“Like a wild roller coaster”: Montreal ICU staff tackle the challenges of wave 4
The intensive care unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital of the McGill University Health Center has been a key battleground in Quebec’s fight against COVID-19.
After treating more than 200 COVID patients throughout the pandemic, the fourth wave has sparked feelings of frustration.
“Morale has definitely changed since the first wave,” said Dr Jason Shahin, a respiratory medicine specialist who works at the ICU. âYou know, people were very positive (in the first wave). The company was uplifting. So morale, I think, has gone down a bit, especially seeing the protests outside the hospitals. “
Global News was granted access to Royal Vic’s intensive care unit on Wednesday and spoke to three healthcare professionals working there.
Shahin says about a third of intensive care beds at the hospital are occupied by COVID patients, and it’s still a constant battle to find space for people with other issues. He says the COVID patients there right now all have something in common.
âWe have about 10, 11 patients right now. They are not all vaccinated, âhe said, adding that the average age of patients is now around 50 years old.
The youngest in intensive care is only 21 years old.
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âWe are seeing a younger generation – in the 20s, 30s, 40s,â said Michael Zeeman, respiratory therapist at the ICU. “I’m 31 myself, and it’s hard to see.”
âI think it was emotionally difficult to see people my age or even younger than me intubated here in the ICU,â said Melissa Wood, an ICU nurse in her thirties.
Shahin said some patients regret not being vaccinated before being intubated and hooked up to a ventilator, or when they have trouble breathing due to COVID-19.
âWe’ve had a lot of deaths and a lot of young patients have passed away, and it’s frankly hard to watch these people die knowing it could have been prevented,â he said.
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Wood said that although intensive care patients are mostly unvaccinated people, she does not show patients any judgment about their vaccination status.
âWe need to be as empathetic and as non-judgmental as possible to take the best care of them. I think we cannot pass judgment on the basis of their decisions. I think we can just provide the best possible care in the ICU, âshe told Global News.
Shahin says treatment has improved as the pandemic has continued and lessons have been learned.
“We know how to deal with them. We know how to do what we have to do. Despite this, mortality is still high, âhe said.
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The MUHC is the only center in Quebec offering extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and extracorporeal cardiopulmonary resuscitation (ECPR) 24/7.
When COVID prevents your lungs from supplying oxygen to the body, the ECMO machine takes blood from your circulatory system, pumps oxygen there, and sends it back.
Even with advances in treatment techniques, Shahin said nearly half of those intubated in intensive care will die.
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Zeeman, the respiratory therapist, says the past two years have been grueling.
âIt’s like a wild roller coaster, to be honest. Lots of workers have left, you know, for what they might describe as greener pastures, ” he told Global News, explaining that he had seen several colleagues leave for the private sector.
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“I’ve had some ups and downs too and I’m feeling a lot better right now. I have the impression that it is better. There are fewer sick people, and there is a lot of support now, âhe said.
Zeeman comes face to face with COVID patients on a daily basis. One of his jobs is to make sure ventilators are working properly on intubated patients.
Shahin says frustrated healthcare workers want to feel supported by the public.
âThere has to be an appreciation of the healthcare workers, really, especially the nurses and respiratory therapists who do the majority of the work in critical care,â he said.
âItâs amazing to see my colleagues doing their jobs professionally and treating patients with empathy, no matter what they may be feeling.
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