By Herb Zurkowsky • Montreal Gazette
Undefeated in 11 bouts and the North American Boxing Federation flyweight champ, Montreal boxer Kim Clavel was scheduled to make the first defence of her title March 21 at the Montreal Casino.
The fight, of course, was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Barely 24 hours after she was scheduled to be in the ring, she dusted off her blue nursing scrubs and reported for duty.
When she completes her overnight shift at the Paul Gouin CHSLD, Kim Clavel is so physically and mentally exhausted she often sits in her car for 10 minutes, unwinding by listening to music, before she can depart.
And when she returns home to Ahuntsic, still running on adrenalin and unable to sleep, she must go for a jog or walk before showering. Only then does the relaxation she craves pour over her body.
“It’s really hard psychologically. Those old people feel alone. They’re sad. Some of them don’t understand the (COVID-19) situation, so they don’t want to stay in their rooms. It’s really hard,” Clavel told the Montreal Gazette this week on a rare day off, so drained she awoke four hours after the scheduled interview time.
“We have to play nurse and psychologist at the same time.”
Clavel, 29, has been a nurse for six years, working in the maternity ward at the Lanaudière Regional Hospital Centre in Joliette. She went on a year-long sabbatical last August to concentrate on her professional boxing career.
Undefeated in 11 bouts and the North American Boxing Federation flyweight champ, Clavel was scheduled to make the first defence of her title March 21 at the Montreal Casino. The fight, of course, was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
It was to be Clavel’s first main event, her first with promoter Yvon Michel. She cried for a day or two. Then, no longer feeling sorry for herself, she felt compelled to return to the nursing profession, knowing all the good she could accomplish working with the most vulnerable of patients at the long-term-care facility.
Barely 24 hours after she was scheduled to be in the ring, Clavel dusted off her blue nursing scrubs and reported for duty. She has worked at seven CHSLD’s since, but now has been placed at the Rosemont Paul Gouin facility until May 9, working four consecutive shifts before getting a day off.
When she works overnight — the schedule of most of her shifts — Clavel is one of only three nurses, not including supervisors, and must deal with 60 patients. She said much teamwork is involved, although the majority of patients sleep through the night.
While there have been no deaths at her CHSLD, she noted a handful of patients are in isolation, complaining of fever and reporting symptoms. Clavel is waiting to learn whether they’ve tested positive. She herself has no symptoms and feels fine, but hasn’t been tested and wished all nurses would be.
“I’m not scared,” she claimed. “I know we have a risk. I know it, but I’m not scared of it. I want to help people so much that I forget about myself. I follow the rules and protect myself because I want to protect them, but I’m not scared of it.
“I had the choice,” Clavel continued. “I could have stayed home, doing nothing, and waiting for the government money. No. I had the permission to help and I need to help, so I did it. I feel I can make a difference.”
Her first week on the job, this crisis still seemingly in its embryonic stages — so much still unknown with fewer deaths to report — Clavel was shocked not to be provided with personal protective equipment; stunned people weren’t social distancing or taking the necessary precautions.
That obviously now has changed, although Clavel said she didn’t receive her first pair of protective glasses until Wednesday night. “I don’t understand why. We have to protect the old people. They’re the most fragile,” she said.
While every shift is different and filled with variables, the one constant is the feeling she can’t escape, being trapped under an armour of protective equipment — glasses, masks and gowns — that must be worn at all times. It’s difficult to breathe at times, Clavel said, because it’s hot and she has this sense of being suffocated.
Dealing with elderly patients, many of whom are feeling isolated, lonely and depressed, has its inherent challenges as well. One patient fell out of his bed this week. Another, suffering from a cognitive disorder, spat on a nurse.
“A lot of them are scared,” Clavel said. “They feel alone. At the end of the day, I’m asking myself which one is the biggest killer — COVID-19 or the feeling of being alone? I don’t know which will kill more old people. Right now, the solitude is hard for them.
“At home, people have a TV, a telephone. They can go outside for a walk. In the CHSLD, they can do nothing. They have a little room with a small TV. They don’t have enough. They don’t talk to anyone except the nurses. It’s really, really sad.”
Clavel’s boxing career eventually will resume, although now not likely before September. But that’s secondary. She can see she’s making a difference, bringing a smile to the elderly patients, merely by taking the time to sit, listen and engage. It’s a small price to pay, she said.
Premier François Legault recently hailed health-care workers as “guardian angels.” Clavel likely heard the remark and smiled inside, but only for an instant.
“Heroes don’t exist,” she said. “Nurses do.”