MNU is going

Behind the Mask

If you are a nurse, a patient, or know a nurse who is struggling, speak up. Your voice is powerful and has the ability to help others.

Channel your inner COURAGE and support Manitoba nurses.

The more vulnerable we get, the more Manitobans are taking notice. That’s bravery at its finest.

Download a copy of our sign!

Response to our lawn signs has been overwhelming, we’ve reordered, but to keep up with demand, you can download a copy of it to print at home. Add it to your window, or display it however you wish! We’ve also provided an SVG file for Cricut users to make window decals.

Meet Sarah...

This isn't her real name.

She doesn’t want to be identified for fear of jeopardizing her job, for being targeted for speaking up. She’s afraid of breaking down or opening her mouth and letting the truth spill out.

Sarah has been a nurse for 17 years now, but for the first time in her career, she’s second guessing her profession. She doesn’t feel able to provide the quality of patient care she’s accustomed to. She feels like she’s letting everyone, herself included, down.

When she comes home after a 12- or 16-hour shift, in the middle of night or when her family is just waking up, she struggles silently. She puts on a brave face to protect her family from her trauma, to shield them from her pain.

When she is lucky enough to be home with them at bedtime, to be able to tuck her children in, she feels flooded with sorrow. She thinks about all of the little ones growing up in a province that pays lip service to the frontlines. She thinks about the elders in her care and feels like a fraud, like she’s let down those who fought so hard for a nation that seems to be forgetting about them. People whose families assumed end-of-life care would be up to Canadian standards.

Daily, Sarah struggles with her own psychological well-being. With a pandemic that has been nothing short of horrific. The things Sarah has seen she cannot undo. The grief, the loss, the erosion of a job she once loved. She rarely eats a meal anymore. Her adrenaline supply is short, her feelings of disrespect high.

And so for now, she is safe, behind the mask, hiding her pain. But at what cost?

Meet Maria...

She struggles daily, feeling unprepared.

She’s afraid of making the wrong decision. She’s afraid of not making a decision. She’s afraid one wrong move will cause her to lose a patient.

Maria has been a nurse for almost a decade. She works in the community but recently has been redeployed. Overnight. Her employer tells her it’s because she’s needed in the ICU. But what they don’t tell her is how she will function there.

On her way to her first shift, she pulls over to the side of the road, sick to her stomach. She didn’t sleep much, her body shakes as she drives towards downtown. 

She’s never been in a role like this before. She never considered taking the extra training required to work with the most ill. The patients whose odds aren’t in their favour.

Please don’t let anyone die, she thinks.

They call her an extender. She’s been moved from her regular placement to a new job site. She was told there would be a nurse quarterback, someone who would help her learn the role. A role that takes time, skill and intuition.

She knows her seasoned ICU colleagues want to help her. She sees empathy in their eyes, but she can’t force herself to stop them on their way by, to ask what she should do next. 

And she can’t stop seeing the faces of the family she Zoomed in last night; her dying patient’s family, to say goodbye.

And so for now, she feels safe behind the mask, hiding her pain. But at what cost?

Meet Morgan...

She works in Emergency at one of the city’s major hospitals.

Her role is intense. Her body runs on adrenaline. Her movement on instinct.

Morgan has been a nurse for fourteen years. Always in Emerg, where chaos and uncertainty are the norm. A place that once housed a tight team of colleagues turned friends, who relied on one another to triage every patient that arrived. Assess each situation.

Her employer tells her ER nurses are appreciated. But Morgan knows better. She sees the reality. Her colleagues are leaving at an alarming rate. The Emergency Room never closes. Its doors constantly open, one crisis after another. The patient in cardiac arrest, acute respiratory failure, stroke, overdose, the list goes on.

Oftentimes the waiting room is overcrowded. The caregivers are exhausted and overworked, the patients desperate, and the atmosphere nerve-wracking. The nurses are the ones who are often on the receiving end of the frustrations. It’s unpredictable. People act out, sometimes with violent actions. They shoulder the harassment; the criticism of a system not functioning optimally.

