Adila Zahir, MScN, DESS, is Chief of Service of Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) for the CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal. She was interviewed by Christina Clausen on April 29, 2021.
Trial by Fire
Even before the pandemic had officially hit Montreal, the Chief of Service of Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) of the CIUSSS was fielding calls about COVID-19. "We started being bombarded with questions, especially from the ED team," said Adila Zahir. "Then the pandemic committee meetings began on an organizational level, as well as tons of other meetings. We needed to have a solid plan."
There was only one problem. Zahir and her team did not have all the answers when it came to this novel virus. No one did. "I was so worried at one point about our credibility—I didn't want to lose people’s trust," she said. "I wanted to give the right answer but there was no right answer. Things kept changing, things kept evolving." Zahir was also relatively new in her position—she took over as chief of IPAC at the beginning of 2018—and the majority of her team were "fairly green when it came to infection prevention and control."
"A few of them had more than six months experience, but the majority had less," she said. And they were responsible for providing guidelines for the whole CIUSSS.
"We had to [help and guide] sites that we hadn't dealt with before," said Zahir. "Our protocol had to be specific to each sector, and in French and English. Not to mention that we had to continuously update those protocols because things kept changing."
"A long sprint that turned into a marathon"
During the first wave, everything was chaotic. "I had my cell phone ringing, texts coming in, my office phone ringing, all while I was in a Teams meeting. Then I would have to answer emails that were popping up—everything seemed to be urgent."
Zahir was working all the time, including evenings and weekends. It was, she said, "a long sprint that turned into a marathon," one that she had to draw on all her resources to survive. One of those resources turned out to be her daughter.
"My dynamic with my daughter had changed a lot because she was 12, almost 13 at the time," she said. "I was still a protective mother and I would do things for her. But during the pandemic, Zahir, a single mother, had no choice but to leave her daughter to her own devices. "She became more mature, more independent," said Zahir. She started making her own food and the two of them talked about things that they had never talked about before. For Zahir it was a positive change. "The negative is we didn't have time together anymore," she said.
The other positive thing that came out of the pandemic for Zahir was the huge sense of accomplishment that she felt. "Once you're hit with this kind of crisis, you have to find solutions," she said. "In three years at the JGH, I achieved what I hadn't achieved in [other positions] that I had been in much longer"
She was also "very, very proud" of her team, which tripled in size during the pandemic and who were extremely flexible. "We became more known to the other teams, more visible. I'm very proud of that," said Zahir. "I'm very proud of the collaboration we had with the units."
She is, however, disappointed by the lack of recognition nurses in general have received. During the first waves, "nurses were overwhelmed, understaffed, overworked, and yet we got little attention. I don't know about you, but I don't feel that people understand to what extent nurses suffered."