The Virus Arrives: A Shocking Lack of Preparedness

Last week, I went to ambulatory care to get my access to my port changed. I often do it at home, but I go there once a month to pick up supplies and have a nurse change it, have a look at it. (Apparently they want me to come in every week now- which is a huge waste of time- a topic for another day). This ambulatory care clinic has community health nurses. It’s a ‘base’ for those who go out to patients who require care at home, as well as a space to do things like dressing changes, port access, etc. These are the front line workers. They’re working with a population at the highest risk for COVID-19. The nurses go from house to house or patient to patient, and are a well known epidemiological challenge- they carry viruses around with them. They had no pandemic plan. This was mid last week, as the number of cases in the US is ballooning, and a care home in Washington State (just over the border) was finally realizing that their patients and staff had COVID-19. I asked the nurse, and later the office manager in ambulatory care what their plan was in case the virus got here, would that affect their services? Both of them looked at me like I had three heads. I was dumbfounded. Um… by this point I had ordered extra saline and other medical supplies, made sure I had Tylenol and decongestants on hand, got bleach, extra paper towels, etc. in case we had to treat ourselves and/or quarantine, etc. We did a large stock up grocery shop- things like flour and frozen dinners. But Ambulatory Care hadn’t even thought of it!?! What the hell? I was stunned. If anybody should have a pandemic plan it’s this office. I feel awful for the nurses, they’re being put at risk, and they don’t even know it.

And then yesterday, I learned something that stunned me even more. I don’t have all the details yet (it’s only been reported in the local news so far, and the details don’t all match), but the first case of community acquired COVID-19 in British Columbia has now been confirmed.  In a nurse, in North Vancouver. At a care home less than five minutes from my house. Two patients are also confirmed as having it. The authorities waited for confirmation for all three, before releasing the information. The nurse has been sick for well over a week. It’s one thing to not tell the public at large. But they didn’t tell the patients or visitors to the care home until it was released publicly yesterday (Saturday). As of last Wednesday,  they hadn’t told the community health nurses that serve in North Vancouver.

We know better!! In these situations, governments speak of not creating panic. By far the most panic inducing thing is a lack of information. This should have been released to the public they moment it was suspected. How many others in the care home will die because they didn’t tell the residents, staff, or community? For heaven’s sake, North Vancouver has a large and strong Persian population… As soon as I had heard that COVID-19 was hitting Iran I thought ‘I bet it will right here sooner than later’. About two weeks ago we saw a Persian gentleman at our local lab. He was coughing up a storm. I moved my daughter and myself away from him, and we were vigilant about hand washing. Canadians are too damned polite (self included). Nobody told him to put on a mask, even though there were plenty of signs that instructed people to do so if they had any cold symptoms. 
My son has a band trip to California leaving on Wednesday, it hasn’t been cancelled. It’s a tricky decision whether or not to allow him to go. My instinct is to keep him home. But realistically, he’s as likely to get it at school as he would travelling. We are all going to be exposed eventually… If he were to get the virus along the way, he’d be home before he got sick (they’ll only be gone for 5 days). Except now I’m thinking that he could already have been exposed. If he develops symptoms he’ll end up being stuck down there, and the thought of my child being sick when so far away makes my mommy instinct scream. 
On a personal level, I’m really not worried. I seem to be able to burn through viruses with an uncanny speed. [This is a weird mastie thing that some of us have, we get the virus, but run through the symptoms within 24 hours. I haven’t gotten sick for longer than a day from a virus in 8 years,]. My hubby and I are in our late 40’s, and he’s prone to upper respiratory infections. He’s probably the highest risk in our household, but I think we will be fine. 

As a community, we have to figure this out. This isn’t just about the individual- maybe my family will be fine, but those fantastic nurses don’t have the tools (awareness, a plan, additional support, etc) they need. This is going to affect us all, directly. The more we can do to slow this virus down, to care for each other, to focus on our health rather than our wallets, the better we will weather this.

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