Morgan is burning out. She’s exhausted. She feels deflated, she too thinks about leaving the ER, and truthfully, the profession. But for now, she’s forced to work double shifts knowing her absence would be one more blow to anyone left standing in the ER.

Just thinking about the lack of support; the gravity of the situation, the never-ending line up of people needing help and no recruitment in sight makes her feel infuriated.

Knowing she doesn’t want her patients to know just how bad the situation is, she hides, behind the mask. But at what cost?

Meet Linda...

She works in the ICU.

She’s what they call a quarterback. She is supposed to take the ball and communicate the play. Her goal is to get a touchdown, only this isn’t a game. She’s ‘quarterbacking’ inexperienced, redeployed nurses and the ball is a patient’s life.

She too doesn’t want her name published for fear of being reprimanded. The system isn’t working, her voice is so weak, even if she had time, the desire, the plays could not be heard.

She chose to work in the ICU because she wanted to make a difference. Her colleagues did too. It’s an area of the profession that requires extra training, it’s intense. People could die. The system is stretched beyond capacity, her employers keep offering lip service, her will is about to break.

Linda used to work to keep her patients alive. There aren’t enough respirators, hours in the day, nurses. 

Her employer tells her to be a good neighbour. Consider volunteering to help other provinces in crisis. Don’t they know Manitoba is in crisis? The ICU is in crisis. Linda is in crisis.

She doesn’t know how much more she can take. Just thinking about the grief, the patients she’s lost… how many more balls have to drop before someone blows the whistle? She thinks about the team in the ICU that was once one – a family.

She feels ashamed of the way things are being handled and so she hides, behind the mask. But at what cost?

Meet Jim...

He’s not a nurse. He doesn’t get paid to hold up the frontline. But he knows it well.

His mom lives in a personal care home. She’s battling dementia. She doesn’t remember yesterday, but she remembers everything about him when he was little; how he used to play kick ball and jacks. How proud she was of his accomplishments, how much he loved her freshly baked Saskatoon pie.

Every night that he leaves her, he’s spent. He’s disgusted with the system. He knows they can’t keep up.

Every night, as he gets into bed, his heart breaks. Not just for the woman he calls mom, but for the staff.

He sleeps lightly, he’s afraid of each call. He doesn’t want to hear she fell out of bed; or that she’s agitated and won’t take her meds. He doesn’t want to see another new face or hear of one more vacancy.

He wants to fight back; fight for health care, fight for change. Our elders deserve better, he thinks. Our nurses deserve more. But he too is tired. And deflated. Behind his mask, he’s also suffering but mostly of shame. 

Behind his mask, he can’t stop thinking about losing his patience, his temper, or worse, his mom.

Behind Jim’s mask, he’s decided it’s time to vote for change.

Meet Sean...

He works downtown at the city’s busiest hospital.

Fuelled by adrenaline, he’s always been a member of the ER. It’s intense, constant and at times, violent.

One minute he’s restraining a patient, the next he’s swabbing a potentially positive COVID case. He thinks on his feet, lives on coffee. Unlike his colleagues, he’s not deflated, he’s on the warpath.

He knows his union is fighting for equality, fighting for top up, fighting for safety on the frontline, but he also knows the government is playing games. Putting up legislation like walls to keep the public sector out.

It creates division, it is optics at best, it leaves nurses vulnerable, in a constant state of unrest.They are forced to work overtime, handcuffed to an out-of-date contract, and gag ordered not to speak out.  

He’s furious, he’s fed up, he’s thinking about walking off the job. A job he once lived for. But he’s unwilling to leave his colleagues behind, especially the ready-to-retire or new nurses. He can’t stand to think about them being pushed around.

He used to live for his family, for his wife. She keeps telling him he never used to be so harsh, so jaded. What she doesn’t know is that this is the only way.

Without a tough exterior, this job would eat him alive.

Behind the mask, it is eating him alive.

Meet Kristen...

In case you missed it, that’s not her real name.

This campaign is all about the need for anonymity, so our nurses aren’t targets of retribution. But what’s real is her story. She lives and breathes it every day. Kristen is a nurse on a COVID positive unit who recently posted a gut-wrenching rant about her previous night’s shift on social media. She didn’t name any patients; she didn’t slander her employer. But she did speak up about how this pandemic is tearing her apart.

