Detroit Nurse Brent Wales’ commute begins at 6 a.m. and in another country. She works at St. Mary’s Mercy Livonia Hospital in Metro Detroit, but crosses the Detroit River in Windsor, Canada.
Many of the Welsh patients often forget that she is not from the US Until she speaks or uses Canadian expressions, she says.
I cross that international border every day, so when someone here says they were late because of traffic, I say I come from another country, she told CBS News Adriana Díaz.
She is not alone on her journey. At least 1,500 Canadians work in the healthcare sector in Michigan, some drawn by more job opportunities.
The small army of Canadians has risked their lives, especially in the spring of 2020 when COVID-19 devastated the US and there were more daily COVID deaths in Michigan than in all of Canada.
It sucked, it was really bad. You’d see the wave coming and think, “Okay, we made it through,” she said. Then the next wave was coming again before you could catch your breath.
Despite the dire situation, Gayle said it would have been cowardly to abandon her American neighbors in times of need.
It’s not a border, it’s just a line that we crossed, she said. And they were the same people, you know? And I think it would have been hideously cowardly to abandon my American cousins.
Canadian Lyndsey LaFleur, who has been an ER nurse at Detroits Henry Ford Hospital for nearly five years, still remembers the last spring surge like it was yesterday, remembering how overwhelmed she felt and how she cried a lot.
I just remember thinking: What’s going on? They are running out of ventilators, everyone needs to be intubated, she said.
I just remember standing in the middle of the apartment and looking around, like, dumbfounded and sad, she said.
In the worst cases of COVID in Detroit, she had a newborn at home in Canada and considered stopping breastfeeding.
He was really nervous. … she was very young, so we had her sleeping in a pack and playing in our room, she recalled. And I was sleeping in her room in a tent because she wanted to hide me somehow.
The trip across the international border to Detroit hasn’t deterred LaFleur, who she says she loves the city, the hospital she works for, the people she works with and the people of Detroit.
But in Canada, there was some resistance to her cross-border work from hers. There was a kind of stigma attached to their efforts: You know, you’re carrying the disease around, Gale said, noting that there was a call in the local newspaper for Canadians to be banned from traveling from one side of the city to the other. border.
LaFleur described the stress she felt in her community simply from doing her job.
People said, we thank you for everything you do, but at the same time, don’t come near me, LaFleur said.
Both nurses contracted COVID: Gale was infected when a patient’s intubation tube came loose and LaFleur believes she may have contracted it in Windsor; fortunately, her daughter did not. They have since recovered and remain committed as ever, still treating their patients with a smile.
The two sides of the river are a community and the nurses protect theirs.
This is our big problem, you know? This is our building on fire, Gale said. This is what we run towards and what we have been trained to do, as our time to shine.