Krissha, registered practical nurse

"We were not prepared. We didn't have PPE. All of our face shields were expired. All of our N-95s were expired. We couldn't even reorder them. We didn't even have face masks"

Krissha’s story

My name is Krissha. I’m an RPN, registered practical nurse, and I was also a nurse manager at a long-term care home. I help patients and staff with managing the symptoms of dementia.

In early 2020, we were hearing the rumbles about COVID-19. There was a patient who had a fever, a cough, and their oxygen started going down. We self-isolated that person.

The next day, we were all crying because we know exactly what was happening. We were not prepared. We didn’t have PPE. All of our face shields were expired. All of our N-95s were expired. We couldn’t even reorder them. We didn’t even have face masks. So we were kind of like, it’s finally here. You know, we’re so scared. That was the first time ever in my career that I was scared. I was scared to be a nurse.

I got a call that I tested positive and I started crying and I told my parents and my brother. I had to tell my work. And they’re like, okay, someone’s going to be in touch with you. I never heard anything.

I decided to go back to work because they were really short. They had no staff at work. So I came in and I was like, “Hey guys, what can I do to help?”

So it was just me with 32 patients who had COVID with dementia. The patients didn’t really understand that they had to stay in their rooms. They’re normally out and about walking.

It felt really like you were just by yourself. I don’t even know how I did it. I was like, I can’t believe this is happening to me on my first day back.

So three o’clock rolls around and that’s when the new shift starts. And then there’s no nurse coming. It was 3:30. I was like, “I need to go, I need to rest. I just did an 18-hour shift.”

There was only one PSW who showed up. One. I was actually livid. I called my manager to actually tell me what’s going on with the staffing. This is supposed to be what [she is] managing. She didn’t pick up her phone. She didn’t pick up her phone!

Who is gonna take care of these people? You know?   

So there were 32 patients. Me and one PSW. We went to the back and we cried, because we were scared and we felt really helpless. 

I had to really gather myself. I was like, “You know what? I just have to do what I gotta do, because it needs to get done.”

So I slept underneath my desk. And then I went home at seven o’clock in the morning, just to go back to work again at nine. 

I remember those shifts kept on happening over and over again. I remember crying in an elevator and I was like, “I feel like I’m suffering.” And then I think I was like, “Would it be better if I just magically die?”

One night, we were doing a check on a patient and we found a patient who was dying. That was terrible, because I felt like I really neglected this person, even though I probably wasn’t assigned to them, but the fact that like they were managed under my care — or you know, the whole home — it’s really unacceptable.

I was so ashamed to tell her daughter that we just found her like this and we couldn’t do anything to save her. I remember, I’m like, “I’m so sorry.” I was like, “This is not — but now this is the important part. You get to say bye to your mom, but just letting you know, you have to self-isolate for 14 days after this.”

The coroners won’t even come in, so we have to put people in body bags. I had to personally toe tag them and zip them up.

I visited my family doctor and I said, “I’m not doing well. I’m not sleeping. I’m having nightmares. I’m having nightmares of myself being in a body bag, being zipped up. I have nightmares of not being able to breathe.”

I have a panic attack that lasts for a whole entire day. I was really debilitated. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t even brush my teeth. I didn’t even take a shower. I was just in bed all the time, sleeping.

So I filed that claim and my work fought me. They said I didn’t get COVID there.

It really made me feel like I was just worthless. They did wrong. 

Looking back at it now, it was like the saddest and the worst point of my life. I felt like I was violated.

Now with therapy…I used to blame myself a lot because I couldn’t do as much as I could. I felt really guilty and shameful because I couldn’t — I was supposed to be their caretaker and I couldn’t take care of them because I couldn’t even take care of myself.

The fact that there’s so many nurses who are leaving the healthcare system, it just shows that no one’s willing to put up anymore. No one’s willing to put up with short staff, ineffective management, ineffective policies. As much as they want to take care of somebody else, they also have to take care of themselves too.

You know, I interact with some of my new patients, and they’re so grateful for the fact that we’re giving to them and we’re taking such good care of them. That’s what still keeps me going. It’s no longer for the government or for the organizations. It’s now for just the people who I serve.

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.