Forced to pick a side, this Canadian nurse decided to fight COVID-19 in the U.S.

Nurse Nikki Hillis-Walters usually works two jobs — one at home in Windsor, Ont., and the other at a hospital just outside Detroit.

But now she and dozens of other health-care workers from Windsor have been forced to choose which side of the border to work on.

That’s because Ontario hospitals don’t want staff bringing COVID-19 across the border and into the workplace.

There are 18,970 confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease in Michigan as of Tuesday, according to the state government. That’s nearly as much as Canada’s nationwide total of 19,183.

Despite the risks, Hillis-Walters chose her job at Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe, Mich. She told As It Happens host Carol Off why. Here’s part of their conversation.

Of your two jobs, you chose the more stressful and possibly riskier one in Michigan. Why is that?

It’s the nursy feeling that you kind of need to go to that call to action.

I didn’t want to let them down by being even shorter [staffed] than everyone already is. I was feeling good, and I am feeling good. And my job in Canada was easily covered by one of the other staff members. So that was why I chose that.

It was the “nursy” thing to do, you said.

Yeah. [laughs]

So what has your work been like in the ICU in [Beaumont] Hospital?

The actual, I would, say census of the hospital is a bit lower than it normally is, but it seems a lot busier than it has in the past just because the patient population is pretty sick.

We’re taking so many extra precautions with each patient [that] it takes a little bit more time and and thought than maybe normal.

So we’re learning a lot as we go.

And are they pretty grateful to you and, I guess, other Canadians who decided that they’re going to stick with those hospitals in Michigan? We’ve spoken with people there who say that they desperately need help like yours.

Oh, the community support has been just so heartwarming.

I was tearing up on my way into work my last shift because the local police and a couple of our local neighbours got in their cars and kind of did a parade around the hospital, just cheering and, you know, saying thank you.

They’re always sending food and cards and things like that to us. Even people who have had family members that have passed away have sent us thank-you letters saying that they appreciated that we were with their loved one when they couldn’t be.

There was a pretty tense moment last week … when [U.S.] President [Donald] Trump threatened to stop shipments of face masks to Canada, and Prime Minister Trudeau said: Well, look, we have a lot of health-care workers crossing the border. Maybe that won’t happen anymore. It was … kind of a tit for tat. How did you feel about being, I guess, caught up in that sort of exchange of threats?

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

We really need as many people as we can … containing and caring for people right now. I don’t think it’s right to prevent anyone from having a mask if there’s a possibility to access some. And I don’t think it’s right to threaten, as a retaliation, the closing of the border or the loss of the health-care workers.

Because, to be honest, we wouldn’t be useful right now to Canada anyway, because we would just be quarantined over here.

Preventing us from being able to work with people that are sick and even make a difference in one family’s life would be a shame.

When all this is over, what do you want to be able to say about the choices you made?

For me personally — and I’ve said this before — is that I really want this story for me to be a positive one.

I’ve seen the community on both sides really rallying around each other and supporting each other. I’ve seen people who are very fearful since losing their jobs and things like that step up and support each other and offer each other what food they have or things like that.

I can’t ever go back and make a different decision. I have chosen to work with the COVID patients over here. And I hope that my decision makes a difference for everybody — you know, that if I’m able to help a few people get better and prevent some more people from getting sick, then hopefully that will, at least in a small way, make an impact. And that will help everybody, ultimately.

I think we all have to think of ourselves as kind of global citizens right now. Not necessarily like I’m Canadian, you’re American.

Just because I’m a health-care worker doesn’t mean that I have the biggest impact. I mean, the other studies are saying that staying home, avoiding people if you’re sick —  like, all of those things are making a difference.

So I think it’s just the time to come together instead of kind of separating, and I hope that people can find some good out of all of it, even amongst the stress.


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