On most cold sunrise mornings this year, you can find a Hamilton nurse in the freezing waters of Lake Ontario, swimming in honor of her dying patients.
Yulia Shevchenko has pledged to bathe 333 times this year to raise funds for palliative care patients to give them a little more peace in their final moments.
The money Shevchenko hopes to raise will help the 3 Wishes project at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, where she has worked for 12 years. This project gives health care providers the resources to personalize the care of a patient at the end of life.
“I’m trying to give back so that nurses and other healthcare professionals can provide more of that humanistic care and have more funds to help provide that,” Shevchenko said.
Working in intensive care at St. Joe’s has been even more stressful during the pandemic, Shevchenko said.
Some of his friends introduced him to “polar diving” – also known as cold exposure therapy – which involves swimming in cold temperatures, which some people do for better mental health.
“The reason I started polar soaking was my job in intensive care,” Shevchenko said.
“Last year was a very difficult time for intensive care units due to COVID-19.”
Shevchenko has said for herself and many medical professionals that it has been a “mentally exhausting” time and that her experiences in cold water are helping her cope better.
“Last February, I literally stopped sleeping,” she said. “That’s how bad it was.”
Neala Hoad is another intensive care nurse with Shevchenko and works as a part-time expansion coordinator for the 3 Wishes project.
“As an intensive care nurse and just coming out of the main waves of the pandemic, I can really relate to what Yulia has been through,” Hoad said.
“My colleagues and I are also happy that someone can explain how things happened, but also raise awareness of 3 wishes at the same time.”
Made 50 so far this year
Through fundraising initiatives in support of the project, like the one Shevchenko has undertaken, Hoad said St. Joe’s staff hope to expand the program throughout the hospital.
Chronicling his trip on social media, Shevchenko posts videos and photos of his cold water swims. So far this year, she has done 50.
“I’m not telling everyone to go jump in the cold lake,” she said. Swimming in icy waters, she says, requires taking precautions.
“I heard it was hard, but it made me feel alive, made me feel better, made me happier,” Shevchenko said.
It helped her normalize her sleep again and connect with nature on a different level, which she says has been meaningful to her.
“By raising this money for 3 wishes, I’m trying to give back to a hospital that has supported me, my colleagues and my patients,” Shevchenko said.
Through the 3 Wishes Project, nurses and healthcare providers in the intensive care unit arrange time for palliative care patients to visit loved ones or live out their final days in a way that is meaningful to them. .
One last walk in the garden
Shevchenko said that sometimes means a visit for family members’ patients for movie night, allowing a family pet to come visit, or finding a way to take an intensive care patient for a walk in. the garden.
“We took someone outside an intensive care bed on a ventilator outside. It’s a big deal,” she said. “It’s not easy. The patient has to be on a ventilator with a few people around to help transport them to the garden.”
The critical care nurse said it was mostly about bonding and uniting people around these patients in their final days, which had its own set of hurdles during the pandemic due to restrictions.
“Everything was on hold because there were no visits,” Shevchenko said.
“But we were able to purchase iPads using funds from 3 Wishes and they were used for family Zoom meetings to keep families connected,” she said.
Let the family say goodbye
It allowed family members to see loved ones even if they couldn’t communicate because they were on a ventilator, she said.
However, it also meant that Shevchenko and his colleagues were called in to help set up those lines of communication for family members who were prevented from being there in person to say goodbye.
“It was devastating to see death in a Zoom meeting. It just blew my mind and felt absolutely unreal,” Shevchenko said.
Her polar soaking experience has given her something to hold on to, and she said she hopes giving back to this project can help patients and their families do the same.
Community members who wish to support the critical care nurse as she faces this chilling challenge can donate at stjoesfoundation.ca/PolarDip.