Heroes at Work: Trauma & Neurosurgical ICU Nurse Takes on the COVID-19 Unit
calendar icon May 15th, 2020
Heroes at Work: Trauma & Neurosurgical ICU Nurse Takes on the COVID-19 Unit

Despite all the recent attention due to COVID-19 and National Nursing Week, it comes as no surprise that nurses and front line health care workers are true heroes of society. The truth is we rely on them 24/7, all 365 days of the year. When we meet nurses, we are ill, frightened and at our most vulnerable. We put our bodies and our wellbeing in their hands. We entrust a complete stranger with our health and safety.


Sarah Kreher is a perfect example of the type of dedicated, caring and compassionate nurse that we would want to see if we fell ill. Sarah works as a Registered Nurse in the Trauma and Neurosurgical ICU at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. 


Often exposed to patients of all ages with various neurovascular diseases, brain tumors and other types of traumas, Sarah has borne witness to heart-breaking and personally distressing patient stories. She is known to always go above and beyond in her care for them, providing much needed comfort, kindness, empathy and encouragement to help her patients feel at ease.


At the onset of the pandemic, her ICU was redirected to become a COVID-19 unit. Since that day, her daily practice has been constantly changing, sometimes on an hourly basis. “First, there was an air of fear and anxiety amongst coworkers, managers, patients and families. Tensions were high and there was uncertainty looming. Then there were the physical changes that had to happen to adapt to the anticipated influx of patients”, explains Sarah. This required moving several patients to different parts of the hospital, many of whom are unstable and on potent medications to support blood pressure, respirations, sedation, analgesic - not a simple feat. “Caring for patients in new, unknown settings was perhaps one of the most distressing parts of the COVID-19 changes.”


“At the start of the day, many of us arrive early to find out where we are being placed - COVID or Non-COVID - so that we could mentally and physically prepare.” Sarah describes nursing from the COVID-19 unit as alarming. Parts of the hospital that are normally bustling with activity are empty and quiet, and it is easy to feel unsettled and alone.


Yet, through it all, Sarah continues to show up, working hard in spite of being in a position of considerable risk. Despite the long shifts, exhausting hours, personal sacrifices and PPE requirements, you won’t see Sarah complaining about going to work. She understands that afflicted patients need to be taken care of and is grateful for the opportunity to do her part to help her community. With her warm smile and positive attitude, she leads by example to ensure patients are receiving the best possible care.


A perfect example of Sarah’s dedication comes from a recent story involving a dying patient. While the patient’s family wanted to withdraw care, in-person contact is not an option during the COVID-19 pandemic. The patient was going to be an organ donor, which is very demanding from a nursing perspective to get all of the bloodwork, gases and electrolytes within a certain range. Many small titrations are required along with frequent tests. The patient’s daughter called the night before to ask if someone could hold an iPad up so she could say goodbye to her mother, but was told it couldn’t be done. Sarah advocated for the patient and her family, and arranged with the other healthcare professionals to delay the withdrawal so that the patient's daughter could speak to her one last time. Sarah called her daughter that morning and held the iPad up for 40 minutes while she said her goodbyes.


“The most rewarding part of my job is being able to be present with patients and families during what is often the worst part of their life – you get a brief, intimate window into someone's life. To know that through your critical thinking, problem solving and team work, you can improve the outcome for a patient and family, is incredibly rewarding. Working in a Trauma and Neurosurgical ICU, there are many stories of tragedy. It is a humbling experience to be part of a family's suffering and to be able to offer them comfort when the outcome is poor, but also to celebrate small improvements when the healthcare team's efforts are successful”, Sarah shares. 


The scope of a nurse’s work is far more than can be explained in a simple job description. Nurses like Sarah are the caring hands that heal and the heartbeat of our healthcare system. Thank you, Sarah, for being an inspiration to us all and a true Hero at Work. 


As we can all appreciate, it’s important to spread positivity and share good news stories during times of crisis. Focusing on the positive and celebrating successes, no matter how small, helps us come together (at a safe distance!) to navigate difficult times as a community. We know Ontario’s workers and organizations are out there doing amazing things. This is why we’re recognizing some of them as our weekly Hero at Work. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured, please contact aallan@pshsa.ca.  

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