What Kristen did was beg her friends and family to adhere to health orders on her Facebook wall. To stop spreading untruths. To take seriously this pandemic because she knows she and her colleagues know, they don’t have much left to give.

She wanted to offer perspective. To let people, know that this lockdown isn’t personal. It’s not a slight against mini soccer or softball. It’s not man made to hold you back from your favourite dive bar. This isn’t a ploy to control you. You aren’t being tracked. Seriously, this is NOT about you.

This pandemic is about our collective well-being. It’s about the people we’ve lost. It’s about the nurses, the health care aides, the support staff, the docs and the therapists. It’s about everyone in the system that is burnt out, running on fumes, hanging on by a thread. But as an essential employee, someone on the frontline, she’s in a vulnerable place. After all, nurses are supposed to be nice and selfless. They are public SERVANTS after all.

‘Kristen’ was asked to remove the post.

Behind these masks are people who are trying their damnedest to hang on. Who definitely want to see their best pals again for happy hour, who like you want to move through the world freely, but at this point, more than anything, they just want to make it. Not give up. Or worse, be gagged for speaking up.

Behind Kristen’s mask, she’s asking for your help. Please have the couRAGE to stay strong and stay home.

Meet Liz...

She’s a Public Health Nurse. She’s wise, intuitive.

She’s worked more than three decades in the community. She travels to homes to see how patients are recovering from surgeries. She’s the lifeline to schools. She believes in prevention, about keeping people safe. She checks in on new moms and their babies. As she chats, she looks for clues of postpartum, wounds not healing, struggles.

Liz is a steady presence. She soothes insecurity and fear. She fields all questions that comes to her from her ‘regular’ workload, plus now with the pandemic she’s flooded with asks. She’s trying to be in two places at once. In the community and at the pop-up clinics. Glued to the phone and calling Manitobans to let them know they’ve tested positive for the virus. To begin tracing.

But those calls are dreadful.

They suck the life out of her. With each one, she spends more time trying to reassure the person on the other end of the phone that everything will be okay. She tells them not to worry. But honestly, she’s extremely worried.

There’s talk of taking job action, like back in the 90’s when nurses were horribly disrespected. She doesn’t want to do that again. She doesn’t want to walk. It goes against a nurse’s nature, but she knows if she doesn’t, everything she’s spent her life work doing will be lost.

For some, it’s already gone.

The moral injury is just too high. She sees less new grads, hears of fewer young people wanting to become a nurse. She understands. Who would want to spend their life fighting for patients, fighting bureaucracy, fighting to be heard? She wants to scream at the law makers, she wants to shake up this government and ask them why? Why has she always bragged about our health care? Why has she always respected politicians? Why did she tell so many patients it would be okay?

By mistreating nurses, Liz knows, the system is also abusing the moms and babies, the shut ins, the marginalized and the public’s health.

By eroding the frontline, this government is eroding the very thing we as Canadians are known for – our compassion, our dedication to those in need.

Each day she delivers the news, she gives up a little more of what once was.

Behind these masks are people who believe in good. Believe that respect is earned not given simply by a title. Believe that public health is not an afterthought, it’s the first step.

Behind Liz’ mask she knows they’ve come too far to settle. There’s too much on the line. The frontline, that is. Please have the couRAGE to stay strong and stay home.

Meet Georgia...

This isn’t her real name, but hopefully you know that already.

In Georgia’s case, she’s not a nurse. This campaign is about protection and advocacy for those on the front lines. Right now, Georgia is lying in a hospital bed with a brand-new baby. Her first, which means she has no idea what to do.

Worse, she’s afraid. She’s giving birth at a time when the world is afraid too. She’s read about moral injury and the exhaustion faced by the frontlines. She’s read about the gaping wounds in health care.

As contractions mounted, the first thing out of her mouth was a question. “Will you be there with me? I don’t want to be alone.” She was speaking to her partner, but deep down, she worries about not having the reassuring presence of a nurse by her side.

