'No two COVID cases are the same': What it's like inside a N.S. COVID-19 unit
HALIFAX -- Forty-nine-year-old Krista Blaikie Hughes was released from the Halifax Infirmary's COVID-19 treatment unit – including a stay in intensive care – just in time to spend a quiet Mother's Day at home.
She spent more than two weeks there, after being admitted April 19. She had been experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and had tested positive earlier that month.
She says her experience was one many people need to know could happen to them.
"What it made me realize," she says in a video chat from her Fall River home, "is that no two COVID cases are the same."
Blaikie Hughes didn't expect to end up in the intensive care unit (ICU). At first, she was a patient in the hospital's dedicated COVID-19 ward. But soon after she was admitted, she says she started finding it harder and harder to breathe.
Eventually, she was put on 95 per cent oxygen. Then, a CAT scan showed she had COVID-related pneumonia.
At first, she thought she would be going into the next-level of care at the unit, but then she was told she was heading to the ICU instead.
"I can remember going to ICU," she recalls, "and the nurse that accompanied me, she said, 'you'll be back up soon, you'll be back with us soon.'"
Blaikie Hughes doesn't remember much for her first two days spent in the ICU. She remembers staff turning her over to lay in the prone position, something commonly done for COVID patients.
She recalls that being painful, and says she was constantly coughing and struggling to breathe, along with being extremely tired.
She remembers telling a healthcare worker – she's not certain if it was a nurse or a respiratory therapist – that she wasn't sure she could keep going.
"I said, 'I'm done, I don't have any more, I can't do this anymore, can we just please stop?' And (she) said, 'I'm not done fighting, I'm going to fight for you,'"
Tears fill Blaikie Hughes' eyes. "And she must have, because I'm here."
After those rough first days, her condition started to improve. In a room by herself, she could see through the windows what was happening in the unit.
"I watch ventilators being prepped, I watched dialysis units being prepped," she says. "And I realized just how fortunate I was."
"You know, it really hits home, to know that somebody else is going to need that."
Krista wasn't put on a ventilator. Instead, she was given an anti-viral drug as part of a research study, and was on an oxygen humidification device that ran through her nose.
But Nova Scotia Health says as of Tuesday, eleven Nova Scotians with the virus are on ventilators – among the 64 people in hospital in the province with COVID-19.
The number of hospitalizations in the province due to the virus is higher during the third wave than in previous waves.
For example, on May 10 last year, the province reported nine people in hospital.
The charge nurse for the COVID-19 ICU says it is much busier than it was last year.
"We're used to be being busy, we're used to working hard," says Brittany MacArthur. "Everybody's been working endlessly."
She says the team of medical professionals involved did have time to prepare for the third wave.
"What it looks like in the ICU with these ventilated patients, these patients are considered airborne, so require airborne precautions," she says. "(That means) a negative pressure room, as well as the full PPE … that the frontline care workers wear."
That PPE is changed after tending to each individual patient.
MacArthur says the hardest thing in the ICU is that no family visits are allowed due to pandemic protocols.
Staff often connect with family by phone or through video chat. They also do what they can to help patients know they're not alone.
"These patients are very sick, often sedated, so they're not always aware," she adds, "but we continue to speak to patients like they can hear us … Just letting them know they're OK, that their family is thinking of them, and that they will get through this."
She says it's rewarding to see patients recover enough to be released home. But there are small victories too.
"Seeing a patient who's been ventilated for two weeks, who's been bed-bound, to see them at the edge of the bed with the support of 3-4 people because they're so deconditioned," MacArthur adds, "it's really amazing."
For her part, Krista Blaikie Hughes calls the healthcare workers "rock stars," and says she received the best care she could have imagined.
"For people who don't think it's serious," she says, "They need to understand that it can be. If people could understand what your body goes through because of this, perhaps they'd stay home."