Donna Paliwoda: Worked in a Hospital

If you’ve had a medical device put in your body, chances are Donna Paliwoda and her team helped make sure it was safe. 

Paliwoda is a medical device reprocessor at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. Her department is responsible for decontamination, fixing, testing, and sterilizing surgical instruments and devices. They are the biggest and busiest medical device reprocessing centre in Western Canada and serve North East Medical Centre, East Edmonton Health Centre, and clinics at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. 

Paliwoda stressed the importance of basic public health principles. “Find a way to co-exist [with Covid] and live your best life, because you have to. Number one thing: wash your damn hands,” she stated emphatically. Secondly: “Wear a mask.”

When Covid hit, “It was my week vacation and I left Monday at 8:45 a.m. and was back here by Wednesday at 10 p.m. because everything had closed.” 

She continued, “At the hospital, there was a heightened state of security and focus shifted to no elective surgeries. We went from 140 cases/day to 25 cases/day, which were only emergencies.” To address Covid, “We had to ramp up use of respiratory equipment, such as flexible scopes for intubation.” 

Paliwoda’s team considers Covid just another virus and the pandemic hasn’t changed how she does her job. 

“HIV, H1N1, SARS, MERS are still out there, so Covid is just another bunch of letters that is causing the world a problem. This is an aggressive virus [of] which the long-term effects are unfathomable.” She clarified, “They don’t announce when we’re dealing with an HIV or MRSA patient.”

Not much has changed in how she does her job. “We use universal precautions to make them safe. We are the first line of defence and we hold ourselves and co-workers to a high standard. We speak up if we think something is incorrect. You can only correct a gap in knowledge this way. We make sure our people are ready for every eventuality.”

Paliwoda stressed the importance of basic public health principles. “Find a way to co-exist [with Covid] and live your best life, because you have to. Number one thing: wash your damn hands,” she stated emphatically. Secondly: “Wear a mask.” [This interview was prior to the public health order by the City of Edmonton mandating mask wearing.] “You come to my hospital and stand beside someone who is taking their last breath. Save your thanks for doctors and nurses who are holding the hands of people who are dying.”

“Deena Hinshaw is the most powerful woman in this province right now. She leads by grace, she leads with dignity, she leads with empathy, she leads by example. No one I work with questions her integrity. If she doesn’t know something, she says so and gets back to you. She backs everything she has to say with science. It takes personal integrity to say, ‘I don’t know.’”

On a personal level, Paliwoda had a difficult time with the public health guidelines around LTC (long-term care) facilities.  

“It is a travesty that they are not allowing family members into LTC. My aunt was in hospital from February to November. We went to see her on the May long weekend. We stood outside the window at the hospital. She couldn’t see mom and I standing outside. It was a gut wrenching, heartbreaking moment.” She pointed out the effects of this isolation. “People’s cognitive abilities were decreasing because they had no human contact.”

Paliwoda wished it had been managed differently. “They could have had family members use PPE [personal protective equipment] like doctors. They could have had two designated people in each family, one at a time and one per day come and visit. Mask them at the door, hand wash at the door. Answer the 14 questions at the door then go directly to the dedicated bag of PPW [personal protective wear].”

She expressed her sorrow. “It could have been a human experience. There is not a family member who would not have sacrificed an hour to be with their mom or dad. This diminished our seniors in hospital settings and seniors’ homes. My aunt had nothing to stimulate her and nothing to look forward to.” 

How she gathered with friends also changed. “I stayed safe with like-minded people. We watched each other wash our hands before we played dominos. Whoever brought the wine poured the wine.”

“We’re relaxing a bit, but the crisis will come back,” Paliwoda concluded. 

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