Her mind races thinking of staffing shortages, knowing the situation is critical in Manitoba while in the midst of the global pandemic.

For the past few weeks, she’s been riddled with anxiety. She hears of patients being transferred out of hospitals and into other provinces. She hears the battle cries but also sees that no one is listening.

She’s terrified for her newborn. What will the world look like in three years? What if he falls off a play structure and breaks his leg? Who will be there to care for him?

She sees the nurses run off their feet. She sees the same nurse in the morning that she did last night.

Nurses who have deep pools of tired skin welling up under their eyes. Whose words of wisdom are strong even though their physical selves appear frail.

She feels ashamed for needing their help, for being another strain on an already maxed-out system. She’s doing well, others are not.

She feels selfish for the uncontrollable worry and insecurity she feels. Just thinking about the injustice makes her feel angry.

Rage spills over into tears and she starts to weep. This is supposed to be the most exciting time of life. She feels let down. She feels discouraged.

Holding tight to her newborn, she feels alone. Except she’s not. The door opens and a nurse pokes her head in and asks, “Georgia, are you okay?”

Meet Manny...

When he was little, his mom bragged about his heightened sense of empathy.

He was always bringing home stray cats, always wanting to protect the weak. As he grew, his mom began to boast about his intelligence. She thought he might become a doctor, she’d told her friends. But instead, Manny became a nurse. He preferred the practical application. He wanted to sit at a bedside and talk to people about their struggles.

Today it’s Manny whose struggling. No longer a child, he remains incredibly empathetic. Hidden beneath his scrubs, his concern for those in his care runs deep. Taught not to judge, he brushes off the comments of people who tell him, “I could never be a nurse, especially not in this day and age.”

Sure, he earns a good wage. But he feels like no matter what he tries, he can’t get back to baseline. That space where he felt like he could comfort and offer hope. That space where he was the unit jokester, the guy who made everyone laugh.

Tucking in his elderly patients or waking them up for a morning walk, he listens to old wartime stories about days gone by – he knows what a difference that kind of connection makes in their lives.

When forced to work double or triple shifts, he takes his little girl back and forth, from school to his parents, without whom he’d never be able to manage. Many nights, he arrives home after she’s gone to bed. When he does, he scrubs off the day, showers away sickness and grief and crawls into bed beside her. He closes his eyes and prays she becomes a dancer or a zoo keeper; he closes his eyes and sees the faces of patients he’s lost. Faces he made laugh, told everything would be okay.

Manny’s kindness is anything BUT weakness. There isn’t any such thing as a weak nurse. He couldn’t do this job if he was, it would destroy him.

Because he cares so deeply, he’s not giving up. It means too much to him. It means he’s voted in favour of a strike.

Meet our allies...

These are the faces behind the masks of those who do not stand on the front line, but stand with us.

They are the social influencers, the professors and the teachers, and they are the students at Inkster School who took time to write us letters this week, encouraging our nurses to keep going.

They are the business owners who rallied together, threw down their hands and dollars to build a campaign to petition Manitobans to speak up.

They are the emergency department physicians who took the time from already incredibly busy days to formulate a profoundly impactful letter sent to the Premier, calling for more. They explained the gravity of the situation in emergency departments and the morale insult from our government.

These are the friends and families of nurses who have changed their profile photos on social media to add a Manitoba Nurses Union frame, announcing they have the couRAGE to stand with nurses. They are the bookish knitters who tag MLAs, every time they confront injustice. They are the political satirists and staff at Central Office who don’t back down.

This is everyone who is not willing to let patient care suffer, who knows that 15 months of sacrificing oneself is worth a fair negotiation. This is for the spouses of frontline workers who listen, who aren’t willing to give up. This is a nod to the past, the General Strike and the Strike of 1991. This is our sisters and brothers who stand solidarity. Because quite frankly, we’ve had enough. We’re not backing down. We’ve come too far to settle.

This week, the faces behind the masks belong to everyone who sees, honours and stands with nurses.


Meet Amy...

In case you missed it, that’s not her real name. But what's real is her story.

