Doctor describes chaotic first day on COVID unit

·3 min read

A Medicine Hat doctor took time to candidly express himself online after his first shift in the COVID unit over the weekend and hopes citizens will take notice.

Scott Malmberg, who finished Medical School at the University of Alberta in 2015, moved to Medicine Hat for residency, which he completed in 2017. He has been practising as a family doctor in the city ever since.

Malmberg hopes his Facebook post, which has now been shared over 2,400 times online, will act as a personal witness of what local doctors are currently dealing with.

"My intention with the post was merely to share with my local community that the virus is here, and it's having an important impact on our hospital," he shared with the News. "For the last year and a half, we've been bombarded with restrictive measures, which often times felt excessive due to how small the impact of the actual virus has been for us here in Medicine Hat. We've had a more normal summer, but now COVID-19 has a foothold here in our town. I'm hoping that with high enough vaccination rates, we won't have to endure difficult restrictions that hamper our local businesses, and avoid the many complications of an overwhelmed hospital and ICU."

This was Malmberg's first shift on the COVID unit. He worked from Friday morning at 9 a.m. until Sunday morning.

Upon arrival, Malmberg was surprised to hear how quickly some patients were declining and how soon they might need to be intubated, according to other doctors.

There were four people who passed away during his weekend shift. Two more died shortly after he left Sunday morning.

"The amount of deaths was surprising," said Malmberg. "The amount of times I talked about death was surprising."

Malmberg admitted 16 new COVID patients during his shift and moved two to ICU. He asked every new patient if they were vaccinated.

"I asked that question to every person that I admitted to the hospital," said Malmberg. "By and large, they said they were not vaccinated. I had two that were."

Malmberg noted that many patients didn't even realize they might have COVID.

"They just had profound weakness, fatigue and exercise intolerance. Just walking to the bathroom would drain them," he said. "Lots of patients were surprised they needed to be admitted and that they needed oxygen support."

The doctor says he was impressed with the staff on the unit.

"The nurses and respiratory therapists were constantly running from the COVID floor to the ER and back," said Malmberg. "Usually with reports that we had five or six more in ER and we were just waiting to see if they were sick enough to need to be admitted."

Malmberg expressed concern for nurses and other staff who are constantly in the thick of the struggle.

"One of our nurses worked 13 hours, went home for eight hours, and because of unexpected shortages was back again at 3 a.m.," said Malmberg. "She put in another 13 hours on my second day and was immensely helpful. Watching her was one thing that made me worry about our staff. I get to go and do some easy normal office work this week to recover. She goes right back into that fray without respite. They don't have any easy days now; if I could give special applause to anyone, it would be to those staff there."

Malmberg says the situation seems like a never-ending problem right now.

"At the moment, the degree of cases that I was suddenly working with definitely overwhelmed our department. I needed to call a backup physician for the second day because I could not get through it alone."

"In general, the unit was a wild storm, and the fires were coming in faster than we could put them out," said Malmberg. "If it continues like this, we will absolutely see people being unable to access care for 'regular' emergencies, and that's not OK."

LAUREN THOMSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News

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