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COVID-19: Front line workers remind us we all play a part in keeping virus at bay

Long-term care facility nurse Christine Mack says the virus would be “devastating” for her patients
Mack, a single mother of five children, is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (photo submitted)

When Christine Mack was in nursing school an instructor told her, “If you think you can’t, you’re right, and if you think you can, you’re right.” That phrase has stuck with her ever since and throughout it all she has believed it. “I’ve had to sacrifice so much,” Mack shared. “But I was so determined to do it that I didn’t give up.”

Now employed at a Kamloops long-term care facility, Mack spends her days on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight and says she feels humbled by the experience every day.

“It is very serious,” Mack said. “It’s way worse than a flu or a cold. When the seasonal flu hits we often lose up to a dozen residents — if this hit it could be fatal for a lot of these people.”

Mack said her facility has ramped up its screening, cleaning, and overall precautions to extreme levels. Every day she arrives for work her temperature is taken, she is outfitted with a mask, goggles, and gloves and she has to change out of her clothes. House cleaning staff, whom she says do not get enough recognition, are working constantly to keep the facility clean. Upon finishing her shift she is screened again and when she arrives home she doesn’t bring anything inside with her and heads for the shower immediately.

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“All of us working out there are terrified of bringing this home to our own families,” she said. “That still weighs on my mind every day.”

It’s a lot of added pressure in a position that is already stressful, but someone like Mack seems uniquely suited to the job. A single mother of five children, Mack has worked in health care for almost 20 years, and has managed to accomplish some extraordinary things despite the demands of her day-to-day life.

“I started off as a care aide in 2002 and I worked alongside a registered nurse (RN) on most of my shifts,” she recalls. “I knew that I wanted to be a nurse. I had four young children under the age of four when I enrolled in the Licensed Practical Nursing program at Sprott Shaw College in 2008; I remember I didn’t sleep much that year!”

Mack said that she would get up at 3 a.m. to study so that she would be ready to help her children get ready for school once they woke up. Then she’d get her younger two off to a babysitter before heading to campus for a full day of classes.

“It was hard but I was so determined to do it,” she shared.

After graduating in 2009 Mack began working at the same long-term care facility she is at now, and she considers herself part of a family.

“I have known many of these residents and staff for 11 years and I care about them deeply,” she said. “We are all there for each other every day and taking care of one another, especially during this pandemic.”

In addition to all of this Mack is currently studying to become a registered nurse, another four years of university, before pursuing her final goal to become a nurse practitioner. She enrolled at TRU last September and describes the experience akin to jumping off a cliff.

“I was scared to do it — I have five kids now and I’ve supported myself financially through it all — but my mom encouraged me, she said ‘just do it afraid,’” Mack shared. “So I did, I just enrolled and even though my life is crazy it’s what I want to be doing.”

Another determining factor for Mack was the experience she had with her oldest son, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 15. Having to navigate the complicated mental health care system, advocate for her son, and be his voice when he couldn’t be, inspired her even more to pursue her goals.

“What I went through with my son was extremely difficult,” Mack said. “I had to navigate the mental health system and realized how much help they need in this field; that was the moment I decided that I was going to work in mental health and be a voice for them and be their advocate.”

Challenges are something Mack faces every day, both as a mother and a health care worker, and she understands how vigilant we all need to be in order to keep this virus at bay.

Read More: COVID-19 deaths in Canada top 1,000, even as health officials say new cases are slowing

“Sometimes I think people don’t realize that hospitals are already at capacity; they can’t deal with an influx of very ill people,” she said. “We all need to take this very seriously and that’s why social distancing and staying home as much as possible is so important right now.

“I feel like if this was reversed and our parents or grandparents were asked to stay home for us they would do it in a second; we need to remember that.”

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Christine Mack works as a care aide in Kamloops. (Photo submitted)