Dr. Amber Galbraith and her fellow anesthesiologists at Vancouver General Hospital must insert breathing tubes down the airways of many of B.C.’s most ill COVID-19 patients, a complex medical procedure that often leaves them covered in spittle that carries the contagious virus.
“It puts us at the most risk of contamination, since we are inches away from the airway and we are generating aerosols (droplets in the air). We are doing our best with PPE, which is different layers that we put on our bodies to try to protect our skin from getting the virus spread onto it,” Galbraith said.
“But despite our best efforts we will still have contamination on our bodies when we are done this procedure.”
To try to avoid becoming infected, VGH anesthesiologists shower after each intubation of a COVID-19 patient, but as a result shampoo and soap were quickly running out in the hospital’s bathrooms. Galbraith made one phone call, to pharmacist Henry Huang who owns a Shoppers Drug Mart on Main Street in Vancouver, and that very same day was given two giant boxes of shampoo, conditioner and body wash for the staff.
Galbraith is very grateful to Huang, who she describes as routinely philanthropic. “It is so nice to know that we have the support from our community, helping to take care of front-line workers. It really goes a long way.”
Free meals have also been sent to VGH, she said, which has been invaluable for some of her colleagues.
“I know that a lot of us are spending many more hours in the hospital than we normally do and some of us are isolating ourselves from our families, depending on our risk exposures. So for some people it is very, very important and it is definitely appreciated.”
After Galbraith contacted Postmedia to praise Huang’s pharmacy for its donation, we wondered what was happening at other Metro Vancouver hospitals. It turns out that in addition to banging pots at 7 p.m. to show their appreciation and donating much-needed medical supplies, Metro Vancouver residents have shown their gratitude for health workers during the COVID-19 crisis with many other acts of kindness.
New toothbrushes, 300 pairs of SAXX underwear, bouquets of flowers, boxes of Girl Guide cookies, and La-Z-Boy chairs for staff lounges are among the items that have shown up at various hospitals.
The recipients — including medical workers, janitors, laundry staff and security guards — say the generosity has helped them through difficult days.
“It really makes coming to work feel just a little bit easier,” said Spencer Driedger, a neonatal intensive care nurse at Lions Gate Hospital.
“Every health-care worker has different stresses at home, like they are nervous of taking the virus home or they are under financial stress, so coming to work and having that extra support from the community, it means so much.”
Driedger is in awe of the many local businesses that sent donations despite struggling financially due to COVID-19. And she said the 7 p.m. cheering is so important to her, especially on days when she is down.“There’s been highs and lows. Some days I’m really optimistic and feel the energy from the community. And then there are other days when I’m getting into that spiral of fear,” she said.“But the 7 p.m. cheer is a moment I look forward to each and every day. It’s such a powerful moment and I’ve seen so many health-care workers brought to tears. It is profoundly moving to experience all these people standing there cheering for you and showing their gratitude.”
One touching example of community support at Driedger’s hospital is the thoughtfulness of nine-year-old Bear Yeung, who decided just over a week ago to spend his life savings of $70 on electrolyte drinks and healthy granola bars for the medical staff. His parents pitched in some more money, and the next day he delivered a large shipment of snacks to the North Vancouver hospital.
“I kept on thinking about how much the doctors are fighting to save lives, so they need some energy,” said Bear, a Grade 4 student at West Vancouver’s Collingwood school.
But when his parents explained the pandemic would go on indefinitely, Bear decided to expand his charity work. In just four days, he raised $4,000 after contacting his father’s friends, phoning the CEOs of companies such as MadeGood organic bars, and through a GoFundMe page.He spoke directly to the hospital foundation to find out what snacks were most wanted by the staff, and delivered a second shipment on Wednesday. And the young boy, who has donated to the hospital even before the COVID crisis, plans to keep going. “It’s just like a war. It’s not like one day and you are done. No. It is continuous,” Bear said.
