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Nurse dies from SARS after being told to stop wearing protective mask

She went to work every day and did her job, a Toronto nurse who cared for the sick despite great risk, then returned to her family, a devoted wife and mother. Now, because of SARS and the system, she is gone--a hero who died in the line of duty.

My Toronto nursing colleagues and I have been battling SARS on the front lines for months now. When SARS first hit the city, there was a sense of shock and disbelief. We nurses adjusted to this "new normal," and over time, Toronto seemed to be on the way to containing SARS. But a second outbreak of SARS took the city by storm.

I witnessed more courage and tenacity in my fellow nurses than I could have ever imagined. We watched friends and co-workers admitted to the hospital. Many of us had to go into work/home quarantine. We nurses have been working in unsafe conditions for some time now. With nurse short staffing and funding cuts, we already had an emergency in our health care system. SARS has only compounded the problem, leading to even more physical and emotional strain for health workers than usual. Yet we are determined to labor together and make it through this battle. I am incredibly proud of the strength and unity that nurses have shown within the last few months. Many of my co-workers have inspired and supported me when I felt as though there was no end in sight.

Unfortunately, we skilled professionals, we valuable resources to the health care system, have been consistently ignored. Our concerns about potential SARS patients were brushed aside. Hospital administrators and attending physicians told nurses to ‘relax’ and ‘calm down,’ disrespecting our education and experience in caring for patients. Many administrators treated us as mere bedpan-wielding bed makers, instead of the highly-skilled professionals who save millions of lives every day. In mid-May we nurses were encouraged to stop wearing our masks, and told that gowns were only necessary while in a patient’s room. Unfortunately, we were not safe. And while Torontoans die, the government frets over tourism--spending millions to bring in a rock group or promote visitors to our city, which will not stop SARS from spreading.

Toronto is a wonderful community. I am grateful for the support we have received from its citizens. I am proud to live here and to nurse here. I believe that we should take care of our people and their health first. So my co-workers and I put our fears aside everyday. We put ourselves directly in harm’s way to provide care to those who need it the most.

And today, there is one less nurse at my side on the front lines.

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