An Alberta emergency room physician is sharing what it was like working through the holidays this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Shazma Mithani is currently working at the ERs at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton. She worked a six-day stretch over the Christmas season that wrapped up Sunday morning.
She said that working as a physician over the holidays is always a tough time, knowing patients are away from their families, but this year the COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of stress to both the health-care workers and patients.
“With visitor restrictions, we can’t always have a support person being able to be in the room with the patient and so it’s definitely upsetting and challenging on multiple levels,” Mithani said.
Current health restrictions that aim to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta mean those in hospital can have one designated support person who is permitted to visit. Those in critical care, NICU and pediatrics may have two visitors.
Mithani said many of her patients also took advantage of virtual or phone visits.
“The holidays are always a time to spend with family and this pandemic is making that challenging for everybody.”
As of Monday, there were 878 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, 148 of whom were in intensive care. Mithani said she believes there are some signs that people who need hospitalization are avoiding coming in.
“I definitely saw much more COVID patients over this last week, but in addition to that, I was seeing a lot more other patients come in with different medical and surgical problems,” Mithani said.
“Those patients tended to be sicker than what I have seen in previous years and I suspect that that’s because people are avoiding the hospital, which they shouldn’t.”
Mithani also warned that she believes hospitalizations, which have continued to rise despite lowering daily case numbers in the province, will continue on that trajectory.
“I’m certainly seeing that myself at work,” she said. “And then of course that’s going to be reflected in the deaths that we see as well.”
Alberta hit a grim milestone Monday — reaching 1,002 total deaths from COVID-19.
There were also 917 new cases identified Monday.
While lower case numbers are encouraging, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said they’re partly due to fewer people getting tested over the holidays.
“We also know that things like deaths, hospitalizations, ICU, are what we call lagging indicators,” Hinshaw said. “They happen one to two weeks after case numbers start to decline.”
Mithani says she hopes that Albertans realize what they do now will help lessen the load on health-care workers in the coming weeks.
“Please, please stay home for New Years — do virtual visits, do virtual parties,” Mithani said. “I encourage everybody to follow the rules — to stay home, think outside the box in terms of ways that you can celebrate, please just keep yourselves and everybody else safe.”
Alberta has also begun its vaccination program, initially focused on health-care workers. On Monday, Dr. Hinshaw said 6,016 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been administered in Alberta over the last two weeks.
Mithani said she believes the vaccinations should be a sign of hope for Albertans.
“There is a sign of the end in sight. We are so close now we just have to hang on a little bit longer until we can slowly get back to a normal life.”