‘I cry on the way home’: Ottawa health-care workers describe situation in ICUs

OTTAWA — As Ontario continues to battle the third wave of COVID-19, the impact on the health-care system is growing as the number of COVID patients needing critical and intensive care is higher than ever.

“Locally this has been, unfortunately, the worst we’ve seen in terms of COVID volume,” said Ottawa critical care physician Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng,

That is the reality in hospitals across the province. It’s one weighing heavily on health-care workers, as hospitals are faced with a growing number of COVID patients needing intensive and critical care.

“These last couple days have been this steady flow of just really sick COVID patients,” said Dr. Kyeremanteng. “COVID patients are the predominant patients in our ICUs right now.”

As of Sunday, 104 people were in Ottawa-area hospitals with COVID-19 related illnesses, including 25 in the ICU. Across Ontario, there are over 2,000 hospitalizations due to the virus and over 850 in ICUs.

“Where we are in terms of hospital occupancy, especially ICU occupancy is unparalleled from any time before, including from in this pandemic,” said Dr. Susan Chakrabarti.

That stress on the health-care system is weighing on those working the frontlines, like ICU nurse Alicia Robblee.

“At the end of a 12-hour shift, I get in my car, I cry on the way home, and I just collapse when I get home,” said Robblee. “Because emotionally and mentally it’s just too much to bear.”

Speaking to CTV News Ottawa on a day off, Robblee said the impact is all consuming.

“I find myself now just being very overwhelmed, I have a hard time sleeping, I have a hard time relaxing,” she said. “I woke up this morning feeling anxious, shaky, nauseous.”

Ottawa nurse Christie Cowan was recently deployed to the ICU, and says it’s like nothing she’s ever seen.

“Patients coming into the unit right now are young and they’re very sick. So you’re putting yourself in their shoes and thinking that could be me tomorrow,” said Cowan.

While there are signs of a flattening third wave, relief for overwhelmed frontline health-care workers, for many still feels like a distant reality.

“It takes time for the hospitalizations and the ICUs to level off, and they’re still on an upward trend, so it’s going to be a trying next couple of weeks,” said Dr. Chakrabarti.

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