Since COVID is a primarily respiratory disease, we began to see a large influx of patients with really sick lungs. When you’re here for four days in a row, 13 hours a day, you see more of this than anything else. You get lost in it. It takes a lot of stepping back and mindfulness to realize that you’re not engulfed in this. You’re still a separate person and there are still amazing things going on. I lost some gratitude during the first wave, but that came back to me in the second wave.
I live with my family. The first couple patients I got were like my mom – 50s to 60s with diabetes. That was their medical history and it was horrifying. Coming home is supposed to be a relieving experience, but it wasn’t. I had no idea if I was going to bring it home. During the first wave, I moved out.
My birthday was during that time and I know it sounds silly, but I wanted to be home with my loved ones. I also remember getting my first COVID swab. I didn’t tell my parents because they would be so worried. I was lying there by myself for about 24 hours. I had gratitude for the time for myself but it was also a lot of time alone. It was hard.
As crazy as sounds, this time around, I see beauty.
I moved back home after a couple of months. You know the Maslow hierarchy of needs? I know PPE is keeping my family and me safe, so the safety is there. Now it’s about finding that love and belonging. I have a lot of gratitude for my family and the relationships that I’ve been able to build. I come home and my siblings and I laugh all the time. We’ve never been closer.
In the spring, a family member was in a motor vehicle collision. He was young and it was sudden. During any loss, all you want is to be around your loved ones. Nothing can make it better, but not having family around you is the most difficult. It was hard navigating having a funeral in the midst of all of this when only 10 people were allowed to celebrate the life of the most loving and kind human. You have to find your way back as a new person that has lost something. It’s going to be a learning process.
My team has been so supportive and I’m grateful for the Respiratory Therapy community in itself. The way that we always show up for each other and how we can therapize each other – it’s such a blessing.
As crazy as sounds, this time around, I see beauty. The fact that the GTA is sharing the workload and all hands are on deck. My colleagues have adapted a lot and people have come together – I find something so beautiful about it.
The more you look for gratitude, the more you find it. You add up those little things and it becomes so massive. Then, you’re sitting there facing COVID patients and you find yourself with so much love and peace inside while there’s still chaos outside.
Baljit Grewal is a Respiratory Therapist at St. Michael’s Hospital.
As told to Natalie Leung. Photos by Yuri Marakov. This interview has been edited and condensed.