Like so many couples with young kids, paramedic Chris Mosher and public health nurse Geneviève Mosher are in the thick of it, trying to balance work and parenting throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. But the nature of their work means they each have a unique perspective on the public health crisis. Their roles in the health care system might be very different, but in the midst of the state of emergency, they are benefitting from one another’s experience, gaining a unique appreciation for what’s at stake in the city’s fight against COVID-19.
Chris, how has COVID-19 impacted your work as a paramedic?
Chris: Dealing with COVID-19 has meant we’re constantly evolving our procedures and protocols. We’re doing a certain amount of retraining nearly every day to make sure we’re responding to calls in a way that safeguards the health of the community at large.
What has changed in terms of how you respond to calls?
Chris: Our ambulance communication officers use a screening tool to help them do a risk assessment, but at this point we’re responding to around nine out of 10 calls in full personal protective equipment. That means a face shield, safety glasses, an N95 mask, a full gown and gloves.
What are the logistics like, working in personal protective equipment?
Chris: It’s not easy to make yourself heard through all that safety gear, so communicating can be a challenge. It also gets really hot. There are times we’re carrying people up or down flights of stairs, so it gets sweaty and if the glasses fog up it can be hard to see.
Taking off equipment and avoiding cross contamination takes a lot of training and a lot of experience. It’s also time consuming – it takes about three minutes each time.
Are the types of calls different these days?
Chris: I’m getting the sense that our call volume is down somewhat. We are responding to fewer calls related to trauma and general illness, but medical emergencies have become significantly more complex to assess and treat, given the pandemic.
What are your interactions with patients like?
Chris: A big part of our job as paramedics is managing the scene. We’ve had to adapt how we interact with patients because the personal protective equipment changes the dynamics. At the outset of the pandemic it was a shock for people to see us in full equipment.
If the nature of the call allows, we communicate at a distance with the people on the scene so they can see us and get familiar with us, and then we explain the equipment and walk people through it step by step to put them at ease. Especially if there are kids on scene, we’ll to try to joke around with them and make them comfortable before putting on all this gear. Managing people’s emotions can make a big difference to the treatment, so it’s important that we develop a rapport with patients and make sure they feel safe and comfortable.
What is it like working with hospital staff?
Chris: The nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists at Ottawa’s five hospitals are our close friends and colleagues, and yet during the first few weeks of this outbreak it was tricky to navigate those interactions. We’re normally very close, we know each other so well, and yet with the pandemic, we had to sort of reestablish trust and work through how to communicate with everyone in layers of personal protective equipment. We’ve adapted though. Humour is good medicine, so we try to keep one another smiling and joking. We need those light moments to get us through these darker times.
What do you wish people knew about what paramedics and other frontline health workers are facing these days?
Chris: For most people at home, the view out their window isn’t that much different than it was this time last year. People may know theoretically that we’re not through this yet, but most don’t see it with their own eyes. That’s probably why some people are finding it hard to keep staying home and following physical distancing guidelines.
But as paramedics, we’re in and out of hospital emergency rooms. We’re in and out of long-term care homes. This pandemic is playing out before our eyes, and for us there’s nothing abstract about it. I have colleagues with family members who are high-risk, and many of those paramedics are choosing to self-isolate from their own families. Some are living apart to avoid the risk of spreading infection to elderly parents or family members with auto-immune illnesses, for example. These are the kinds of things I hope people will think about when they’re tempted to go out when they know they shouldn’t.
Geneviève, you’re still working full-time as an Ottawa Public Health nurse while also taking care of three young kids at home. How is it going?
Geneviève: I work in the Healthy Growth and Development program, and half of our staff members have been redeployed due to COVID-19. Normally, my colleagues and I do home visits with people in need of support, like new moms, newcomers, and mothers and families living in shelters. Those in-home visits have been suspended since March 13.
For now, I’m following up with patients by phone or teleconference and also looking after our three young kids at home. Balancing these competing priorities is tough, I won’t lie! Some days are harder than others.
As a nurse and a mom, what’s your advice to parents who are struggling to balance work while also taking care of little ones or helping older kids stay on track with schoolwork?
Geneviève: Parents working at home with kids in the house are essentially working two full-time jobs simultaneously. I think the best thing people can do is temper their expectations and try not to pressure themselves and expect perfection.
I’m always telling my clients to take care of themselves. You can’t work or take care of others if you yourself aren’t well, and we have to realize that dealing with the stress is hard. We still don’t know how long stay-at-home orders will be in place, so my advice is to take it one day at a time. I know it’s hard, but try to carve out some time for self-care. Since this is always my advice to patients, I’m trying to walk the talk and take my own advice.
What does that look like?
Geneviève: For me, exercise is really important, so I try to maintain some kind of routine. Even if it’s just half-hour virtual fitness classes a few times a week, for example, I find it makes a big difference to my own mental health.
I also try to remember that if parents are stressed, the kids will feel it too. Instead of striving for perfection during this incredibly difficult time, I’m focusing on maintaining calm in the house.
What is it like interacting with clients through this experience?
Geneviève: There are people in Ottawa in survival mode right now. Whether it’s families needing access to the food bank or newcomers who are still looking for essentials for their homes, like mattresses, many are struggling with the basics of food and shelter. A lot of my work right now is helping to connect our most vulnerable residents with social services and working with women who have recently given birth.
Anecdotally, I’m noticing that many of the new moms I’m working with seem more grounded than almost anyone else right now! Still, we want to make sure moms are getting the support they need and not falling through the cracks in the midst of a pandemic. We even have a new phone line reserved for parents of babies zero to 12 months old.
Chris is in and out of hospital emergency rooms and your work normally involves home visits to families with newborns and people with underlying health issues. It would be hard to find a household that better exemplifies why these stay-at-home orders are in place!
Geneviève: That’s exactly right! We’re a good example of how lifting stay-at-home orders too soon could have really serious consequences in terms of community spread.
How have you been learning from one another’s experience in health care throughout this pandemic? What are those conversations like?
Chris: I love that after the kids go to bed the two of us can talk about our days and bounce ideas off one another. Genny can understand my work better than a lot of people ever could, and that’s something I’m grateful for right now more than ever.
Geneviève: By coincidence, Chris and I have actually been to the same residence on a number of occasions, since I’ve done follow-ups with clients whose households he’s been called to before.
We work in the same area of the city and our jobs take us to many of the same apartment complexes. The nature of our work within the health care system is of course totally different, but by comparing notes – of course always respecting confidentiality – we’re both gaining a deeper understanding of the community we serve and the broader social context of our work.
What does free time look like in the Mosher house?
Chris: Physical distancing isn’t easy in our neighbourhood, so we’ve been doing a lot of bike riding. It’s an easy way for us to all have fun and get some exercise without having to worry quite as much about our kids gravitating to other kids like little magnets!
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