A glimpse inside an Edmonton ICU full of COVID-19 patients

A registered nurse at Edmonton's Grey Nuns Hospital is sharing her experience of working with COVID-19 patients in a busy ICU, to help people understand the reality inside Alberta's hospitals. Sarah Ryan reports.

A registered nurse in Edmonton has shared her daily experience inside an intensive care unit to try and paint a picture of her reality for other Albertans.

Since Nov. 1, the number of patients with COVID-19 in Alberta’s ICUs has climbed from 28 to 137 as of Dec. 15.

Lisa Gaglione works with those patients every shift and posted a glimpse into her work on Facebook. 

“Our patients are usually admitted from one of the COVID(-19) units in the hospital, usually just requiring more oxygen than what that unit can supply,” she explained.

In her post, Gaglione said her ICU looks like a warzone.

“The monitors are everywhere. The computer stations — trying to walk through the hallway is like trying to weave yourself through a maze without tripping over everything,” she said.

“Everyone’s yelling because we can’t hear anything. We’re in masks, inside rooms, the glass doors are all closed, it’s loud.”

The capacity in the ICU at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital has grown quickly to try and accommodate the influx of COVID-19 patients.

Registered nurse Lisa Gaglione says the hallways of the ICU are full of equipment.

Registered nurse Lisa Gaglione says the hallways of the ICU are full of equipment.

Courtesy: Lisa Gaglione

Gaglione said for health-care workers, that means they need to move faster and try to juggle multiple patients at once.

“You’re being called in 17 different directions all at the same time and there’s often three people needing me and I’m like, ‘OK, what’s the most important thing here?'”

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She said in one shift, she walked 10 kilometres without leaving her unit.

“There’s no break in anything. There’s alarms ringing, and often if an alarm is ringing in a room, the nurse is in the other room. And if you’re in the hallway, you have to go and deal with it. It’s constant on and off PPE.”

In addition to the regular duties health-care workers are performing, they also have to act as fill-in family members for patients because visitors aren’t allowed in the ICU.

“They’re scared. They’re terrified and we’re the only ones there to hold their hands and that is killing us,” Gaglione explained.

“You want to do the best you can for your patients, but there’s so many of them.”

Giving updates to family members is also emotionally draining.

“There’s nothing like having to call someone’s loved one at four in the morning and telling them their dad or their mom needs to go on a breathing tube,” she said.

Sometimes, before Gaglione can even drive home after her shift, she needs to rest in her car.

“I think all of us on the front lines are struggling minute to minute. Sometimes we’re OK, sometimes we’re not — like right now,” she said, her voice wavering.

Gaglione said the work seems never-ending.

“We’re getting text messages for staffing almost every day. They’re needing staff to come in because there’s shortages,” she said.

“That’s over and above what we’re already slated to work and there are lots of nights when we all leave there at 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at night. It’s a 12-hour shift, and the thought of coming back just brings us to tears.”

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Gaglione said to help care for the influx of COVID positive patients, staff from other areas are helping pick up shifts in the ICU.

“All these redeployed staff from the NICU, emerg, medicine, the recovery room, the OR — we’ve got a ton of people helping us,” she said. “They can’t deal with the medications or the ventilator or the critical care stuff, but all that other stuff — taking a phone call from a patient’s family member, restocking our PPE carts — it just helps us with our time management because we don’t have the time and we don’t have the critical care staff.

“Those people are immeasurable to us.”

Gaglione said hospital staff continue to adjust to the new workloads and do the best work they can, but as the pandemic drags on, it’s taking a toll on everyone’s mental and physical health.

“It’s terrifying,” she said. “It’s exhausting. I know those words are thrown around a lot, but we live it.”

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