“Even though we are health care workers and have appropriate PPE, we are all still as scared as everyone else.”

The Condo Store, together with Michael “Pinball” Clemons, is proud to feature this week’s feature hero, Masako Katsuki, who was nominated by her husband Jamie Herman.  Masako works as a patient care coordinator (PCC)/assistant manager at the medical surgical intensive care unit (MSICU) at the Toronto General Hospital.

Masako’s story is the both heart-warming and cautionary as we move through COVID-19 life and towards recovery. Michael “Pinball” Clemons was clearly amazed by Masako’s story:

“I was moved to hear Masako’s story.  It hits hard and is an incredible look into the front lines during our community’s fight with COVID-19. Knowing her story and that there are so many more heroes like this across our city, makes me proud of our great city and more importantly the people of Toronto and the commitment they are making to keep everyone safe. To borrow from the great Martin Luther King, life’s most urgent question is this ‘What are you doing for others?’ Masako is not just doing a good thing; she’s doing the best thing and for that we are infinitely grateful.”

We will be featuring everyday heroes from across the G.T.A. every week into July, so keep the nominations coming by sharing or commenting on these posts using the hashtag #TorontosEverydayHeroes.

Here is the transcript of the interview. Please join us in celebrating Masako Katsuki and all of Toronto’s Everyday Heroes.

The Condo Store (TCS): Hi Masako, nice to talk to you, how are you? 

As optimistic as one could be during this difficult time.

TCS: Your husband, Jamie, nominated you as his hero, how does that make you feel? 

I feel great that what we do every day is recognized and appreciated by not just Jamie but by everyone. As a front-line worker, I can skip the line at the grocery store and on our streets in my neighborhood they bang pots and pans at 7:30pm to support health care workers. There are food donations delivered almost every day at work, free parking at work and the Hospital Foundation provides us with some meal vouchers. We have also received lots of PPE (personal protective equipment) donations such as masks, face shields and handmade scrub hats. I am eternally grateful of those people who recognize our work and all the support that they provide to us in every way. I am very sure it is very scary and stressful time for all of us, but it is always a good feeling that there is someone who recognizes your work and shows gratitude.

TCS: Can you describe your daily routine for going to work on the front lines? 

I have a significant amount of staff including nurses, hospital assistants and ward clerks who report to me and the other PCC and unit manager. We have beds specifically designed for critical care so we are providing care to patients with complex medical and surgical conditions that require advanced ventilatory and hemodynamic support. With COVID-19, we have increased additional beds to increase our capacity and my role varies everyday depending on the unit’s needs. I primarily focus on bed flow management, quality and efficiency improvement, patient and worker safety, making staff schedules to staff the unit, budget planning and supply management/procurement. Additionally, if there is a need for help with nurses, hospital assistants or ward clerks we help each other and consult other interprofessional team.

TCS: How is work different now than in normal times? 

Our world has completely changed due to the COVID-19 situation. My job is now more focused on making sure that our workplace environment is safe during this pandemic at our COVID-19 ICU. The first thing I do when I get to work is to make sure that there is an ample amount of N95 masks and procedure masks for the staff who are coming into a shift. Throughout the day, I manage all of the supplies for staff and patients in the unit and make sure that we do not run out. Staff safety and patient’s safety during COVID-19 time is completely different. While looking after patients, the staff also need to minimize their risk of exposure as much as possible. Our unit is built with caring and supportive attitudes. When there is a patient that needs attention, many staff go to the room to assist, but now we have to limit the number of people going into the room. I have to make sure the staff are practicing appropriate infection control & prevention (IPAC) guidance, especially with a patient that is in a high-risk situation. I have to constantly update myself with daily/hourly changing policies and guidelines in terms of clinical practices so that I disseminate the information to the staff and make sure that our team is compliant with the new policies and guidelines in order to provide safe and optimal care to our patients.

TCS: Do you feel any different working these days?

We all have frustrations, stress and exhaustion but these are not uncommon for nurses to deal with pre-COVID-19 and so during COVID-19 it is different but nothing we aren’t trained for.

TCS: How do you interact with your co-workers these days?  Has there been any feelings of people getting down or feeling like this will never end?  How do you guys keep each other motivated? 

Our staff is afraid of this virus like everyone else. Some have more anxiety than others. Some have had breakdowns and in general some of us show more anger and frustration than others. There are some staff that have to go home and sleep separately from their spouses or live in a hotel to be away from their elderly parents. Some cannot hug or kiss their children when they get home. I had to say every single staff including me has had to experience tough times and has struggled. To be honest, there were worries that uncivil behaviours would start to tear up our team. Even though we are health care workers and have appropriate PPE, we are all still as scared as everyone else, but at the end of the day, they still come to work with everything they’ve got. They still come to work and put everything into the best care for our very vulnerable patients because this is the right thing to do. I feel that we are able to fight this COVID-19 battle because we stand by each other and support each other. “I got your back” was a message we spread among the team. For example, before going in to a patient’s room, we check to ensure each other is following IPAC recommendation and procedure. We all share the core value of helping our patients get better. When we see that a patient goes out of ICU and then is eventually doing well at home, we share the news and celebrate together and honor the care we provide.

TCS: Do you have anything that you do to remain positive? 

Thinking of my MSICU team/family. I am amazed everyday how resilient they are. Our patients are so sick and that we barely have a chance to go on breaks or to the bathroom, which is the dedication and commitment I want to be surrounded by. COVID-19 did significantly increase our workload but also our anxiety because information is rapidly changing on a daily basis as we learn more. Despite the anxiety and fear that many are experiencing, we still care about our colleagues and pause to ask how others are doing. We all ensure that people know that they are respected, valued, and appreciated.

TCS: Jamie, can you expand on what you wrote on LinkedIn about what life has been like for you guys?

My life has changed. While she still goes into work as usual, I started to work from home. This allowed me more flexibility on hours, an easier commute and more time with our dog *woof*. However, I would trade it all back in a heartbeat to go back to pre-COVID days. Masako has started working longer hours and I find her coming home later. She is answering emails and phone calls 24/7 to keep up with the work demands which seems more than usual. She is very consumed with work right now. I was proud of her even before this virus and wonder why it took a pandemic for nurses to get the recognition they deserve.

TCS: Thank you so much for everything you are doing during this difficult time, do you have any people you’d like to acknowledge for their work? 

Of course, I would like to acknowledge all of our staff who work at MSICU at TGH such as nurses, physicians, respiratory therapist, perfusionists, physiotherapists, occupation therapists, pharmacists, social workers, spiritual care workers, speech language therapists, dieticians, hospital assistants, ward clerks and housekeeping. We are a COVID-19 ICU and we had a significant number of COVID-19 patients. Everyday seems to bring a need for creative work that falls outside our usual processes and, every single time, we collectively all rise to the occasion and figure out a way to provide what we need for our patients and team. Lastly, I’d also like to acknowledge our director’s tireless hard work, every weekend, she comes to our unit and does rounds with me checking in on how our patients and staff are doing.

Check out all of our weekly featured heroes:

Meredith Brookings
David Shellnutt
Jeremy Zuker
Masako Katsuki