From the AUA Secretary: Honoring Unsung Heroes of the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: John D. Denstedt, MD, FRCSC, FACS, FCAHS | Posted on: 28 Jul 2021

There are a lot of heroes in our health organizations who have played a critical role during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic created unprecedented challenges for everyone, especially frontline workers, who could not have been successful without help behind the scenes. These dedicated role models who have provided excellent service and commitment are our unsung heroes. From medical technicians to housekeepers to operating room attendants, these “behind-the-scenes” health care workers have stepped up across the board to protect staff and care for patients amid the pandemic.

I would like to recognize Emma Tyrrell, an operating room (O.R.) attendant at my institution, St. Joseph’s Hospital in London, Canada, who is an integral member of the operating team. Her role as O.R. attendant is critical to maintaining a safe and clean environment for doctors, patients and visitors. She is detail oriented, hard working and extremely knowledgeable on how an operating room works. Setting up operating rooms and preparing operating room theaters and equipment are just a few things Mrs. Tyrrell does behind the scenes. Mrs. Tyrrell also helps with patients before, during and after surgery, moving heavy and fragile equipment, such as lasers and microscopes, stocking services carts and more.

“It has now been 4 years since I was welcomed aboard the O.R. team. I feel fortunate and very blessed to be able to work with such an amazing group of individuals.”

Dr. Denstedt and Mrs. Emma Tyrrell at work together in the O.R. at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Mrs. Tyrrell is originally from the Philippines, where she completed secretarial and stenography courses and studied to be a medical office assistant. She came to Canada in 1990, where she worked as a nanny for a very loving couple who treated her like a member of the family. After that, she met her husband, got married and had 2 girls, who are now teenagers. At that time, she volunteered in the emergency department at St. Joseph’s Hospital in London.

Seeing how hard Mrs. Tyrrell has always worked, but even more so since the start of the pandemic, I asked her if she would be willing to share with me about her job and how well she has supported our operating staff during this past challenging year. Following you will find a Q&A I had with her about her career, what it has been like to work in the medical field during a global pandemic and how COVID has affected her life. The following are her words about what life has been like for her since March 2020 and what she has contributed to sustain my work and that of my colleagues. I give thanks to Mrs. Tyrrell and all of the other brave unsung heroes who have kept our hospitals and medical facilities open and functioning despite the worst health crisis of our lifetime.

As an attendant at the hospital, I make sure that I follow surgical protective measures to avoid vital transmission. Wearing [personal protective equipment] appropriately, social distancing, and excess hand washing before and after entering the theater. The thought of potentially contracting COVID-19 while at work and possibly harming my family worries me so much. More protocol has been put in place when entering and leaving a room. This adds extra steps and time needed to prepare each room for surgery. This has caused extra stress and anxiety since there is even more work to be done in the limited time we have before the operation needs to begin. There are unexpected changes to protocol as COVID changes, and the possibility of being re-deployed to another unit which causes some worry. There is also a constant alertness about what I am bringing in and out of the rooms and around my colleagues which was once never thought about. These changes have caused some fear and stress on the job which one wouldn’t normally have to also deal with.

When the World Health Organization declared the pandemic, people around the world panicked. I did not predict that the necessary lockdowns and restrictions would still be around over a year later. COVID has caused unexpected changes and has made life chaotic for most people. I was fearful but tried to be optimistic.

The economic and social disruption caused by COVID-19 is devastating. I am saddened by the millions of those who have lost lives, loved ones and have struggled in any way this past year. There are too many people who are being treated as expendable and are forced to endanger themselves without paid sick leave in Canada just to be able to provide for their families. Many essential workers are overworked and are suffering while trying to maintain services for the rest of society. I am fortunate that I get to work in health care and provide for my family while being one of those essential individuals who gets to be a part of the solution. Unfortunately, prices are increasing, and some essential workers cannot support themselves. It is important that people are aware that every garbage collector, grocery store cashier, and public transportation driver puts their life in danger and communities owe them a big thank you.

I worry for my teenage daughters and the other young people who must cope with COVID at such a young age. I think it is also important that people are also aware of their children’s needs during this time and understand how difficult it can be to be a child and deal with a pandemic. I am very grateful that I have the job I do and that I am healthy and can still work.

Every urologist will know an Emma or many Emmas at their own institutions—in the operating rooms, clinics and offices. This is a salute to these many unsung heroes who have had our backs during the pandemic.

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