‘Like a wild roller coaster’: Montreal ICU staff open up about 4th wave challenges

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The intensive care unit at McGill University Health Center’s Royal Victoria Hospital has been a key battleground in Quebec’s fight against COVID-19.

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After treating over 200 COVID patients during the pandemic, the fourth wave has brought with it a sense of despair.

“The morale has definitely changed since the first wave,” said Dr. Jason Shaheen said. “You know, people were very positive (in the first wave). The society was uplifting. So, I think the morale has gone down a bit, especially considering the protests outside hospitals.”


Granthshala News was provided access to the Royal Vic’s ICU on Wednesday and spoke to three health care professionals working there.

Shaheen says that about one-third of the ICU beds in the hospital are occupied by COVID patients, and it is still an ongoing battle with people coming to terms with other issues. He says that all the COVID patients out there have something in common.

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“Right now we have around 10,11 patients. They are all illiterate,” he said, adding that the average age of the patients is now around 50.

The youngest ICU occupant is just 21 years old.

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“We’re seeing a younger generation — 20, 30, 40-year-olds,” said Michael Zeeman, a respiratory therapist in the ICU. “I’m 31 myself, and it’s hard to watch.”

“I think it’s emotionally difficult to see people my age or even younger than me here in the ICU,” said nurse Melissa Wood, 30, in the ICU.

Shaheen said some patients lament that they were not vaccinated and attached to a respirator before they were vaccinated, or when they are having trouble breathing due to COVID-19.

“We’ve had a lot of deaths and we’ve had a lot of young patients, and it’s obviously difficult for these people to die, knowing that it probably could have been avoided,” he said. .

Wood said that although ICU patients are primarily unvaccinated people, she does not show patients any judgment about their immunization status.

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“We have to be as empathetic and non-judgmental as we can to give them the best care we can. I think we can’t judge based on their decisions. I think we can get the best care within the ICU can,” she told Granthshala News.

Shaheen says that treatment has improved due to the pandemic and lessons have been learned.

We know how to treat them. We know how to do what we want to do. Despite this, the death rate is still high,” he said.

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MUHC is the only center in Quebec that provides Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) and Extracorporeal Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (ECPR) on a 24-7 basis.

When COVID blocks your lungs from delivering oxygen to your body, the ECMO machine removes blood from your circulatory system, pumps oxygen into it, and sends it back in.

Even with advances in treatment techniques, Shaheen said that about half of those intubated in the ICU will die.

Respiratory therapist Jeeman says that the last two years have been very tiring.

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“It’s like a wild roller coaster, to be honest. A lot of workers have gone to, you know, what they might describe as greener pastures, ” He told Granthshala News that he has seen many colleagues leave for the private sector.

I have also seen many ups and downs and I am feeling much better at the moment. I have a feeling that it is getting better. There are fewer sick, and there is a lot of support now,” he said.

Zeeman comes face to face with COVID patients daily. Among their duties is to ensure that ventilators are working properly on intubated patients.

Shaheen says frustrated health care workers want to feel supported by the public.

“There is a need to applaud the health care workers, especially nurses and respiratory therapists who do most of the work in the ICU,” he said.

“It’s amazing to see my colleagues do their jobs with professionalism and treat patients with empathy, despite how they may feel.”

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