‘If we die, there is nobody left to take care of you’: Nurse makes moving video about PPE shortage

A London, Ont. nurse made an emotional plea for better equipment in the hopes she won’t contract COVID-19 and leave her children without their mum.

Sitting in the driver’s seat of her car before starting a night shift Thursday at the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), Stacey Brown set her phone on the dashboard and pressed play.

What follows is a raw look at how one front-line health care worker is feeling as personal protective equipment (PPE) is running low and the number of COVID-19 cases rises. 

Brown had just learned from her nurses’ union that the hospital where she works only had five days left of surgical masks and less than two weeks worth of N95 masks. 

“When I go in, I will be given my ration of masks for my shift,” she explains, which is currently two at LHSC for a 12-hour shift.

“I can choose to take a Tupperware container to put over my face to remove the mask .. so I can have a break. When I come back, I can put that dirty mask back on.” 

Stacey Brown wears an assortment of homemade PPE, including a mask with a vacuum cleaner Hepa filter inside. Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the effectiveness of homemade PPE has not been proven. (Submitted)

Between tears, she explains that she has talked to her kids about her end-of-life wishes. 

“I have spoken with a doctor who has agreed to guide my children through any ICU stay. And he will let them know when it’s time to let me go,” she cries. 

She says the health of frontline hospital workers will be key in determining how Ontario fares, with cases expected to spike and possibly overwhelm hospital emergency rooms and intensive care units in the coming weeks.

Her warning comes the same day the Ontario government released modelling projections that show COVID-19 could kill 3,000 to 15,000 people in the province.

“We are not safe,” Brown says in her video. “If we become quarantined, if we become sick, if we die, there is nobody left to take care of you. 

“I shouldn’t have to be saying goodbye to my kids, and wonder if I’m going to be exposed to something and not be able to see them.– Stacey Brown, Nurse

Brown goes on to describe the homemade PPE she’s been given from her family and community members, putting each piece on in sequence. 

There’s a cap with buttons sewn on the sides — a place to attach the elastics from the masks — so ears don’t get rubbed raw.

Brown shows off a handmade mask with an insert slot. She opens a package of Hepa filters, meant for a vacuum cleaner, and slides it inside the insert. 

Some nurses at Brown’s London hospital have refused to work shifts because of a shortage of PPE. Brown signs off from her video saying she is going to work her shift, despite her fears.

“I shouldn’t have to be saying goodbye to my kids and wonder if I’m going to be exposed to something and not be able to see them. Or wonder if they’re going to have a mum at the end of this.”

Brown is asking everyone to lobby government to get more PPE to hospitals. She also begs people to do their part to flatten the curve. 

“We’re not even close to how bad it’s going to get.” 

Hospitals respond

In response to multiple media requests for comment about the PPE situation, LHCS and St. Joseph’s Health care, which operates St. Joseph’s Hospital, issued a joint statement. 

In it, they said the PPE numbers shared with the nurses union provide only a “snapshot” of “a complex and rapidly changing supply chain.”

The statement also said new rules about how staff use PPE are not meant to deny workers the masks, gowns and other safety equipment they need.  Instead, they say it’s about making the most of a limited supply.

“They are designed to ensure the appropriate PPE is used to safely perform a patient care task while allowing hospitals to maximize the length of time the current supply levels will support patient and provider needs,” it said.

“While we are asking our care providers to be responsible with PPE use, contrary to what has been publicly stated by some, we are not asking people to go without and we will not have staff or physicians working without proper PPE.”

While the statement admits the number of crucial supplies on hand is “concerning,” the statement said “it does not mean the hospitals will actually run out of stock at that time, but rather indicates an area of concern for our procurement partners.”

“There are supply pipelines and fail-safes in place to ensure that all Ontario hospitals are able to access PPE.”

You can read the full statement from LHSC and St. Joseph’s Health care here, or below:

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