Ottawa·On the front line

1 year into COVID-19, these 3 health-care workers are still in the thick of it

Since the beginning of the pandemic one year ago, CBC Ottawa has been checking regularly with health-care workers to get their perspectives. Here are the stories of a nurse, a doctor and a paramedic.

A nurse, doctor and paramedic reflect on the anniversary of the pandemic

Queensway Carleton Hospital nurse Chanelle Schryer says that a year into the pandemic, 'it still feels like it's just going to be such a long haul.' (Chanelle Schryer)

As vaccine delivery ramps up, people are even taking photos of loved ones grinning after getting their shots and posting them online. 

But COVID-19 indicators in Ottawa are fluctuating, so one year after the World Health Organization proclaimed a pandemic, health-care workers are still in the thick of it.

Since the beginning, CBC Ottawa has been checking regularly with health-care workers, to get their perspectives.

Here are the stories of three more on the front line.

The nurse

"Honestly, this last year feels like it's been more than a year."

Chanelle Schryer has spent the past year alternating between shifts at the Queensway Carleton Hospital and working at remote northern nursing stations in Kashechewan, Sandy Lake and Fort Severn.

"Although we're optimistic now with vaccines rolling out, it still feels like it's just going to be such a long haul until we can really confidently say we're in … a COVID-free world," said Schryer.

Schryer, 28, believes occasional flare-ups may be part of our lives for years to come.

"Ten years down the line, we might go, 'Oh, there's an outbreak of COVID at this long-term care home or this school. At that point, we'll just know what to do. It will be kind of like a little flu outbreak rather than something as dangerous as it is now"

When she isn't at Queensway Carleton Hospital, Schryer has rotated through several nursing stations across northern Ontario. (Peggy Kuehl)

Schryer received her first vaccination on Feb. 19 and is scheduled to get her booster on March 26.

"There's a little less tension in my chest, getting that first COVID vaccine and knowing that second one was coming."

Schryer has mixed feelings about how nurses are perceived one year into COVID-19.

"Some people say, 'I couldn't do what you do. Thank you so much. We really appreciate you putting yourself in the front line,'" said Schryer, who is part of the triage team in the emergency department at QCH.

"Within that same half an hour, you have people yelling and screaming at us that we're just there to make them suffer because we weren't seeing them quickly enough.

"It's hard not to take it personally."

The doctor

"You couldn't help but get a little bit emotional," said Kwadwo Kyeremanteng, on realizing the pandemic was entering its second year and reflecting on the past 12 months.

"We've gone from a place of complete fear, complete anxiety," said Kyeremanteng, a 43-year-old palliative and intensive care physician at the Ottawa and Montfort hospitals. "Then you slowly develop some confidence. We can manage our patients. We can protect ourselves."

The journey has forged bonds on the hospital floor.

'To go through the stuff we've seen, we've had to be tight,' says Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng, an intensive and palliative care physician at the Ottawa and Montfort hospitals. (Kwadwo Kyeremanteng)

"To get through the stuff we've seen, we've had to be tight," said Kyeremanteng, describing the "moral distress" of seeing patients die alone.

"The way someone dies leaves a lasting impression not only on the family, but also on the care team," said Kyeremanteng. "People have no idea … the amount of grit and work it takes to care for critically ill patients.

"COVID has put a lens on that."

Kyeremanteng, who has received both shots, predicts wide-spread immunization will hold COVID-19 in check. "The effectiveness of these vaccines are incredible." 

Why this Ottawa doctor is ‘optimistic’ about the future of COVID-19

2 years ago
Duration 1:06
Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng, a palliative and intensive care physician, says that as vulnerable groups get the vaccine, rates of serious disease and death will decrease, leaving COVID-19 looking more like a seasonal flu than a life-threatening illness.

But they're not a panacea. 

"I personally don't think it will be eradicated, I think it's going to be … viewed similar to influenza," says Kyeremanteng. "Some patients will be hospitalized during peak seasons."

While generally optimistic, Kyeremanteng has been hit hard by evidence of racial disparity during COVID-19.

"We saw this in the ICU. Marginalized and racialized communities were getting hit harder." 

He's calling for better education within communities and more dialogue with leaders, to get the message out about a varienty of health risks, not just COVID-19.

"Certainly as a person of colour, seeing [COVID-19's] impact in our communities has been hard to witness," says Kyeremanteng. ""Vaccines are our ticket out of this, but ultimately, if it's not COVID, it's something else."

The paramedic

"It's been a long, long year," says Chris Day, 45. "Myself and others are very much running on fumes. Front-line health care workers across the board are mentally and physically exhausted.

"Unfortunately, it doesn't end just because we hit the one-year anniversary."

The Renfrew County community paramedic was vaccinated on March 16.

Renfrew County paramedic Chris Day, shown getting his first COVID-19 vaccine from colleague John Greene, says it was a 'great relief' to get his shot. (Chris Day)

"It's a great relief," says Day, a husband and father of three. "I've reduced the risk of contracting COVID. It doesn't give me a zero, but it's a heck of a lot better than not having it. And it reduces the risk of me potentially passing it on to others.

"It's that light at the end of the tunnel."

A year ago, Day recalls, he was feeling a lot of anxiety.

"We were getting numbers from Italy and then New York City, where people were dying by the thousands. Is this what we are potentially going to be looking at here?

"It was a hugely trying and stressful time." 

Paramedics in Renfrew County received this thank you note from students. (Chris Day)

Like Schryer and Kyeremanteng, Day is optimistic the vaccines will curb the numbers.

"But with all the different strains that we are seeing coming up? This is going to be the new flu virus," says Day. "I don't see this going away,"

Day says people in Renfrew County have showed their appreciation and have written thank you notes. Local restaurants have delivered food. Some buy crews a round of coffee or hot chocolate at local coffee shops. 

"Every call we do, people say, 'Please stay safe. Please take care of yourselves,'" says Day. "They absolutely hate getting swabbed, but they are thankful for us for doing it."