Working during the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about challenges for everyone, but especially for those working on the frontlines with the most vulnerable people in our communities.
Despite this, Vancouver-based registered nurse Matthew Fong remains optimistic. For the past 10 years, Fong has worked in the heart centre at St. Paul’s Hospital. His work involves cardiac surgeries and caring for patients presenting any heart health issues, from heart attacks to heart failure.
When the coronavirus hit, Fong says he felt anxious and a little on edge, aware of the precautions not only at work, but also when out in public.
“I was constantly washing my hands. I was staying away, socially distancing from people before they decided to make that a rule,” Fong tells Daily Hive.
There were many unknowns in the beginning, he says. “They weren’t sure how it [the virus] was being spread and how it affected some people differently. And the symptoms are so different between each person.”
He explains how things shifted at work — healthcare workers had to amp up how they were treating patients with a new level of personal protective equipment (PPE). This PPE now has to be worn at all times.
For patients, Fong says the experience can be a little impersonal because they can’t see their nurse or doctor’s face anymore. “If patients are nervous about being in hospital already, it doesn’t help that we have to be covered. But they understand that it’s for their protection.”
To add to the pressure of working on the frontline, Fong and his wife, who also works at the hospital, were in the midst of moving. They had just bought a place and were staying with Fong’s in-laws for a few months before the move-in date.
At the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the couple decided to find an Airbnb. Since their chances of being exposed to COVID-19 at work was higher, they didn’t want to possibly transmit the virus to Fong’s wife’s parents.
They isolated themselves for one month to stay as safe as possible. During this time, they had limited interactions with the Airbnb host and the public, going from the rental to work and back.
Since then, the couple has been able to move into their new place. They are relieved to see more information about the coronavirus being shared from the hospital and the government. Healthcare workers have also been provided with access to tests.
In the spare time he does have, Fong has been volunteering to deliver groceries to people who can’t make it to the store to pick them up, including elderly members of the community.
“One lady was injured, so she couldn’t even walk outside her door,” he says. “I volunteered because I knew all the proper handwashing, and I had some of my own personal masks. I basically wore a hockey helmet with a face shield to deliver some groceries.”
He feels that everyone working in the grocery business is considered to be a “frontline” worker as much as medical services.
“We’re treating people who are sick and need to come to the hospital, but they’re dealing with the public all the time — every day because people need food,” he says.
Looking ahead, Fong hopes that Canadians can just keep doing the right things. “Hopefully, we can try and get back to somewhat of a normal life.”