Damn that Groundhog Day!
A year ago, many mused that life was shamelessly imitating the alleged art of the Bill Murray flick of that name: we all woke up every morning to the same old tune of COVID-19 outbreaks and accompanying hospitalization, ICU and mortality numbers, followed by concerned briefings from our politicians and acrimonious debates on the merits of restrictions.
In his new Netflix special Comedy Monster, standup Jim Gaffigan sums up the pandemic that won’t quit: “2021 has been like a diaper … filling up over and over.”
This was the year many assumed that vaccinations would eradicate the pandemic, and that a semblance of joy and relief would return to our universe.
Not exactly. Yes, vaccination levels have been high in Quebec, but COVID variants still hold the upper hand. Just when we thought it was safe to go back to bars, cinemas, spas and, of course, schools, we learned … not so fast. We also learned a booster shot could minimize the impact of the Omicron variant . Swell, except it will take a while before much of the population can get that jab here.
On the bright side, we are fast becoming familiar with the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Omicron … what’s next in the variant cycle? Could be Pi, but I prefer Psi, appropriately pronounced “sigh.” At this rate, we may soon become Phi Beta Kappa level in Greek.
In a year marked by residential school horrors being uncovered, federal and municipal elections that changed little, ongoing racial profiling and police violence , the contentiousness of Bills 21 and 96 , a rash of femicides and gun violence , COVID was the story of the year once more.
And to think that up until around a month ago, it looked like we had beaten the COVID blues.
Case numbers were down, and we were able to partake in activities at bars, restos, theatres and gyms, like the good-ish old days. Festivals and crowds for sporting events were coming back. And who can forget the Habs lifting our spirits to exalted heights in making it to the Stanley Cup finals?
But just as the team’s on-ice performance — and their off-ice performance in the horribly ill-conceived drafting of Logan Mailloux — hit rock bottom this season, so have our frustrations with COVID on the comeback trail.
We’ve now been trying to cope with this cursed pandemic for nearly 22 months.
As the year stumbles to an end, restrictions on everything from bars to gyms to theatres have been put in place again. Dreams of 20-person holiday gatherings dwindled to 10, and then to six . And if Omicron numbers continue to rise, we could be looking at lockdowns and curfews.
Is it really the end of days?
It’s bad, but considering what our ancestors had to suffer with plagues and wars, it could be so much worse. We have Netflix, takeout and the internet. We have medicine. It might not be an immediate panacea, but it will certainly soften the blow, particularly if that medicine is made available all over the planet.
As hopeless as it may seem now, the situation is not as devastating as it was in 2020, when thousands of our seniors died due to the coronavirus at CHSLDs and other residences, and when there were no vaccines around.
And as hard as many have had it, think of what our front-line health-care workers have had to endure in the last 22 months: endless shifts and burnout, with the physical and mental duress of not just treating patients who have contracted COVID, but the concern of catching it themselves and bringing it home to their families. The reality of the latter happening could be heightened with Health Minister Christian Dubé’s announcement this week that, in light of labour shortages, some health-care workers who test positive for COVID will stay on the job .
“COVID seems like it’s just been never-ending,” nurse Lea Anne Hogan says. “Regardless, it’s always about the patients. I still truly feel it’s an honour to be a nurse.”
And we should all realize by now that nurses don’t enter their profession for the money or working conditions.
“Nearly two years since the start of COVID, we’re losing so much staff due to burnout, because it can be so draining,” Hogan says.
Hogan is an ER nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital. At the height of COVID chaos in the spring of 2020, she and 10 other St. Mary’s nurses volunteered at the infamous Résidence Herron — an experience she says was as “absolutely hellish” as any in her 25 years on the job.
“I’ll never be able to forget that for the rest of my life. It was just so disturbing what went on there.”
But Hogan feels that forcing COVID-positive nurses to work could prove to be a breaking point.
“I’m fearful this latest directive will be enough to drive many nurses away. Already exhausted, short-staffed, frustrated … this felt like a slap in the face for many of us,” says Hogan, who has been COVID-free to date, as has her partner, an ER doctor at St. Mary’s, and their five children.
Hogan relays a conversation with a therapist offering counsel to nurses at the hospital. “She said we were in a whole different group no one ever studied before: ‘You’ve lived a trauma. You’re still in trauma. You know there’s going to be more trauma. And you don’t see an end at any point.’
“Sad, but so true.”