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Coburn's mother has 'done a lot to help a lot of people' with coronavirus

Lightning defenseman proud of her job treating immunosuppressed patients during pandemic

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Braydon Coburn worries, like any son would, about his mother working in the health care industry during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman won't even attempt to implore his mother, Gwen, who is an infusion and injection field and clinic nurse in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to take a step back from her job to protect herself.

He knows her too well. He knows it's not her style.

"You do worry a little bit, but when we were growing up, she was an EMT and just hearing some of the stories, I think that was when we worried more," Coburn said. "Those were pretty scary times. One time she was doing a transfer out of Regina [Saskatchewan] and someone tried to throw her out of the back of an ambulance. She's always been in the health care industry and she's a very strong woman. We're very proud of her. She's done a lot to help a lot of people. That's really been her calling for a long time."

The only difference for Gwen now is how much protection and anxiety are associated with doing her job, in the clinics she works at and on the home visits she makes to provide medication and infusions for immunosuppressed patients who can't administer it themselves.

The coronavirus, which caused the NHL to pause its season on March 12, has required all health care workers to step up their own protection with the use of medical masks, face shields, gloves, gowns and booties. 

For Gwen, it has also required her to put her trust into her patients that they're telling the truth about how they feel when they get prescreened, either by a colleague if they're coming into the clinic, or by her if she has to make a home visit. 

Her clinic is not currently administering coronavirus tests.

"You have to trust that when they say they've been isolating that they truly are, and the people who are around them have been isolating," Gwen said. "You have to treat everybody like they possibly have it even though they say they don't and they're not showing signs."

Gwen, though, says her personal protective equipment is more important to protect her patients from herself, since she's more at risk of exposure to the coronavirus than they are with her travels and home health care visits, covering a region that has an approximate 200-mile radius around Saskatoon. 

"I'm 55 years old and I come home to a house that's just me and my two little dogs, so I don't have anybody that I'm going to expose it to in my house. And my kids are all grown up, all independent," Gwen said. "But I do get scared that I might be asymptomatic in that I'm not showing signs of it and that I would pass it on to my patients. That's my biggest fear. I wish that we had the capability to test everybody, particularly test all health care workers, but there is such a limited amount that they can only test the people who are actually showing signs. I don't have any signs, so I don't get tested, but anybody could be a carrier."

Braydon said his anxiety about his mother now has more to do with her home life, being that she lives alone and must isolate herself when she's not working.

"She is alone," Braydon said. "I guess you see the clients and some of her colleagues, but there's not a ton of social interaction. We've done the FaceTime thing. It's tough, though. I've got two [kids], my brother has three, and my other brother has two, my sister has one and my other brother has one. The kids end up getting on the call and no one ends up hearing anything because everyone is yelling and screaming and goofing off."

But those are the relaxing moments for Gwen. 

The majority of her day is spent wearing a mask, face shield, gloves, a gown and booties for hours on end, struggling to breathe and talk because of it all. She takes the protective equipment off only when she leaves or takes a lunch break away from the patients.

It's a new normal for Gwen and other health care workers like her that may never feel quite comfortable, but the one constant has been the love of her family, of a hockey-playing son whose admiration for his mother is obvious.

"The precautions she has to take to do her job and the importance of her job to people that she's serving, it makes me very proud of her and the role she plays and the professionalism that she has," Braydon said. "It's something I don't get to tell her enough, but I'm very proud of her."

Hearing that makes Gwen want to go to work even more.

"To hear my son say he's so proud of me, to hear that my kids think that what I'm doing is admirable, is probably the nicest thing I've heard in a long time," Gwen said. "I love my job. I absolutely have one of the best jobs in the whole world."

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