Eram, trauma & emergency nurse

"For many days, I don't really think I ate or slept. And every single time my phone went off, I nearly jumped up and almost fell to the floor"

Eram’s story

My name is Eram Chhogala and I’m an ER and trauma nurse here in the GTA.

I really love how I can make a difference in someone’s life. I really love that I can be that physical presence when they don’t have a family member there to comfort them. 

I’d probably also say that it’s through the heavy influence of my late father. He was someone who really believed I had potential to help others. 

COVID-19 was a very evolving virus. It’s a very novel virus. So the information, the variants, the transmission, the mode of transmission — [in the beginning,] all this information was changing. Every single day there was a huddle, or every single day you’d have to say, “Okay, how do we isolate based on these symptoms?”

When you went in, it was getting report for your shift and making sure that everything was sanitized, being really careful washing your hands. And I’m telling you, when I washed my hands, they became dry, cracked, and brittle. They were destroyed. We had rashes and cuts and scars all over our faces because we had been in those masks for hours and hours. We had been in rooms with goggles on that would cut into your face and skin.

I remember when I was triaging and there was a patient who came in and he said, “Don’t you think you guys are kind of overblowing it?”

It was like everything had changed. This is ridiculous. Now I feel like this is a catastrophe.

[One day] I was at work and I got a phone call, and my dad was like, “I’m really short of breath.” I felt like something just hit me.

So I called an ambulance. I remember they had transferred him into the ER, into the resus room, and they were doing treatments on him. This was actually the ER that I was working at.

They said, “Okay, well because of his age and so forth, we’re gonna put him in the ICU.” I said, “Okay, I can understand that.”

One morning, I received a phone call from the intensivist and he said, “Your father’s oxygen is really going low.” I said, “Okay.” So he said to me, “I’m going to have to put your father on life support.”

For many days, I don’t really think I ate or slept. And every single time my phone went off, I nearly jumped up and almost fell to the floor.

People have often asked me, “Why did you work while he was hospitalized in the ICU?” And I’ll tell you why. I did that so I could see my father, because there was no other way. I wanted to be physically present and near him.

But it was also a way for me to find out what was happening.

A lot of people believe, and while this is true, that physical presence is very important. But it’s also the emotional and the spiritual presence that’s near. And I would watch him through that glass door.

I broke down, through the progression of many weeks. I’m going to say that was the hardest month of my life.

I remember the day before my father died. I stayed in that room with him and I fell asleep in the recliner that was there. 

The next morning, the physician came in with a nurse and he said, “I really have to speak with you.” And he said, “I’m really sorry. We’ve done what we can do. We’ve exhausted our efforts and there’s nothing else we can do at this point.”

I had to do my own support. The way that I seek self-support is I’m very spiritually inclined, so I’m very much into meditation, spirituality, and prayer. That’s where I sought my comfort. 

The supports for mental health were not available. I say this on behalf of a lot of healthcare professionals — province-wide, nationwide, worldwide. It was a reoccurring theme. Everyone was burnt out. People were breaking down. 

It’s like a healthcare professional’s worst nightmare coming to life. Seeing or experiencing things like the backlash of community members not believing that this disease was real: the protestors, the trucker convoy, the assaults, the violence against ER workers. It became gruesome and it added on and added on, into a chaos.

Then a lot of people were wondering, “Why did, why are healthcare professionals leaving? Why are nurses are leaving? Why is there such high turnover?”

Well, these are the reasons why. There’s only so much tolerance a person can take.

This is what I had been seeing. Watching it all evolve, it was like it was unravelling.

But I think what’s really important is, we need to send a message out there for people who didn’t really experience this pandemic, for those who didn’t really understand what this pandemic is about, to actually see the insights and the reality coming from healthcare professionals in the field. [It’s important] for someone to actually tell you, and for someone like myself to explain to you what’s happened, not only on a professional standpoint, but also from something that’s happened personally.

I think a lot of people can see now that healthcare professionals are people who actually do care. 

Most of the injury comes from my father’s death. What if there was more I could have done? I often think to myself that he’d be here right now. I often think to myself that he’d be his jovial, down-to-earth self, sitting next to me right now.

I wouldn’t feel so alone sometimes. My father was like my best friend, and that’s a bond. This is something that I can’t let go.

COVID can give you a really different perspective. It gave me a very different perspective on life. It’s not that I never regarded that, but when it happens to you, it becomes very personal.

A special note of thanks from Healthcare Salute

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers from across Canada have participated in our research on “COVID-19-Related Stress, Moral Injury and Minority Stress in Healthcare Workers and Public Safety Personnel in Canada.” Their struggles, heartbreak, courage, and resilience have inspired and moved us, and formed the bedrock of our research for this project. We are deeply grateful and committed to sharing their experiences.

We would also like to express our heartfelt thanks to our funders, the Public Health Agency of Canada, for giving us the opportunity and the autonomy to share our research with the larger Canadian audience without bias or restriction. This work would not have been possible without their generous and arms-length funding support. We also wish to thank our collaborators and supporters — McMaster University, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, Homewood Health, and Homewood Research Institute.

After viewing, visit “Applying cultural competency in practice,” an education module for mental health providers and peer supporters.