It was a long 18 months of appointments, tests and preparation for Bill Grantham, a retired firefighter from Powell River, B.C., on his way to a life-changing stem cell procedure at Vancouver General Hospital on Wednesday.
But as Grantham and his wife Mar sat in the sixth floor of the hospital, their focus, instead of focusing on a positive outcome and managing the stress of a difficult day, was on what was going on in the streets outside.
“All of a sudden we heard all of these horns honking and people yelling and chanting and singing,” Mar said.
“For us, all it did was add to the stress. We were on the sixth floor and could hear it plain as day. It was awful … I was at first in disbelief. I thought no way, this can’t be a protest in front of a hospital.”
Several thousand people had gathered outside VGH, along with other B.C. hospitals, for a protest against vaccine mandates.
The event was promoted by a group calling itself “Canadian Frontline Nurses,” whose organizers include an Ontario nurse fired for attending lockdown rallies in the U.S. and a B.C. doctor who claimed in October 2020 that there would be no second wave and that COVID-19 was no worse than a seasonal flu.
Some in the crowd said the protest was in support of health-care workers who they claimed were against vaccine policy or were being muzzled by authorities.
Grantham said she supported protesters’ right to make their opinions known, but was shocked and angry about where they chose to do it.
“It wasn’t the health-care workers or the patients inside the hospital that chose to implement the COVID vaccine passport. It was a government issue, a government mandate,” she said.
“Shame on them. Every single one of them. Because they didn’t for one minute imagine what it would have been like to be my husband, or a family member saying goodbye to a loved one, or somebody that has just been in a terrible accident, they thought about their voice, and to them that was more important.”
Health-care workers across B.C. have taken to social media since the protest to express their dismay at the event.
Staff at VGH were also disheartened.
“It was disappointing for a lot of us.” Dr. Laura Allen, a resident in the hospital’s otolaryngology department, told Global News.
“It’s been a long ride through all four waves, and we are still seeing, especially, unvaccinated patients at this time who are the ones who typically need hospitalization for COVID at this point.”
Dr. Vinay Dhingra, the hospital’s senior medical director of acute care, said despite the disruption outside, staff inside stayed focused on treating patients.
“It’s a bit disheartening. We want the public to support health-care workers,” he said.
“But we move on, and I think the resilience of our staff is amazing … Our main focus was to continue the operational activity we did, the safety of our patients, the safety of our staff, our integrated protective services kept the grounds safe, and we were able to provision the care we needed.”
Vancouver police estimate about 5,000 people turned out to the protest, which moved on from the hospital to City Hall, then downtown.
Police said there were no arrests or serious incidents at the Vancouver event.
But the protest has left a sour taste in the mouths of the Granthams.
“They thought their right to voice their opinion trumped the health and wellbeing of everyone at the hospital,” Mar said.
“That is incredibly selfish.”