Nfld. & Labrador

'I didn't know what sick was': N.L. nurse extends COVID-19 relief work in Ontario

As Newfoundland and Labrador's third medical relief team heads to Ontario to help that province through its devastating third wave of COVID-19, one of the members of the first team is extending her time on the front lines. 

'The nurses that I've been working with are truly inspiring,' says nurse practitioner Jennifer Hinks

Jennifer Hinks and five other nurses from Newfoundland and Labrador have been working in Toronto General Hospital's intensive-care unit since the end of April. (Submitted by Jennifer Hinks)

As Newfoundland and Labrador's third medical relief team heads to Ontario to help that province through its devastating third wave of COVID-19, one of the members of the first team is extending her time on the front lines.

"I didn't know what sick was until I came to Ontario," said nurse practitioner Jennifer Hinks of the patients fighting for their lives inside the overrun and short-staffed intensive-care unit of Toronto General Hospital. 

Hinks and five other nurses from Newfoundland and Labrador have been inside that ICU since arriving three weeks ago. She called the ICU the "last line of defence," with every patient in the unit on a form of life-support.

"To be able to have a nurse who is mentally refreshed and available to be at a bedside, and support their colleagues and staff and take care of these patients, has been such a reprieve for the unit," she said.

Hinks has now decided to stay a little longer to continue to help relieve the exhaustion faced by other health-care workers.

"I'm hanging in there thanks to the support of family, friends and everyone back home," Hinks told CBC News on Monday from her hotel room in Toronto.

Hinks says she won't be able to truly process her time in Toronto until she returns home to Newfoundland. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

The first group, nine people, left Newfoundland and Labrador on April 27 to help in Ontario hospitals. At the time, Premier Andrew Furey said, "It's a small team, but small teams can have big impacts."

Hinks said that's been exactly the case.

On Tuesday a third group will leave Newfoundland and Labrador on a commercial flight to lend a helping hand as a surge in infections continues to overwhelm the Ontario health-care system. The team of three registered nurses will spend almost three weeks at Mackenzie Health, a hospital network north of Toronto in Vaughan, Ont.

'I'll be leaving a piece of me here'

Hinks said while she hasn't had the time to process the magnitude of the medical effort she's a part of, it's likely going to be one of the most profound moments of her career. 

Hinks says the team of nurses from Newfoundland and Labrador have been welcomed with open arms by medical staff in Ontario. (Submitted by Jennifer Hinks)

"It's been hard, but we've been very fortunate to have a mental health team from Eastern Health that has been checking in with us every week, and supporting us throughout this process," she said. 

"The nurses that I've been working with are truly inspiring. There are no words to describe what they have been facing."

Hinks said it's been on the back of the N.L. team's mind that they, at the end of their stint, get to leave Ontario and head for home where the pandemic has been manageable. The nurses who reside in Ontario don't have that privilege or opportunity, she said

She said the N.L. relief team has been welcomed with open arms by the Ontario staff, with gifts of food and a flood of thank you messages. 

"I think that, when I do leave, I'll be leaving a piece of me here. A piece of this experience will live on with me forever," she said. 

"I think that it won't be until I get home that I truly process what this experience has been like."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Peter Cowan

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