How two nurses rely on their Olympic training to deal with stress in Toronto hospitals

Tingling nerves, butterflies in the abdomen, some uneasiness and an adrenaline rush appear.

Former Olympic swimmers Michelle Toro and Heather Macklin often experience the same emotions when working as nurses in Toronto hospitals, as on the starting block before the race.

Thoreau, a nurse for the neonatal intensive care unit at the Hospital for Sick Children, and Macklin, who works at Mount Sinai Hospital, where she provides high-risk labor and fetal procedures, believe that they train as elite athletes and spend time in the national team Of Canada. swim for help in preparing them for a medical career.

“In the situation with the code, when a lot of things happen simultaneously, you need to think quickly,” said Toro, a member of the 4×100 meter freestyle relay who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. “I am when I am in such situations, I feel that I can slow it down in my head. Just use the methods that I used as an athlete [to] narrow my attention, think more sharply and just do what needs to be done at that moment. “

Macklin, a member of the 4×100 freestyle relay race, which took 11th place in the 2012 London Games, compares the stress of the Olympic year with the fears that many medical professionals face when faced with COVID-19.

“Right now, when I get to the hospital, my feelings are very similar to the feelings of the Olympic year: I can’t sleep because of anxiety and I don’t know what awaits us in the future,” she said. “Just getting ready for the Olympics, and now just getting ready for COVID-19, you can say that there is a similar feeling of fear and anxiety. With the exception of [stress of the] The Olympics ended six months later. “

The threat of coronavirus

Every day, healthcare providers face the threat of coronavirus.

“You enter the hospital and feel a layer of fear,” said Maclean. “It’s almost like fog. People are scared, practitioners are scared, patients are scared. ”

Wearing protective gear for long stretches presents its own challenges for MacLean. (Presented by Heather Macklin)

In the hospitals where these two work, precautions against the virus have been taken. Patients can visit only one family member. Nurses wear bathrobes, masks and safety glasses.

“The big change is wearing a mask for 12 hours, which is fraught with its own unique problems,” Toro said. “It kind of hurt your ears after 12 hours.”

Macklin said protective equipment makes it difficult to establish personal contact with patients.

“In normal times, this is a terrible time for them,” she said. “One of the ways we can do our job is to quickly gain trust and get to know them. It is difficult to do this when you enter the room completely in a mask and bathrobe. You look like an alien.

“I can smile under a mask, but they don’t see it.”

For her four years on the national team, Toro swam mostly in sprint races. The slightest mistake can cost a split second and become the difference between being ahead or catching someone.

“The smallest details were the most important,” said Thoreau, who retired in 2018.

“In this world of intensive care for newborns, it’s all about the smallest detail. When children get sick, they present very subtle changes. These are really subtle things you are looking for. I kind of pay attention to the details in parallel [to what] I trained as an athlete. “

The hospital’s team atmosphere is similar to what Maclean experienced as a swimmer.

“Although swimming was a separate sport, you also work with your trainer, teammates, nutritionists and sports psychologists,” she said.

“It’s about the same here. We have doctors, respiratory doctors, anesthetists, pediatric doctors, and other nurses. This is a kind of similar aspect, we all have different jobs, but we all work on the same ordinary thing. “

Along with the Olympic medal, Toro (left to right) won gold in the women’s 4×50 freestyle with Sandrine Mainville, Taylor Cancer and Penny Oleksiak at the 2016 Short Course World Championships in Windsor, Ontario. (Paul Chiasson / Canadian Press)

Special meaning

SickKids care is of particular importance to Toro. She was born in Pretoria, South Africa, with cleft lip and palate. After moving to Toronto when she was six, Toro transferred several operations to the SickKids, the last of which occurred when she was 19 years old.

“I really thanked the SickKids for what they did for me,” she said.

Macklin, who spent four years in the team before retiring in 2014, always wanted to work in obstetrics.

“I was always fascinated by birth,” she said. “I think this is the coolest thing. “I saw who knows how many births, and each of them is special, and each is different.”

Thoreau remembers competing with Maclean in his childhood.

“She has always been a kind of idol for me, a role model, but also a huge competitor,” she said.

The hospitals in which women work are connected by a tunnel. Sometimes the children whom Maclean helps are taken to the ward, where Toro watches over them.

“I feel that there is some kind of connection between us because of how our lives ended and because our trips were parallel,” said Toro.

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