COVID-19 dispatches: On the front lines at an emergency shelter

    From attending a birth to running a bingo: a recreation therapist’s surprising roles

    By Stephanie Bailey, ’10 BA(Hons), on April 15, 2020

    Edmonton EXPO Centre, which has now been set up as a temporary health centre to support vulnerable people through the COVID-19 pandemic. (Alberta Health Services)

    Wherever you look, there are members of our U of A community navigating life under the COVID-19 pandemic. They are the ones conducting hundreds of tests every day to protect our most vulnerable. Or making sure our grocery store shelves are stocked. Or adjusting to teaching and learning online in an age of physical distancing. They meet every new day with courage, compassion and creativity, whether it’s cleaning cots at an emergency shelter or engaging students remotely via TikTok demos. We’ve asked a handful of U of A grads to record their days. It’s our attempt to get a glimpse into their everyday lives and capture history-in-the-making. 

    Who: Maegan Ciesielski, ’15 BA(RecSpoTourism)

    Job: Recreation therapist in the Pathways to Housing program at Boyle McCauley Health Centre. She supports clients living with mental illness to engage in recreation and connect with their communities. She is now taking on shifts at the Edmonton EXPO Centre, which has been set up as a temporary health centre to support vulnerable people through the pandemic. 

    Education: Undergrad degree in recreation, sport and tourism; she wants to finish her master’s and end homelessness in Edmonton. 

    Notable: A Panda track and field alumna, Ciesielski coaches para-athletes in track and field at UAlberta’s Steadward Centre

    Day #1

    2 p.m. - I speed to the hospital after hearing that one of my clients has gone into labour. The time I save from there being no traffic is quickly eaten up by having to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms twice before being allowed in to see her. Hand sanitize.

    3:25 p.m. - Baby is born.

    7 p.m. - I arrive home 12 hours after I left in the morning. Change my clothes and wash my hands for the 100th time.

    9 p.m. - My client is on my mind. I think about how unfair life is and I cry.



    Day #2

    8 a.m. - I check in at the Expo Centre, which is now an emergency shelter for vulnerable people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. It’s relatively quiet, which I’m OK with as I have to learn a totally new electronic medical record system.

    10 a.m. - I set up a projector so that we can stream Netflix to keep people entertained.

    12:30 p.m. - “Let me put this on your coffee table,” I joke with one of the men in the shelter as I place his food on his box of belongings. I continue delivering lunch to other patrons of the shelter.

    2 p.m. - I clean my face shield for at least the 10th time. 

    3 p.m. - The security guard and I chat about how happy he is to have this opportunity to work, as he normally works in the city rec centres, which are currently closed. 

    4 p.m. - As the nurses do shift reports, I cover their station, handing out cigarettes, books, coffee and word-search puzzles. And de-escalate complaints. 


    Day #3

    9 a.m. - One of the attending doctors discovers I am a recreation therapist and asks if I can run Bingo. I inwardly groan and then start brainstorming how to make it work, along with other activities you can do with groups in isolation.

    11 a.m. - Staff from another agency show up to learn the procedure in case they need to bring clients here. I super-appreciate their work, but I’m also annoyed that I have to put on full personal protective equipment before talking to them, which means I need to clean it all, again, and hand sanitize, again.

    12 p.m. - First admission of the day! Chance that I did something wrong: very high. In my defence, I learned an entire new medical record system yesterday.

    3 p.m. - The megaphone stops working halfway through Bingo so I have to shout the numbers. Not the most exciting game, but people stayed quiet and away from the nursing desk for about 40 minutes, which was a bonus for everyone.

    5 p.m. - At home I find that my partner, who is working from home, has baked cookies. Before I can stuff my face, I need to bag my dirty scrubs and shower.

    11 p.m. - I’m desperately trying to keep myself awake, as I start evening shift tomorrow and don’t want to fall asleep on the job. But it’s a losing battle.


    Day #4

    10 a.m. - I get my schedule for the month and discover I’ll be working at the Expo Centre, all evening shifts until Easter weekend. I miss my regular clients and co-workers already.

    3 p.m. - Need to be at work in an hour, so I should probably change out of my pyjamas … 

    5 p.m. - I discover that this pair of scrubs doesn’t have a drawstring. I wonder what I’ll do more often tonight: pull up my scrubs or wash my hands. 

    8 p.m. - I remind someone to wear their mask. They get angry and stomp on their crack pipe, sending glass all over the floor.

    10 p.m. - Phew! Just finished moving people to a different hall and cleaning all their cots. It’s hot — I’ve spent the last hour with a face shield over a face mask and it just locks in the heat.

    11 p.m. - As more patients are sleeping, one of the nurses from my regular program and I find a minute to chat. We discuss our clients and how worried we are for them. We know that clients are going to end up getting sick, and we feel helpless in trying to stop this.

    1 a.m. - Home. As I quietly get ready for bed, I notice that my partner has piled his work clothes in the bathroom so that he won’t disturb me in the morning. I can’t help but think that I have 15 more nights like this ahead.


    Day #5 

    8 a.m. - I haven’t slept enough but my internal alarm clock is wondering why I’m not on my way to work.

    12 p.m. - When I was growing up, my mom would make chicken burgers and fries every Friday night for dinner. She’s an amazing cook but everyone needs a break sometimes, right? I’ve carried on the tradition since moving out. Since I’ll be at work during the dinner, my boyfriend and I chow down on veggie burgers for lunch.

    2 p.m. - I think about all the work I should be doing in my “free time”: catching up on charting, working on my thesis, sending out training plans to all my athletes, finishing the laundry. I take a nap instead.

    4 p.m. - Shift report. Even though this is only my third shift, everyone is so new that I’m basically a seasoned staffer now. I lead an orientation.

    6 p.m. - I throw some laundry in the wash for a client.

    9 p.m. - My fitness tracker tells me I’ve done 10,000 steps and I still have 3.5 hours left in my shift.

    10 p.m. - The Remand Centre sends two guys here, but they’re not symptomatic so we can’t take them. We give them some supper and let them use a phone. They’re very polite and talk about how surreal it is to have been in jail while this is happening.

    12:30 a.m. - Heading home and I don’t see a single other car on Wayne Gretzky Drive. The sense of being alone permeates.

    We at New Trail welcome your comments. Robust debate and criticism are encouraged, provided it is respectful. We reserve the right to reject comments, images or links that attack ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender or sexual orientation; that include offensive language, threats, spam; are fraudulent or defamatory; infringe on copyright or trademarks; and that just generally aren’t very nice. Discussion is monitored and violation of these guidelines will result in comments being disabled.