Fighting COVID-19 on the front lines: Doctor gives inside look at intensive care unit
HALIFAX -- As case numbers of COVID-19 increase, hospital staff across the Maritimes are hoping they won’t see more admissions, but say they are prepared if they do.
Hospitals in the region have been training staff to use ventilators in simulation rooms with pretend patients.
But Dr. Sarah McMullen doesn’t have to imagine what COVID-19 looks like -- she’s already seen it firsthand.
“The toll that it’s taking on families who can’t be here when their loved ones die is awful,” says Dr. McMullen, a critical care physician at Halifax’s Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre.
McMullen also knows how difficult treating COVID-19 can be.
“There’s not a lot of approved medications. There’s no magic bullet for COVID,” she explains.
In a negative pressure room, staff don full personal protective equipment. Patients are intubated and put on a ventilator.
“There’s not really a lot we have to offer above and beyond just putting you on a ventilator and taking care of you to make sure you don’t get worse,” says McMullen.
McMullen says since March, eight COVID-19 patients have been brought to the ICU at the QEII. One died in hospital, and another died later.
“It’s very lonely. The patient is literally inside this room isolated for several days to weeks. So there’s a palpable sense of loneliness and loss that I think goes with COVID.”
McMullen credits leadership, lockdowns, and people washing their hands and wearing masks for keeping case numbers in the region low.
But as case numbers climb, so do her concerns.
“We need to start staying home again,” says McMullen. “We need to keep hand washing, wearing our masks. It’s exhausting, I know people are tired, people are lonely, people are frustrated. But now’s the time we really need to double down on that effort.”
McMullen echoes the now infamous words of Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil.
“I want people to stay the blazes home, I really do. It’s not going to be the holiday season that we hoped for and wanted, but it also doesn’t need to be as bad as it could be.”
It's a warning from someone who has been on the front lines and seen the effect that COVID-19 can have.