Healthcare and Hypothermia
/ Author: Kenneth Dam
/ Categories: Blogs, Newsletters, National /
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Healthcare and Hypothermia

What the Polar Bear Plunge can teach us about the power of community and caring for caregivers

By Ken Dam, Representative 

You’ve no doubt heard about the polar bear dip, or the polar bear plunge.

Every New Years Day, your local news station runs a feel-good story showcasing a bunch of wackos running into ice cold frigid waters. There’s usually a few eccentric people wearing capes and funny fur hats as they plunge into freezing lakes. In Hamilton, Ontario, this year, someone even wore a devil-themed Speedo ensemble complete with a pitchfork.

This year, I decided to be a wacko, too. Following a 15 second countdown, me, and a mass of 50 people plunged into Lake Ontario. Judging by the screaming that took place, if you closed your eyes, you might have thought you were witnessing the sinking of the Titanic!

What I found most interesting about the polar bear dip tradition was the reason people gave for partaking. One participant told me: “It’s a New Year cleanse. I’m shedding my skin like a snake does.” Another dipper philosophised: “It’s a mental exercise. I am facing the cold to prepare my mind and body to face hardship.”

While each dipper had their own individual reasons for participating, I reflected on the fact that a key part of the attraction was the community of strangers doing it together. It’s a rare cat who will take a polar dip on their own. But together, with a united goal, all these people successfully braved the cold and faced their fear. We each did it individually, but in community.

There was a palpable euphoria in the air once the challenge was completed. I pushed myself to linger in the water for a few minutes. And I felt invincible as I sauntered back to dry land. Unfortunately, I was betrayed by uncontrollable bodily trembling within a few minutes, but I still felt pretty good.

It’s easy to use this as a metaphor for the workplace. As a CLAC representative working in the long term care sector, my members have been at the epicentre of the COVID challenge. They’ve braved incredible difficulties. They’ve raced headfirst into the icy waters of uncertainty.

As a community of workers, they’ve relied on each other to get through each day. Now more than ever, while Omicron sweeps through the healthcare sector in Ontario, we need to stick together as a community. Unfortunately, this is where my metaphor breaks down a bit. If you stay in the cold water too long, hypothermia sets in. Even if you are with others.

At the risk of hyperbole, this is where we are at in long term care. Hypothermia is setting in. We need to lift them out of the water.

CLAC continues to advocate at all levels of government. We need more staff. We need more resources. We need higher pay. We need to address violence in the workplace.

And we can’t do it alone. The more people joining the community of concerned citizens, the better. I invite you to dip your toe in the water.

Here's how you can help. Send a letter to Premier Doug Ford and Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Paul Calandra and let them know our healthcare workers deserve more staff, more resources, higher pay, and safety from violence. 

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