Fri | Dec 3, 2021

Pregnant on the COVID front line

Nurse, doc recall fears; vaccines bring hope for end to pandemic

Published:Friday | March 12, 2021 | 12:13 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
A public health nurse prepares to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to Registered Nurse Shauna Callum-Lindsay at the University Hospital of the West Indies in St Andrew yesterday. Callum-Lindsay said the virus had caused her to be fearful working while pr
A public health nurse prepares to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to Registered Nurse Shauna Callum-Lindsay at the University Hospital of the West Indies in St Andrew yesterday. Callum-Lindsay said the virus had caused her to be fearful working while pregnant last year.

Nurse Shauna Callum-Lindsay and Doctor Sandra Doe*, both healthcare workers at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), have experienced both joy and fear in the past year as expectant mothers on the COVID-19 front lines. Thirty-nine-...

Nurse Shauna Callum-Lindsay and Doctor Sandra Doe*, both healthcare workers at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), have experienced both joy and fear in the past year as expectant mothers on the COVID-19 front lines.

Thirty-nine-year-old Callum-Lindsay has been a nurse for 13 years, and in March 2020, when Jamaica confirmed its first imported case of SARS-Cov-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, she was more than halfway through her pregnancy.

“My biggest fear was the pregnancy. We didn’t have much information about COVID. I was thinking about what if I contract the disease and the effects on the baby,” the nurse recounted.

She was working in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and was reassigned to another ward as a precaution before she proceeded on maternity leave in May.

“Once I had the baby, I got back to work in September because this is what I do for a living. The fear subsided for a little, and then when I saw the [infection] numbers rising, the fear became taking it (the virus) home to my kids and my husband,” Callum-Lindsay recalled.

The prayers of her family and encouragement from her co-workers helped her to cope during the difficult months.

She longs to travel to her birth parish, St Elizabeth, to see her grandmother face to face and is yearning for the opportunity to have her nine-month-old explore Jamaica without anxiety.

Once her immediate family is duly vaccinated, their first trip will be to Dunn’s River Falls in St Ann, a favourite of her older child.

“I miss hugging my friends, just a simple hug. I miss that so much,” she said.

Doe, a doctor of 12 years, told The Gleaner that the 24-hour shifts have been “long and tedious”.

Added to that, staff shortages meant that she was constantly at work.

“I work in the ICU, so COVID has been very, very stressful on us as a department. Initially, we weren’t seeing any family. We sent them away and we were by ourselves. So the coping mechanisms that we had were just within the department,” she recalled.

As more information became available about how best to protect herself, she reunited with her immediate family.

Protocols were implemented at home, including undressing and showering before making contact with family members.

“My family feared for me every day, and I worried about little things like a sniffle. I have done three COVID tests and I’m not looking forward to doing any more, honestly,” she said.

She was transferred from the COVID ICU to the general ICU as her pregnancy progressed.

The main reason was that it required donning a lot of personal protective equipment, and by that time, she was having difficulty moving quickly and was becoming dehydrated much faster.

Even on the non-COVID side of the ICU, she dealt with patients who were no longer positive but were still in need of care.

“This is a time that we have had to deal with death moreso than any other time. Sometimes it got demotivating when you’re trying to do all you know you can do and nothing is helping,” the doctor said in a sombre tone.

She waits impatiently for the time the general population will be inoculated so that she can usher her family to get vaccinated.

“We have been living in a bubble, so once we are all vaccinated, we can expand that,” she said with a chuckle.

In May and December, respectively, the mothers cradled their young babies and even as cases spiked, they returned to the front line.

Callum-Lindsay had mixed emotions when she first heard about the vaccine, but after doing much research, she decided that she would take it once it became available in Jamaica.

Yesterday, they were among the more than 150 medical staff who received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. On the first day of vaccination, Wednesday, 250 people were scheduled to be vaccinated at the UHWI but the day ended with 273.

UHWI Chief of Staff Dr Carl Bruce said that the only challenge in the vaccination process thus far has been the rain as four of the observation areas are outdoor gazebos.

“We have a total of about 5,000 people in the university community. We have student nurses and student doctors who go on the wards,and we have to take care of them,” he said.

Bruce added that they have started with the accident and emergency unit, the three COVID wards, the medical ICU, surgeons who work in the COVID operating theatre, and radiologists who conduct diagnostic exams on COVID patients.

Nurses, porters and security guards who work in the aforementioned areas will also be vaccinated at the same time.

“We are seeing people take up the appointments ... . I believe most staff want this protection. They have battled with this disease for a year – year to the date. I feel they welcome the break, and we feel that this is the beginning of the end,” Bruce said.

*Name changed.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com