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'We're fatigued': B.C. doctor says cumulative stress of third wave taking toll

Last Updated Apr 22, 2021 at 7:40 pm PDT


Dr. Navdeep Grewal is echoing Dr. Bonnie Henry's description of exhaustion among healthcare workers

Grewal says the stresses of the third wave are different, with worries the vaccine will not outpace variants

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in British Columbia is weighing heavily on healthcare workers, with hospitalizations at a record high and surgeries postponed in an effort to ease the pressure. 

On Monday, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry said procedures are being paused because the hospital system is stressed — and the people who keep it running are exhausted.

Dr. Navdeep Grewal sees patients at Delta Hospital and Mount Saint Joseph Hospital and has been working on the frontlines throughout the pandemic.

She says the stress has been cumulative, compounding as they care for patients day-in day out during a pandemic

“We’re fatigued. We’re just tired of constantly going to work, having to wear a mask and PPE all day at work, not being able to socialize, not being able to sit together while having our lunch,” she explains.

“It’s just been a lot of shared fatigue experiences, trauma experiences. We’re seeing patients that come in quite sick, having to deal with wondering when are they going to get sicker and have to be admitted to ICU. All of that kind of stuff gathers over time. You just keep working, just going in every day, every week, every month, not knowing when you’ll have a break or when you’ll be able to finally say, ‘Okay it’s time to take a holiday now,’ or actually have the ability to take that time off and not feel stressed because you know that your coworkers are still in the midst of all of this.”

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And each day brings a flood of new information — about vaccines, about transmission, about variants.

“It’s like taking a continuing medical education course several times a day, every single day. The information just comes down to so quickly and it changes so fast,” she says.

Grewal also does volunteer outreach to help people overcome vaccine hesitancy, so it’s not just her patients who rely on her to allay their worries.

“I feel like I need to be on top of my game so that I can convince patients and friends and family that vaccines are safe, and there’s nothing to worry about. It’s just constantly upgrading my own medical education so I can be the expert for my friends and family,” she says.

She says at this stage of the pandemic what worries her most is that the spread of the virus could outpace immunization.

“The hardest part for me is knowing that we’re so close to the end. And yet, we still have a way to go. Our vaccination rollout is still in progress, we still have only about 30 per cent of the population eligible even to get vaccinated,” she explains.

“We’re still not anywhere close to where we need to be. My worry is that with COVID-fatigue that has developed — especially in this third wave — that we just may end up getting so many more cases of variants and not really winning this race.”

Grewal isn’t hopeless or pessimistic.

“We can still move forward and get through this, if we just continue to do our art — wearing masks, physical distancing, and making sure that we all get the vaccine when it’s our turn.”

She does urge people to consider the ripple-effect their decision to bend the rules can have.

“There is a small segment of the population that is questioning, that is wondering whether there’s some rules that they can break and still feel safe, and that’s fine,” she explains.

“But if everybody starts to feel the same way, and everybody then starts to become an exception to the rule then that’s when we start to have transmission of variants and the transmission of cases within social gatherings and it just gets worse and worse over time. That’s what led to the third wave.”