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ICU doctor says frontline workers suffer physical, emotional and spiritual toll fighting pandemic

Last Updated Nov 25, 2020 at 7:11 pm PDT


The nine months of treating people with COVID-19 is taking its toll on staff at B.C. hospitals

An ICU doctor at St. Paul's Hospital is wondering when society will step up and prevent the spread of COVID-19

VANCOUVER (CityNews) — If British Columbians could see what a doctor on the frontlines of the pandemic goes through, people would help stop the spread of the virus.

As COVID-19 cases show no sign of letting up and hospital beds fill up, Dr. Del Dorscheid is sharing his perspective on what it’s been like as a doctor in the ICU.

“We’ve now been at this for nine months,” he says. “So that’s a physical bearing on us; it’s a spiritual and emotional bearing as well.”

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Exhaustion and fear are the two of the overarching feelings Dorscheid says he and his coworkers are experiencing while helping patients at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital.

“Most people haven’t seen critical illness. So, I think that’s kind of horrifying to most people when they see it for the first time.”

And for staff with children and families working in acute units can be scary, according to Dorscheid which is why more and more staff are requesting transfers.

“Just the wear and tear of the everyday. Getting in the PPE, living in the PPE, getting out of them and wondering if you’re going to take it home to your family, your loved one, your children.”

Another reality many in the Intensive Care Unit with COVID-19 have to face is the use of ventilators to assist in their breathing.

“The best analogy for me is if you took your finger, put it on the back of your throat, and just leave it there. It’s a 24/7 gag reflex and it is painful. I mean you have this machine that is forcefully pushing air into you. It’s a forceful maneuver with this finger at the back of your throat.”

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Two hundred ninety-four people are in hospital across the province as of Wednesday which is the highest hospitalization number we’ve seen during the pandemic. Sixty-one of those people are in critical care.

“St Paul’s and all of our health care systems are starting to feel stretched right now. Having said that, in terms of people getting care, the emergency departments are safe, they’re still able to function. And we have a backup plan in the surge plan across the Lower Mainland and across the province to support what we need to do for hospitals for people who need admission or surgery,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.

Dorscheid adds, for the past four to six weeks the Fraser Health Authority has been taking care of a large portion of cases in the province and the hospitals are starting to fill up.

And while Dorscheid says he thinks the province may still have time, [if] we don’t flatten the curve, we will fill up pretty quick.”