SaltWire's Ask a Journalist: You have questions, let's find some ...
What you need to know about COVID-19: June 3
The latest on Nova Scotia's mass shooting
Visit SaltWire.com for more of the stories you want.
The latest weather columns and browse beautiful photos from Cindy Day
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
NOW Atlantic: Smart thinking for a changing world
Two weeks ago Shelly McHugh was anxious, as any nurse would be, coming out of retirement in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
So, on her first day, she took the long way, around the Bedford Basin, from her home into the IWK Health Centre, as she always did when reflection was required.
“I didn’t know what I was going to be doing,” the 61-year-old told me Sunday.
All this woman, who graduated from nursing school in 1980, knew was that she would be contributing and helping, which was enough.
That’s why, two years after her retirement, she applied for and received a four-month conditional nursing licence.
That’s why, four days a week, she now leaves her Bedford home and heads back to the IWK, where her last full-time job was clinical director of the Perinatal Follow-up Centre.
Signing on, McHugh said yes when asked if she would be willing to go into the assessment unit and take swabs testing for the virus.
Instead, on the first day of first duty, she was deployed to the IWK’s occupational health arm, which oversees employee wellness at the region’s biggest pediatric hospital.
It’s not the front lines, she stresses.
McHugh emphasizes that she’s not doing the heavy-lifting like the nurses, doctors, cleaners, respiratory therapists and other staffers at the IWK, long-term care facilities and throughout the health-care system, along with everyone else going head-to-head with COVID-19.
“They’re the heroes,” she said.
But what she and three other retired nurses in the IWK’s occupational health department do — dealing with the health concerns of the hospital’s employees — is critical.
Experts tell us over and over again that if our health-care providers get ill, our ability to flatten the curve diminishes, and chances of our whole health-care system being overwhelmed by this plague increase.
“It’s like a great big puzzle,” said McHugh whose hobby is actually putting together huge, 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles. “And we’re all a piece in it.”
She seemed predestined for this moment.
Growing up in northern New Brunswick, she heeded the words of her miner father who said that he always wanted a nurse in the family.
Outside of a short stint in London, Ont., when her husband Ed was studying at the University of Western Ontario, she’s been a nurse in the Halifax area, almost all of it at the IWK, including nearly two decades in the neonatal intensive care unit.
When she retired two years ago it wasn’t to put her feet up.
McHugh’s nursing training came in handy during a grim run of family-related illness that included the death of her father-in-law, her own dad’s dementia and a sister-in-law’s cancer treatment.
Coming out of the other end of that she thought that maybe she’d take another nursing job, or perhaps try something new altogether.
“Then this came along,” she said.
All those years in the neonatal unit taught McHugh a thing or two about hand washing and wiping down high-risk surfaces.
Their workplace is cut off from the “working” part of the hospital. Social-distancing is practised in her office, which is down the hall from her occupational health managers. She and her colleagues, who are known as the “seasoned nurses” deals with health-related questions over the phone, rather than in person.
Nevertheless, entering in the door at home after work, McHugh takes off all her clothes and throws them in a laundry basket. Then she immediately heads for the shower.
Last Friday she had a bit of a scare, a sore throat that turned out to be nothing.
But she’s not going to lie: it’s tiring. She’s 61 and doing something she’s never done before.
The calls never seem to stop — hundreds, in seems, during every eight-hour shift — even if the tone of most of them is downright inspirational.
“They just want to know when they can get back to work,” she said.
McHugh will go where they need her.
Her area of expertise, neonatal, is limited. But to fight COVID-19. team nursing units are being struck which she could be a part of.
The likelihood of her joining the IWK’s assessment unit is probably pretty slim. “But you can learn pretty quickly how to take a swab,” she said.
By which she means that if she is needed there, well McHugh is fine with that too.