“I don’t know if anyone could get through this on their own,” Registered Nurse Dan Gaughan tells the MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom.

As National Nursing Week comes to a close, it’s served as yet another opportunity for us to thank the medical professionals that have been on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s been really touching to see the public support,” he says while fighting back tears.

In August, Gaughan will celebrate a decade working at the Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, but this wasn’t always what he wanted to do. “When you stepped out the back door of my parents’ house you stepped into like 300 acres of forest,” he says. That’s why he ended up in the forestry industry for 15 years working in the bush in British Columbia, Washington State and Alberta. It was during his time in the latter province that he was offered a job for a “whole whack of money and good benefits” but instead of jumping at taking the job, it ended up as an “epiphany” that he wasn’t enjoying what he did. Before starting in the forestry industry, Gaughan spent time as a volunteer firefighter and did a handful of medical calls. “My dad had passed away and my mom was on her own and I knew as the years went on she would need more and more help,” he says. That was what inspired him to go to Trent University in 2008 to take its compressed nursing program. Once he finished, he started working in Huntsville and has been at the hospital ever since. 

“Instead of being out in the middle of nowhere by myself, I’m trapped in a building with a whole bunch of different people,” he jokes, adding he hasn’t regretted a single minute since switching careers.

For Emergency Room Nurse Laurel Patterson, she knew from a young age that this is what she wanted to do. “I was always super fascinated with the human body and how it functioned,” she says. Patterson is a trained professional now, but many years before she became a registered nurse, her friends looked to her for advice. “Even in my elementary days, I was always the go-to guru for medical injuries with my friends,” she says.

Patterson works at the South Muskoka Memorial Hospital and says the past year has made her prouder than ever to be a nurse because of how staff have united. “Not just the nurses, but all entities of healthcare combined,” she says. “It’s so essential to have good teamwork and communication with a common goal.”

She credits her colleagues with always being there to offer their support. “My colleagues have been amazing to open up with because they’re going through the same experiences as me,” Patterson says. “I’ve learned to not keep things to myself.”

Telemedicine Coordinator Kathy Todd agrees. “It can’t be pandemic 24/7,” she says.

Her journey to becoming a nurse was much like Patterson’s: she knew she wanted to do this from a young age. Her late mother dreamt of being a nurse but was never able to become one. “I think I carried a lot of that too,” she says. When she was 40, she went to nursing school and was very much the “mother hen” of the class. While fighting back tears she says it, “meant a lot” to be able to achieve her mom’s dream. 

“It’s an honour to do what I do every day,” Todd says. She has always been prideful of her job, but the COVID-19 pandemic has bumped that up tenfold. While the team around her is always there for support, she also credits the patients for helping her through the pandemic. “Perhaps they’re kind of vulnerable,” says of patients. “But they just open, and they trust us, and we’re able to support them at a time in their lives when it could be pretty frightening.”

“You take on a lot during your shifts, depending on what you’re doing,” Gaughan says. That sometimes makes it tough to keep yourself in a positive headspace but, thankfully for him, he’s lucky to live in a somewhat isolated area so when he’s stressed he’s able to just sit outside and relax after a shift. One thing he always tells himself is that, “my worst day at work is not as bad as my patient’s worst day,” and that helps him keep things in perspective. He says it also helps that he has great neighbours that, during the winter, always shovelled his walk and driveways so they were clear when he got home. 

Gaughan heaps praise on other essential workers like the ones working behind the register at grocery stores or the people delivering food across Canada. “Sure, hospitals and nurses and doctors are important, but we’re no good if there’s no food on the shelf or gas in the tank,” he says. 

“One thing that I repeatedly tell myself is that I’m doing the best I can,” Patterson says. While there are times when it’s been challenging to keep her head up, she says she’s made a point to take frequent walks. “It’s paramount to take care of yourself,” she says.

“I think we all try and look after ourselves and keep our minds positive,” Todd says. “We’re going to get through this.”