KITCHENER -- From drive-by parades and posters to lawn signs and painted rocks, Kitchener residents are finding creative ways to say "thank you" to health-care workers.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Heather-Lynne Goody, a nurse practitioner and surgical assistant at St. Mary’s Hospital in Kitchener. “I know a lot of us in the building, we feel grateful for all the signs that have gone up and the rocks and all the little affirmations on them. It’s heart-warming.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is putting the role of health-care workers in the spotlight.

“I just think right now there’s a bit more light on it, to take a look at what we do on a daily basis and what we have been doing for our entire careers,” Goody said.

As a nurse practitioner for surgical services, Goody will assist surgeons, along with diagnosing, prescribing and treating patients before and after their procedures.

“I think right now there’s been some challenging days,” said Goody. “Our services have waxed and waned. In surgery, we’re still doing our best to do urgent cancer cases.”

The most challenging part of her job, she said, is all of the unknowns.

Heather-Lynne Goody PPE

“In early March when the pandemic was called, there was a lot of fear for a lot of front line workers, in addition to the community," she said. "I think most of that had to do with the stressors at work and just the unknown of what we were getting into and whether or not we had the supplies to do that safely. Normally in health care we go to literature and we go to research studies to tell us how to treat and how to deal with things and we didn’t have that with COVID."

Goody is also one of the leads for the hospital’s Frontline PPE Committee, which was developed with the goal of educating staff. It started with showing them how to go in and out of rooms with COVID-19 patients and quickly evolved into helping staff understand COVID-19 testing and how to take care of their families.

“We realize, even as front line practitioners, we had just as many questions as the average person in the community,” Goody said.

Questions, however, remain about a number of non-urgent procedures put on hold during the pandemic.

“I want to get back to doing surgery and making sure people who need their cancer surgery get that priority,” Goody said. “I recognize there’s lots of other services that need to get back to functioning. I want the health care system, in general, to be able to do that in a safe manner and I think doing a gradual return with lots of support is going to be needed in order to do this safely.”

Goody was travelling out of the country when the pandemic was declared in March. When she returned home, she self-isolated for two weeks. Since then, her life at home has changed.

Goody family

Goody and her family (Supplied: Heather-Lynne Goody)

“I have two young kids who are not in school right now and summer camps have been cancelled and my husband is not working," she said. "It’s definitely been a change to our home life."

Sometimes she worries about the possibility of bringing the virus home.

“It does cross my mind,” she says. “There are definitely days when we’ve had discussions when I’m driving home, going OK, I’m going to come in the back door tonight. I’m going to shower before I come upstairs.”

“I want to make sure I rethink through my steps during the day,” she added. “There are lots of practitioners in this building and front line staff who have completely isolated themselves from their family and that is a huge challenge and stressor on them both at work and at home.”

Goody says she doesn’t see herself as a hero.

“I love what I do. I love my job at St. Mary’s,” she said. “I appreciate that people think that way. It’s nice to know that health care is having a light shed on it for the work that is done because there’s definitely a lot of challenging times and a lot of restraints that have been put on the health care system. So I wouldn’t want to take away from people that look at us and I appreciate all their thanks and prayers.”

She also has a message to everyone in the community.

“Be kind to one another and practice social distancing during this challenging time. And also, to be patient with the health care system and its workers as we work to increase services in a safe manner.”