ICU specialist debunking myths, misinformation about COVID-19

·6 min read
ICU specialist debunking myths, misinformation about COVID-19

It's hard enough having to battle COVID-19 on a daily basis without having to debunk myths and misinformation, too.

Saskatoon ICU specialist Dr. Hassan Masri said it makes health care professionals' jobs harder because the misinformation is actually causing physical harm.

Masri, who is also an associate professor of medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, has been vocal on social media and said he feels a personal responsibility to debunk myths, misinformation and pseudoscience.

"People get their information from Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and sometimes from people they trust," Masri told CBC's Samantha Maciag. "If they see so-and-so spreading such information because they trust them on a personal level, they may elect to trust the misinformation they're spreading.

"That's where I feel that there is a personal responsibility as a physician, but also personal responsibility as someone with a platform, specifically on Facebook."

Tests are specifically for COVID-19

One of the common myths circulating is that testing cannot differentiate between COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses but Masri said that the tests are specifically for COVID-19.

"We know that if you are positive for COVID, you will be negative for all the rest of them," he said.

Masri said misinformation makes people distrust the health system.

"There is consequences and ripple effects that go downstream — in terms of you not trusting the hospital, in terms of you not trusting the physician, in terms of you not taking things seriously — and is just a brutal ripple effect that we obviously are suffering from," he said.

"It also makes it sound like it is not a big deal, and that is just another flu or another virus. And it makes you not take things seriously, makes you doubt whether you need to distance or limit your bubble."

Patients know it's not a myth

Being in the ICU dealing with very ill patients, Masri said the people he deals with daily aren't in denial about the virus. They know it is real and deadly.

"I do receive messages from families who left the hospital or families whose loved ones are in the hospital ... who state they feel very lucky that their loved ones have left the hospital and have done well."

But he said colleagues have had to deal face-to-face with people who think COVID-19 is a hoax or are anti-maskers

Masri said he believes the vast majority of people in the province believe in science, in their officials and in their health care workers.

But sometimes a small minority can be a lot louder than the number that it represents.

"The problem when it comes to COVID-19 is that without the collective effort, it is really hard to get this under control. And so even though it's a minority, it can be a very damaging one because it does not allow us to have a really good control on the disease."

A battle with COVID-19

He said the best way to talk with anti-maskers or COVID-19 deniers is through respectful dialogue.

"I genuinely believe that they are good, decent human beings and that they're my neighbours and my fellow citizens in the city. What I say to them is, first of all, this is not a battle between me and you. This is a battle between COVID-19 and you and I."

He said people have to trust the opinion of professionals, whether that is a physician or your mechanic.

"I think it's really important to establish respect and rapport with those individuals and try to educate them," he said. "I genuinely care about them and their families and their loved ones, and I want them to be just as safe as my own family."

Masri said the most unfortunate thing to have happened was having COVID-19 and masks be made into a political issue in the U.S.

"It doesn't matter if you're NDP or Liberal or Conservative or right or left or moderate, libertarian," Masri said. "COVID-19 does not care about your political affiliation. And genuinely speaking, I don't care about anyone's political affiliation. This is a disease. I treat it like I treat diabetes. We don't treat diabetes differently if you're on the right or on the left. ... If you're Conservative or Liberal or NDP, we treat it the same."

Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse/The Associated Press
Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse/The Associated Press

Masri said treating patients with COVID-19 is especially tough because they can't have loved ones around them.

"When people are sick, they really rely on their families and loved ones for support. Prior to COVID, we know that when people get sick and their loved ones come, you see life back in their eyes. You see fight back in their bodies," he said.

"It's really hard to see someone sick and someone having a hard time breathing or on life support and not being able to have their wife hold their hand, not being able to see their daughter and son and hold their hand, not being able to even offer condolences or break bad news in person seems very cruel to me."

Those are moments that make Masri frustrated with anyone who doesn't take the virus seriously.

"It's because I recognize that you're not taking this seriously puts me in a position where I have to go and talk to this individual in the room who's alone for many, many, many days. And people have to be behind the window seeing their loved one. It is something where we are very much used to and trained to see very difficult things. But this is something I just don't like. It is very frustrating."

Difficult for health care workers

The physical and emotional toll is also being felt by all the health professionals.

"At the end of the day, health care workers are human beings," Masri said. "When we leave the hospital, we have the same worries. We worry about traffic. We worry about our kids."

They also feel the need to protect their own families from exposure.

"I consider myself someone who's high risk because I'm around COVID patients all the time. And so we avoid seeing our friends and families and therefore we lose a lot of our support system."

But Masri said they also support each other.

For example, he said a nurse posted online that she was available if anybody needed a virtual hug or a good cry.

"We are a big, giant family, and we rely on each other for a lot of that support."

CBC News Graphics
CBC News Graphics

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