Montreal·Point of View

The pandemic has pushed our health-care system to the brink. I see it every day as a nurse

It has been a challenging year for all of us in the health-care sector throughout Quebec. Many of us have put our personal health as well as that of our families in peril. The physical, mental and emotional burden of this sacrifice weighs heavily on each of us.

A Montreal nurse describes exhaustion, frustration over rising cases and guilt over infecting loved ones

Naveed Hussain tested positive for COVID-19 early in the pandemic. He knew that was a risk of working with patients who had the disease, but that didn't stop feelings of guilt and anxiety over infecting his girlfriend. (Charles Contant/CBC)

On a sunny Tuesday morning in mid-April last year, I woke up with an itch in my throat. I had no other symptoms present. No shortness of breath, no headaches. I was supposed to be working an evening shift on my internal medicine unit where we care for COVID-19 patients.

Should I get tested? Should I notify my unit that I need to call in sick? My mind was racing. I felt anxious. Did I contaminate anyone at work or the people in my life? I did not want to catch COVID-19. I wanted to be in the fight against it … not become a victim of it. This was my worst fear.

Catching the virus has impacted my life ever since. I recovered, but I still have lingering effects. Lethargy, sudden waves of nausea and malaise are things that I have learned to cope and live with. It is not easy and many health-care professionals who have caught the virus have experienced varied symptoms that have affected their lives negatively, too.

When cases started to appear in Montreal, my unit was called upon to provide care to those infected. Our most vulnerable, of all ages and circumstances, came to the hospital to get treatment. We were short of personal protective equipment and staff members were becoming ill, but we continued to fight on with courage and perseverance.

The second wave is no different. It has been a challenging year for all of us in the health-care sector throughout Quebec. Many of us have put our personal health as well as that of our families in peril. The physical, mental and emotional burden of this sacrifice weighs heavily on each of us.

I remember the day I decided to get tested. I notified the important people in my life of the possibility that I was positive with COVID-19. I was an emotional wreck, I was feeling anxious, and guilty. I had to tell my girlfriend that it was a possibility that she had been infected.

Naveed at work in his scrubs. He sees how rising case numbers are straining Quebec's health-care system — and the toll it takes on its workers. (Submitted by Naveed Hussain)

We both understood the risk of this happening when I started working with symptomatic patients diagnosed with the virus. Her understanding during this difficult conversation and her unconditional support throughout this ordeal has given me strength to move forward with courage. I never wanted to expose the people I love and care about to a disease that is debilitating, life-altering and possibly fatal.

This thought resonates with many of my colleagues who work in health care here in Montreal and throughout the world. We come to work every day, prepared to give our best to the sick and disadvantaged, but increased hospitalizations have strained the system. Our hospitals are at capacity. Our critical care units are at capacity. Cases continue to rise despite lockdown and curfew measures.

We are all battling as hard as we can, but having members of the public be skeptical of what the reality is in the hospitals and nursing homes has led to anxiety and a fear among health-care workers that people will not respect the rules put in place by the government to decrease the amount of people contracting the virus.

We, as a society, need to comprehend that we are at a crucial edge where if we go over the limit in the hospitals, there is a possibility that we will not be able to care for our most vulnerable and our loved ones in an appropriate manner. It is essential that we bring down cases by respecting and adhering to the protocols put in place in Quebec and Canada.

We are all frustrated that we cannot live our lives as spontaneously as we once did. I miss seeing my friends and just having moments where we can hug each other or shake each other's hands. Touch is so essential to our humanity and who we are. We are social creatures who crave interaction with each other. It is in our nature.

I believe unity is needed to get through this challenging time. We need to come together and beat this virus to save lives. This is our moment to make the necessary changes to turn the tide and bring cases back down again. The vaccine is coming — I decided to get vaccinated to protect my health as well as those who I love — but we must also push for changes to our health-care system.

We must prioritize the need for new nurses and orderlies. We must start investing in companies here in Quebec to make sure we always have the supplies necessary to not be caught off guard by a lack of space, equipment and resources. We need to invest in the people of our province, our greatest resource. Quebecers should always be ready to fight any complications that may arise in the future. We must never fall victim again.

CBC Quebec welcomes your pitches for point-of-view essays. Please email povquebec@cbc.ca for details.


This story is part of a special CBC Quebec project Out of the Dark: Real Talk on Mental Health. If you are having a hard time coping, here are some resources that could help.

If you are in crisis or know someone who is, here is where to get help:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (Phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) crisisservicescanada.ca
  • In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca
  • Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre

About the Author

Naveed Hussain is a nurse at the McGill University Health Centre and a teacher training future licensed practical nurses and patient attendants at the Riverside School Board's Access Adult Education and Career Training Centre.

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