A night at the ICU: Alberta health-care workers share reality of COVID-19 patient care

Click to play video: 'Alberta health-care workers share reality of COVID-19 patient care'
Alberta health-care workers share reality of COVID-19 patient care
An Edmonton doctor is detailing a night in the ICU just hours after he got off of his shift. He's one of two health-care workers sharing a first-hand account of what's really happening in Alberta's hospitals during the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Morgan Black shares their stories – Sep 10, 2021

A doctor and a respiratory therapist are detailing a night in an Edmonton ICU during the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Raiyan Chowdhury is a critical care specialist at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

He finished his shift at the ICU just hours before a Friday interview with Global News.

“The typical story [for a COVID-19 patient] is: their symptoms started one day ago… seven days ago.
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“They are trying to cope at home but things got so bad, like with the shortness of breath, that they came to the emergency department. From there, it’s fairly rapid.”

Chowdhury said the patients with COVID-19 he is seeing during the fourth wave are younger and deteriorating more quickly while in hospital.

“Within 12 hours they need [five times] their oxygen level. Then, very quickly, getting put on life support,” he said. “When we put someone on life support, we sedate them and often have to paralyze them. Then all sorts of invasive procedures follow.”
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Doctors warn of potential health care system collapse in Alberta

For example, Chowdhury said a patient Thursday night required a “cardiopulmonary bypass.”

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“That means we are putting huge hoses in people’s necks to oxygenate their blood,” he said. “They have never had any interaction with the health-care system before and now they are facing death in their 20s and 30s. That’s heartbreaking.”

The doctor said many of the procedures are “torturous.”

“We’re stopping care on people when it has become futile. When [someone is on a ventilator] and you’re doing that to them and there’s no improvement and a continuous decline, you run into a moral dilemma: should I keep doing this to someone if you know they can’t pull through?”

During Chowdhury’s shift, a man in his 40s with COVID-19 had to be placed back on a ventilator after recently being removed from it. He said before the hospital staff did that, they asked if the patient wanted to see his parents.

“He said, ‘I don’t want them to come in. They could be exposed and they are seniors.'”

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Instead, the patient sent a text to his family. Chowdhury said the man detailed his funeral instructions to his parents, apologized for putting them in this situation and thanked them for giving him a wonderful life.

Cara Moffat often starts her ICU shift with heartbreak.

The registered respiratory therapist said she recently spent the majority of her shift with a young mother who would eventually die from COVID-19 after spending days under care.

“It’s a lot of regret from patients. I would say the majority of patients regret not being vaccinated,” Moffat said. “It’s like Russian roulette. Maybe your friend didn’t get sick. Maybe your uncle had a mild case of COVID. But for you? You don’t know.”

Both Chowdhury and Moffat are urging Albertans to get vaccinated.

“Nobody I know that’s vaccinated in hospital has required any significant interventions from me as an intensive care doctor. That’s just the reality,” Chowdhury said.

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Moffat said it’s hard to convey to Albertans how serious this situation is because most haven’t had to be admitted to the ICU.

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“We are seeing things that people on the outside aren’t seeing. Let us be your witness. Let us tell you what’s truly happening,” Moffat said.

“I hope Albertans hear these stories. They see the situation getting worse and then they go out and get their vaccine.”

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