Life on the front lines of the pandemic: Profile of RNAO member NP Daria Gefrerer


The Toronto Star has profiled Daria Gefrerer, an RNAO member. Here is her story:

Daria Gefrerer is a nurse practitioner who helps oversee Sunnybrook’s COVID-19 Assessment Centre. Up until March 16, Gefrerer was a nurse in the hospital’s birthing unit, taking care of mothers and families during labour, delivery and their postpartum stay. Though she loved her nine years in the birthing unit, Gefrerer wanted to step up to the front lines during the pandemic and applied for a leadership position at the Assessment Centre. This marks the end of her seventh week in her new job. In her voice:

I knew I was the right fit for this role. Many of my nursing colleagues have young families or older parents and they’d find it hard to be on the front lines of the virus. For me, I don’t have those same ties. I live close to Sunnybrook, I have a supportive husband and I don’t have children. To do this job, I wouldn’t have to make the difficult decision to live apart from my family. I also thought of it as a challenge that I was ready to take on.

When we first started, all the staff at the assessment centre were a bit hesitant. We didn’t know what to expect with the virus or how the screening process would look. It was all unfamiliar. But once the first flow of patients went through our clinic, it eased our worries. Now we feel safe; our small team has really come together to support one another.

When our clinic opens for the day, we often have a line of patients just outside our door. We screen them one at a time and we assume everyone who comes is COVID-positive. Each day, our team double checks we are on the same page for the current testing criteria so we know the patient population we should be swabbing.

At first, the testing criteria included someone’s travel history. Within weeks, it didn’t matter that someone travelled; it was clear you could pick up the virus at the grocery store.

We have a fair number of people who come to us with “typical” COVID symptoms: fever, cough, breathlessness. But we also have people show up with just gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, and nothing respiratory in nature. It’s been interesting to see all the symptoms presenting with the virus.

Every now and then we need to turn away someone from getting a swab. It’s a hard thing to do. It’s human nature to want to know if you have COVID-19.

Some people are very persistent in wanting a swab after we tell them they don’t fall into the testing criteria. Having to tell them ‘no’ is very challenging. A lot of education goes into those explanations, but it’s still hard to be the bearer of bad news and sometimes we’ve had to get security involved with people who really want a test and can’t have it.

We do see patients who come to us that truly look unwell. I think it goes back to nursing intuition, that gut feeling a lot of nurses have, where someone comes into the clinic and you just know they don’t look right.

Almost every day, we ask someone to go to Emerg. And there are times we physically put someone in a wheelchair because they are unstable and we accompany them to the emergency department ourselves. We just had to do that today with a woman who came in very short of breath. We didn’t swab her because she needed more acute care than we could provide; we took her straight to the emergency department.

It’s those times that I feel thankful for this opportunity. As a nurse, it’s ingrained in you to want to help people and that’s what I think I’m doing during this tumultuous time.