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COVID reflections from a frontline worker

February 2022

BY ANNA GAUTHIER
Reprinted with permission from the Brandon Sun

In the past two years, change has been a frequent occurrence. Our health-care system has had to adapt at all levels to manage in the face of the COVID pandemic.

Dr. Jillian DeCosse, a 2002 Neelin grad who worked on the front lines during the first few waves of the pandemic and is now on maternity leave, shared her perspective on events. As an emergency room doctor, she has had first hand experiences of dealing with the management of this virus.

DeCosse went into medicine after being encouraged by many of her high school teachers to pursue medicine in light of her overlapping interests in science and interpersonal relations. After graduating from Brandon University and then McMaster University medical school, she worked in Dauphin as a family doctor. In Dauphin, she often spent time working in the emergency room. After she finished her residency in Dauphin, she had the opportunity to work in the emergency department in Brandon and took the chance.

When asked about her feelings on treating patients in early 2020 before we had much information on COVID, DeCosse described it as a whirlwind and a time of uncertainty.

“It was like a massive insurmountable learning curve in a way,” she said.

DeCosse recalled countless protocol changes, webinars,emails and preparations. She says that the big thing she and her colleagues were wondering was, “When is COVID going to hit us and how will we manage it?” What made working through constant change easier for her was the support from her team around her, the ability to try to communicate with her colleagues through the uncertainty to help ease her mind, and the appreciation for health-careworkers that was prevalent at the time.

There were many protocol changes affecting her work in the ER. She described these changes as “ever-evolving.” She had to stay on top of provincial recommendations on who should be treated as a suspected case and who should be put where to ensure there was separation between the patients who might have COVID and who were there for unrelated reasons. She also had to work to support the heightened number of patients coming into the ER with mental health crises during the pandemic.

DeCosse had many obstacles to face in her work during this pandemic. She risked exposure to treat the people who needed her help, and though she received much support in the early days of the pandemic, the praise for health-care workers died out quickly. The support even turned to animosity in some cases, forcing our federal government to enact new legislation that makes harassing health-care workers illegal. On the subject of this new legislation, DeCosse said: “As a human,it just feels wrong that we actually need to legislate people to treat each other with respect.”

Although vaccine-related restrictions have led to an increased amount of divide among the population and mistrust for doctors, DeCosse nevertheless describes herself as “100 per cent pro-vaccination.”

She feels discouraged by the competing messaging on that front and wishes that the approach to this pandemic had been unified and cohesive from the beginning. Misinformation is the prime reason that she states for why people remain unvaccinated. She expresses how unfortunate the weight of this misinformation has had on the population and her compassion for those who have fallen prey to it.

We have all been taught something or other through this pandemic. Working through such stressful situations, though taxing, has taught DeCosse how important it is to have a team to support you, which is especially important for an ER doctor such as herself. She hopes to teach others the right information on COVID and the vaccine through supporting the voice of those sharing the right information, and having some open discussion with people who want to learn.

Anna Gauthier is a Grade 9 student at École secondaire Neelin High School.

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Pictured: Dr. Jillian DeCosse