She has been a nurse since she graduated in 2002. She’s been on this journey, the highs and lows associated with health care, her entire career. She is completely in support of her union. She knows how public sector employees can be volleyed between political parties and elections.

This pandemic has taken its toll on her family. Amy has two young children and a super supportive partner. She doesn’t want to give up on the fight or settle for the injustice, but, like a toxic relationship, this constant state of fight or flight, this back and forth-ing is emotionally exhausting.

She voted in favour of not just a strike, but of treating humans with respect. Now that she and her many thousands of colleagues have spoken, the games begin.

Now that Manitoba nurses have said they would be willing to take job action in order to be treated with respect, the lip service in the media is constant. It’s hard to wait.

They are ready to walk off the job because they know that the government’s constant press releases about what they plan to do is nothing more than talk. There’s no action. There’s no respect. This rollercoaster feels never-ending.

The more the politicians talk about how thankful they are to nurses while dragging their feet to offer up a fair contract, the more she ruminates on the insults.

Remembering that campaign trying to entice nurses to come to Canada that the Pallister government put out – like the one with fake nurses enjoying spa days, or the one that had images of women in scrubs cross country skiing – the more rage she feels.

Lip service is one more distraction from what matters, which is nurses walking off the job. As Amy reads the latest emails sent from government claiming they aren’t the employer, that Shared Health and WHRA are the employers, the angrier she gets.

Walking around with all of those negative emotions bottled up, trying to hide her angry smile, so that she doesn’t misdirect, blow up, on the people she loves the most.

Behind Amy’s mask, she’s asking for your help. Please have the couRAGE to know that real action isn’t ink on paper. Real action isn’t late to the table. It doesn’t come dressed in scrubs with arms exposed to cross country ski.

Real action is a solid and fair contract, not just backed by puppets, but also by the person holding the strings.

Meet the courageous...

This week, behind these masks are brave, strong and powerful people.

People who are speaking out against injustice. In case you missed it, last week, there was an article in the Winnipeg Free Press from four Manitoba nurses who spoke about their experiences on the frontline.

Sitting down with a journalist and telling your story is not always easy. Some of the things you experience as a nurse are not relatable to the average Manitoban.

You wonder, will my integrity show through? Will my compassion make its way onto the page? Will Manitoba understand the last thing we wanted was a strike? Will the public see that this is a cry for help? That we need better conditions for patients and for staff?

These are the faces behind the masks who will continue to work the extra hours and find the time to deliver signs all around this province. From Gillam to Dauphin. Swan River to Steinbach. From Erickson to Elie.

These are the men and women who are used to giving 110% every day, despite the circumstances. 

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to stand up to unfair treatment. To be the courier and the caretaker. The private person and the one whose story is inked in print. That takes courage.

Here’s to all of the faces behind the masks who this past week went the extra mile for the greater good. 

These are the stories

Behind the Mask.

We all feel the impact, and something needs to change.

As of March 31, 2021 it’s been 4 Years. That’s


days (and counting) nurses have
worked without a contract...

How can YOU
channel YOUR inner


Stand in solidarity with Manitoba Nurses. Email Heather Stefanson, Minister of Health and Seniors Care PC, to express your concern for the health and welfare of nurses and their patients. Contact your MLA. Do your part to stay safe and remember to be kind to those on the front lines. Share our posts on social media, help us spread awareness about the harsh realities nurses have faced before, and throughout this pandemic.


Go behind the mask with us, and get a glimpse inside the life of a nurse. Frontline workers are viewed as heroes, and they most certainly are. But underneath that PPE, they are human beings, whose physical and mental health are being compromised as they care for us. These eye-opening stories need to be put in the spotlight. We'll be adding more stories to the Behind the Mask series over the next month. Please check back regularly.


Follow us on our Facebook and Instagram. Stay in the loop as we continue to tell nurses' stories. It’s where we will be updating you on legislation, bargaining, news from around the globe as well as right here at home. Help us push the needle forward for positive change by sharing our posts. And, if you, a patient, or a nurse you know is struggling, please share your story with us by emailing us.

Innercourage.ca  |  2021