Montreal area nurse practitioner Melanie Myrand

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals were held in high regard.

Doctors, nurses, paramedics and others who care for us when we are sick or injured have proven to be heroes in the middle of this worldwide health crisis. At a time when we need them the most, their dedication has been an inspiration.

As the pandemic stretches to almost a year in length, it definitely feels more like a marathon than a sprint. Montreal area nurse practitioner Melanie Myrand is uniquely qualified. She is, after all, a marathon runner. No weekend warrior, she was a member of Canada’s team at the 2019 World Athletics Championships, finishing with a time of 2:57:40 in 27th place.

Myrand typically works in a family medicine clinic. Since the pandemic began, the need for more healthcare professionals had her taking shifts in long-term care, caring for patients with COVID-19.

Early in the first wave, Myrand worked a night shift at one long-term care facility where everyone on the staff had tested positive, except the cook. “COVID hit hard in long-term care,” said Myrand. “At one point, they converted a hotel into a ‘hot unit’. We had 132 patients – 30 patients died – and we were administering all kind of treatments, like IV and palliative care. It was amazing to see how everyone came together for our patients.”

Because nurse practitioners are able to diagnose and treat patients without a doctor, Quebec’s Ministry of Health has directed nurse practitioners not to take on other roles, like nurse clinicians and even orderlies, the way they did in the first wave. “They wanted us to just do our role, which will keep people out of the emergency room, because they knew that hospitals would start filling up more than the first wave,” said Myrand.

Through staffing shortages, personal protective equipment shortages, and a second wave that has introduced more restrictions, Myrand remains dedicated to helping her patients through the family medicine clinic, with rounds at a long-term care facility.

“We start with a teleconsultation, but we do take walk-ins because there’s only so much you can do over the phone. Sometimes you need to see somebody; you really want to prevent people from being in the emergency room,” said Myrand. “My role is different this time, but I feel like I’m playing my part. I’m in a ‘green unit’ where everyone’s gotten their first vaccine and not helping out in a COVID unit, because I don’t want to bring it to the walk-in patients.”

Through it all, running has remained part of Myrand’s routine. Over the summer, when case counts were lower, she was able to train and prepare for a marathon opportunity that might arise, in the midst of so many cancelled events. “It started off pretty relaxed, then I really started to train and got the fittest I’ve ever been,” she said. “I was hitting paces I’ve never hit before, and I really wanted to beat the Quebec record.” Jacqueline Gareau’s 1983 mark of 2:29:28 is faster than the Olympic standard for Tokyo this summer.

It didn’t work out at the Fast is Fun Marathon in Waterloo, Ont., last October: “I knew it wasn’t in my legs on the day. When I finished the first lap, I knew I wouldn’t achieve my goal. But I knew I had to finish. I figured that I came here to run 42 kilometres and that’s what I did.”

John Lofranco, who is Myrand’s coach and Athletics Canada’s Coaching Education Manager, has seen Myrand steadily improve since they started working together in 2012. “She’s made consistent, gradual improvements – which is not the norm for distance running,” said Lofranco. “The thing about Melanie is that she doesn’t have a bad race. She always races to her potential. You know what you’re going to get from her.”

Commitment is the key for Myrand. Juggling a demanding career with the hours dedicated to training and competition can be difficult. “I’m lucky because my job can be a distraction from elite running and running can be a distraction from my job,” she said.

As we all deal with the effects of the pandemic, Myrand shares some advice. “Find a little bit of joy every day. Take care of your physical health. Take care of your mental health. Take care of your family. This is harder than a marathon, because we don’t know where the finish line is.”