May 25, 2021

'It's the sheer volume of very sick patients that has been astonishing as our ICU is being stretched to the max'

Courtney Jewell, BN'06 shares what it's like as an ICU nurse at Foothills during the COVID-19 pandemic
Courtney Jewell BN'06
Courtney Jewell BN'06

"I worked for a year on the Acute Oncology/Bone Marrow Transplant unit at the Foothills after I graduated and then moved to the ICU in January of '07 where I continue to work today. This past year has certainly been one of the most challenging of my entire career thus far. The pandemic seems to have brought out both the best and worst parts of society.

I have definitely fluctuated between feeling honoured and grateful to be a frontline health-care worker, to struggling with the darker aspects of the critical illness I have seen within the setting of this global pandemic. 

The ICU has always been a very challenging environment but watching the influx of critically ill people, both young and old, fill our beds as COVID ravages their bodies has been quite the experience. What has surprised me most is watching COVID patients steadily improve over a number of days and then suddenly take a turn for the worse and deteriorate to their death. Just when you think that your patient may be 'out of the woods,' the next shift, you are calling their family to inform them that things have changed. This isn't a new concept in critical care as complications can arise in anyone who is experiencing critical illness, but it's the sheer volume of very sick patients that has been astonishing as our ICU is being stretched to the max.

What is the bright spot in all of this, you may ask? The ability of nurses to band together and support each other through this difficult time. We have had a multitude of redeployed staff from all areas of nursing come and lend a hand in our ICU. We have had my beloved old ICU colleagues who have moved on to other areas within the profession, come back and help us at the bedside. I can't tell you how amazing it is to see and work with my old friends. 

It's hard to not get bogged down and depressed when hearing media reports of another anti-mask or anti-lockdown rally occurring in our province. These types of things hurt me to my core as I see families crumble when they watch a loved one suffer from the debilitating effects of this virus.

Last week, I helped a man gown and mask outside of a patient room so that he could say goodbye to his wife. He was so broken as he sobbed, held her hand and thanked her for being the love of his life and such a great mother to their kids. Everyone in that room had tears streaming down their face while they quietly worked to try to save her life. There are lasting effects and emotional scars that you feel as you do this kind of work over and over and over again. This is the reality of being an ICU nurse and again I felt honoured to be in that room, holding space for that man and his grief. 

My hope is that this pandemic has given the public a new view of the nursing profession and the importance of a nurse.

Courtney Jewell BN'06

Courtney Jewell BN'06 has been working at the Foothills Medical Centre's ICU in Calgary since 2007.

Take away the loud internet trolls who rant and spread misinformation about the realities that we see in the hospital, and I believe that most people in society can see the importance in the work that we do. I personally have received messages of support and love and respect for the role that I play as frontline health-care worker. I am very proud to be a nurse. 

Leading up to a shift, I sometimes struggle with anxiety, but it's in those moments that I think of these messages/texts/emails of support from the people that care about me and my mental health. I then put on my suit of armour (my scrubs and stethoscope!) and walk through the doors of that ICU to do the best job that I possibly can do...the job that I have been doing for the past 14 years."