbye. It’s not something we have had to do before.”

“We rely heavily on our team and their support and we do support each other very well. “We try to do everything in our power to allow them to grieve and to help them through the process,” adds Turner. “We do support each other very well.”

Papiz, Turner, and the many other staff working in the Red Zone have adapted to a new environment over the past several weeks. They are tired, and they speak openly of the strain they feel as their 30-bed unit remains full most days, with very sick patients relying upon them for care, but their resilience is obvious too. 

“When we first became a Red Zone unit, there was fear from all staff,” says Papiz. “Here we are several weeks later, and what we are hearing is that staff are feeling safer in the Red Zone because they know these patients are COVID positive and they can prepare and protect themselves.”

“What frightens them more is going outside, not just outside the unit, but outside the hospital, where we don’t know who is carrying this virus.”

Where we don’t know who is carrying the virus. A rallying cry from the front lines of the COVID-19 fight, pleading with Manitobans to stay home and stay safe.

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