Bear is proof that there is “no age barrier” to who can donate, said Judy Savage, president of the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation. “It’s just so heartwarming to see how everybody is trying to do their little bit to help,” she said. “People who are donating cash, it’s $5, $10, all the way up to $100,000.”On the North Shore, some school PACs (parent advisory councils) donated the masks and gloves from their emergency earthquake preparedness kits. The hospital received baby monitors to help people in isolation communicate. The Sleep Shop sent five mattresses, duvets and pillows so a hospital boardroom could be turned into a makeshift bedroom for workers to nap.
And the Djavad Mowafaghian Foundation has offered to pay for hotel rooms for anyone at the hospital who works directly with COVID-19 patients and can’t go home. “Some of them are isolated from their families. They have older parents at home, or they have children, and they don’t want to risk — if they are carrying the virus — spreading it to their families,” Savage explained.“(This generosity) is transformational for them. I think it makes a huge difference. They are putting their lives on the line, and to know the community is behind them in this way is very, very meaningful.”
Lions Gate also received 5,000 N95 masks from Best Buy, but is still looking for more as no one knows how long the pandemic will last. “We are preparing for the worst, and every single hospital is grappling to get these supplies,” Savage said.
She also hopes that this flurry of feel-good donations will carry on, and not wane. The Lions Gate Foundation, like most others in B.C., has strict rules about how donations, especially food, can be prepared and dropped off, so donors should reach out first through the agency’s website.
Two people who are increasing, not decreasing, their plans to support hospitals are Christoph Barrow and Michael Tran, the owners of Pacific Poke restaurants, who created the Feed the Frontline movement. They have raised more than $68,000 in just two weeks through a GoFundMe page, and have used the money to pay about a dozen financially stressed local restaurants to cook meals for workers at 14 health-care sites in Metro Vancouver.
Barrow says health workers are extremely grateful for yummy nourishment at such a difficult time. “They are scared. I’ve talked to some doctors and nurses who are living in their garages because they don’t want to contaminate their families. So we want to make sure they are fed and don’t have to worry about food.” Feed the Frontline has grown so that now roughly 250 meals per day are being delivered, and Barrow believes two dozen restaurants could soon be involved if donations from the public continue — a financial lifeline for both this initiative and for the struggling restaurants, too.
Ten volunteer drivers deliver the meals — and eight of them are nurses who help out when they are off-shift from the hospitals. Barrow didn’t ask them, but they insisted. “They say we love your program, and we get the meals in the hospitals, so we want to help on the other end.”
One VGH nurse told Barrow her co-workers are so grateful for Feed the Frontline, and also grateful to have a paycheque at a time when unemployment is so high, that they are making food-bank donations whenever they receive a free meal. “And St. Paul’s is setting up a similar program as well,” Barrow said. “That is absolutely amazing that the whole community is coming together, and when something good is happening to them they are helping someone else.” On Thursday, the B.C. Nurses’ Union said it had donated $10,000 to Food Banks BC because “nurses are grateful for the support they’ve received during the pandemic.”
At the Ridge Meadows Hospital Foundation, development officer Deanna Lackey is keeping a spreadsheet to ensure the flood of donations is being equally distributed among hospital staff. During an interview this week, 100 burritos had just arrived in individually wrapped containers that must be wiped down before being distributed to the staff.
“That is what is keeping them motivated, knowing that they are truly appreciated,” she said.
Telus donated 40 litres of hand sanitizer. The Maple Meadows Brewing Company has dedicated proceeds from the sales of a popular beer to the hospital foundation. Local restaurants are asking customers if they want to add one more meal to their takeout order so it can be sent to the hospital. Someone planted a giant “Heroes Work Here” sign in front of the Maple Ridge hospital.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this before,” Lackey said “People want to say thank you and do something to help.”
When asked what else the public can do to help hospital workers, Galbraith, the VGH anesthesiologist, said the most important thing is to stay home.
“We are doing our best in the hospitals to make sure that our staff members are protected with PPE and have the capacity to do things like shower after aerosol-generating procedures,” she said.
“But my biggest request for people in the community to help is to stay home and limit the transmission of this disease.”