A local ICU doctor hopes that the more he and other physicians talk about what the pandemic is like for them, the more people may start to realize the impact of their actions.
Dr. Eli Malus, ICU doctor at Windsor Regional Hospital, says they’re in the COVID-playoffs.
It’s intense and difficult, but people just have to wait it out a little bit longer, he said.
“I think that if people really understood what goes on in the ICUs and the emergency departments and the rest of the hospital now and the trauma and the sadness that happens around these cases, there would never be a question about wearing a mask or staying home … as opposed to going out,” he said.
A typical day for Malus means caring for about 24 ICU patients, many of whom are COVID positive.
The amount of energy it takes to deal with a severely ill COVID patient is much greater than a typical ICU patient, he said.
“Taking care of a critical COVID patient conservatively is about triple the amount of work for the nurse and the physician because of the PPE, because of the precautions that we have to take, everything takes more time, it’s more effort,” he said.
WATCH: Malus talks about the toll of the pandemic
Not only are he and his staff caring for the person in the hospital bed, but he said they’re also supporting that person’s family from afar — a necessary but often heavy burden.
“We need them to make decisions but we also just need to update them and they’re not there to help their family member so that’s probably the most difficult thing on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
“People might not appreciate how difficult it is as an ICU doctor to have to make life and death decisions around a patient and then to communicate those decisions and discuss them over the phone with a family member and then they can’t come in and it breaks your heart, it absolutely breaks your heart and families, it’s very hard on them … it’s really challenging and it’s very sad … it’s emotionally draining and it affects you.”
With this in mind, he said while it’s not easy for any health official or politician to close things down, if people could only glimpse the devastation being seen in hospitals right now, they might better understand why these measures are necessary.
“If they could be in the ICU, if they could be in the hospital and see the COVID wards full of patients on hiflo-oxygen, just a few per cent away from ending up in the ICU, from ending up on a ventilator,” he said, adding that some patients are “45 years old and completely healthy.”
‘We show up every day, no matter what’
As for his own health, it often takes a backseat.
Malus said most times he and other staff won’t eat or drink for the duration of their shifts, which could be anywhere from 12 to 20 hours long. Most of the time it’s because they’re worried about taking their mask and other equipment off, he said.
“And that’s very challenging for your own mental health, but I also think that we signed up for this, maybe not for a pandemic but every ICU doctor that trained and wanted to do this … I think we’re all aware of the difficulties and the challenges and the amount of time,”he said.
“I don’t think anybody predicted how long this would be and I think that’s where we’re seeing the side affects of burn out and the emotional distress on the healthcare team.”
Despite this, he said they never stop.
“We show up every day no matter what … with the understanding that this is temporary,” he said.
And while the vaccine is slowly making its rounds throughout the population, Malus said the hope of that is often masked by the suffering he witnesses.
“The joy is really tempered with the tragedies that we see on a day-to-day basis and even worse the tragedies that are preventable — so the cases where there was a get together that didn’t really need to happen,” he said.
“I really do think we kind of push through these last few months until the vaccine kicks in and the numbers start to subside, we really can’t give up, we’re at a real break point and … I don’t want to ask people to do more because they’ve already done more than they should.”
Yet he says it will be “quite some time” before things settle down and until then, the “worst is just beginning.”
“I get a lot of texts from friends, acquaintances, you know ‘do you support the lockdown?’ … I’m not a public health expert but I can say that I would do everything within my power to prevent someone from getting this illness and that’s all you really can expect people to do,” he said.
As of Wednesday, Windsor-Essex surpassed 10,000 total COVID-19 cases.
The death toll from the disease continues to rise, with 237 people having succumbed to the illness.
In total, 99 people are in hospital, 18 of whom are in the ICU.