For those of you who I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting, my name is Kaytlin Ginter and I work as an Emergency Nurse at the Foothills Medical Centre as well as in the Alberta Children’s Hospital Emergency Department. My husband and I moved from Saskatoon to Calgary 2 years ago for him to start his pediatric residency training at the U of C. Like most Calgarian’s, we’ve enjoyed being closer to the mountains and the city’s ice cream scene.
I recently had the opportunity to work in a Covid-19 specific Respiratory Care Unit set up in Cremona, Italy with Samaritan’s Purse (SP). When they first announced that they would be deploying a field hospital to help lift the burden on Italy’s health care system I was eager to help. At the time it was mid-March, and we had all been watching the Covid-19 cases continue to rise and grow into this pandemic. Both the FMC ED and ACH ED had slowed down significantly due to the virus and the restrictions and changes being put into place. So, while knowing that home was under control, I felt that I would go to where the need was the greatest.
I arrived in Cremona on April 2, 2020 and jumped right into working 12 hour night shifts, starting in the ICU with the plan that I would help give nursing staff a night off to rest since they had been working nights for 2, going on 3 weeks straight with no breaks. After a week of nights, I flipped back to days to do the same for the day staff and then eventually floated between supporting the wards and the ICU. The work was heavy and hard particularly for the first 2-3 weeks of my deployment, the hospital was full and there were a lot of really sick patients. But one thing that stood out was the feeling of the Hospital during that chaotic time. You could feel the Lord moving through it and through all the staff. The hospital was so obviously covered by prayer and there was a sense of joy and peace despite the chaos. Even though staff worked long days and days off were kinda scarce, I felt the Lord renewing my spirit and strength every day. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” I’ve worked long stretches of shifts back home before and gotten terribly sick at the end, being completely worn out physically and emotionally. However, this time even though I was tired I was nowhere near burnt out like I had previously experienced, and I owe it all to relying on the Lord’s strength instead of my own, and being supported by an incredible community of prayer.
I feel incredibly blessed and honoured that I was able to go and serve the city of Cremona with my skills as a nurse and be a part of the Samaritan’s Purse’s response team. I learnt a lot clinically and spiritually. Probably the heaviest lesson I learned during my 5 week deployment was one of compassion. In my last couple weeks, I helped to take care of a gentleman who was very sick and unfortunately ended up passing away. During my time caring for him I had felt the Lord pull on my heart to pray with him, which always seemed to help calm his anxiety, and once I found out that he was Catholic I said the Lord’s Prayer with him multiple times. We were able to help him to speak with his daughter over the phone frequently, and when it became clear that he was not improving he verbalized his goals of care, which his daughter also agreed to and confirmed – that he did not want to be intubated and wanted to be made as comfortable as possible.
Due to the high risk of transmission of Covid-19, family members aren’t able to be at their loved one’s bedside, even at the end of life. We did our best for all of our palliative patients to stand in for their loved ones, to hold their hands, play their favourite music, and reassure them that they are not alone. As I sat beside this particular patient and held his hand I found myself more emotional and overwhelmed by grief than I had been with patients prior. I am not a stranger to caring for people and their families at the end of their life, however, this time it felt personal and very heavy. I found myself trying to stand in his daughter’s shoes as best I could, to love him, comfort him on her behalf, and grieve with them. And I had a realization when I asked myself why this time it felt so much heavier on my heart, that I was reminded of a sermon I had heard at VBC back in February about compassion. How it literally means to ‘suffer with someone’. And that I had been praying for the Lord to give me a heart like His, one of compassion, and that He would break my heart for what breaks His. And I found myself suffering a fraction of what this family was going through during this grievous time. The same that I would if it was my own father. And it was really hard and uncomfortable, but I am so honoured that I could be the nurse for that family in such a difficult moment. I hope that I was able to comfort and love that man a fraction of what his daughter would have poured over him in that moment.
Since arriving home on May 8th, and being in quarantine, I’ve had some time to reflect on that day. It still feels heavy and I will occasionally find myself grieving for that family and others that went through similar things due to Covid-19. But I don’t regret opening my heart to those emotions, and it didn’t stop me from caring for other patients who also needed my focus that day. Working in health care, and especially in the ED, it can become easy and maybe feel safer to put up walls around your heart and become hardened to those situations. I’m still learning that balance, but I don’t think being compassionate will ever be a weakness.
I am so thankful for how the Lord continues to shape my heart towards His and was reminded that the Lord is truly near the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18). There were multiple times in this deployment when I found myself begging the Lord for healing, peace, and comfort. And when it’s hard to understand what good could possibly come from so much hurt, I’m reminded that the Lord has a heart full of compassion. That even in these difficult times filled with loss and suffering, know that the Lord is compassionate towards us. He stood in for us, came from heaven to stand in our place and suffered through this world with us. And then He conquered death for us.
Below are 2 pictures, one is of me in full PPE (personal protective equipment) just before I’m about the enter the hot zone. PPE included 2 layers of gloves, rubber boots, a yellow gown, a hair covering, and either a face shield or goggles.
Also below, a picture of myself and my husband, Dylan. Since we still haven’t had a chance to meet a lot of the congregation.
And just for fun, here is a video from Samaritan’s Purse that gives some more background and context into the work that we were doing there.