Windsor

Canadian nurse working at Detroit hospital: 'We are fighting a war'

"A lot of our patients die without the support of their family around them because of what's going on and I think that's a very important thing for people to know: we are not over-reacting, this is not a joke."

Nurse posted public plea for people to take COVID-19 'seriously' because she is tired of watching people die

Jenna Meloche lives in Amherstburg and works in Detroit where the number of COVID-19 deaths is rising. 2:05

Jenna Meloche knows what it's like to deliver what could be a final message from a family member to someone struggling to breathe because of COVID-19. 

"A family member said to me 'I want you to go into my husband's room and I want you to say in his ear that his family loves him and we miss him and just be strong," said Meloche, a registered nurse who works at Henry Ford hospital in Detroit. 

She's one of thousands of health-care workers who live in the Windsor, Ont. area and cross the border into Michigan to treat people with COVID-19 in what is quickly becoming a "hot spot" for the coronavirus in the United States. 

Three counties in the Detroit area — Wayne, Oakland and Macomb — account for 83 per cent of the more than 3,600 people in Michigan confirmed to have COVID-19. At least 92 have died, mostly from the three-county region.  

"A lot of our patients die without the support of their family around them because of what's going on and I think that's a very important thing for people to know: we are not over-reacting, this is not a joke," said Meloche. 

Plea for the public to stop the spread

Meloche is able to cross the Canada-United States border because she is an essential worker, and is taking great care to make sure she doesn't put her parents at risk when she returns home to Amherstburg, Ontario. 

For the last few weeks she's been changing in the garage, using a separate bathroom and wearing personal protective equipment when in common areas of the home. 

I think that nurses are inspirational and that is what drew me to the field, just being able to be that support system for a patient and truly help them through the most difficult time in their life.- Jenna Meloche, who says her mom is the reason she's a nurse

But that could soon change. She's started looking at other housing options so she can keep her parents, both in their 50s, safe. 

"That is also something important for people to know because if we're doing this, this is a serious situation and I will do everything I can to protect my family and my friends and so should everyone else."

Meloche and her colleagues are frustrated, she said, watching people still meet in large groups and ignore calls to self-isolate after international travel. 

"It's frustrating to be a healthcare worker and to see what we see and see the suffering and the death when we go to work and then see people outside playing a sport, 20 people together," she said, noting that it's happening less. 

An infectious disease specialist explains how one person not staying home can contribute to the spread of COVID-19.  1:40

Her frustration led to a public plea on Facebook for people to respect the guidance of public health officials calling on people to physically distance from each other. 

"We are fighting a war," she wrote, posting a pair of photos showing her in the personal protective equipment she wears at the hospital.

"The skin on my nose is getting raw from wearing a surgical mask every waking moment of my life on the unit and at home to protect my family."

Finding inspiration during a dark time

It's her family that inspired her to become a health-care worker, something she remembers thinking about when she was five years old. 

"Really for me, it's my mom," said Meloche, speaking with CBC News on her day off. 

"I think that nurses are inspirational and that is what drew me to the field, just being able to be that support system for a patient and truly help them through the most difficult time in their life."

This is a time when people across Canada have been showing their support for frontline health-care workers by banging pots and pans from balconies, street side concerts and chalk art on neighbourhood streets.

Those displays have been something Meloche and her colleagues hold on to as they treat patients during this pandemic.

"Honestly it means so much to us when we see something like that. And we just... I can't put into words how much that picks us up and we appreciate what people are saying to us."

With files from the Associated Press

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