An eerily quiet hospital waits: a physician’s COVID-19 experience

An eerily quiet hospital

April often means flooding here in New Brunswick, as we watch and wait for the Saint John River to crest. And with COVID-19, we’re taking on a similar approach ― watching and waiting to see if the number of cases will peak this week, as many predict.

Currently, we seem to be coping with the cases in our province, a fortunate situation I know isn’t true everywhere. Yet even with this capacity, the pandemic continues to stretch and strain the medical system ― a fact I faced this week when I returned to hospital care.

After self-isolating for 14 days and then caring remotely for patients through my family practice, I’ll admit I’ve been in a bit of a bubble for the past three weeks. Resuming care in the hospital setting left me a little apprehensive, particularly since I had not been on site since February.

The hospital environment is now very different. I, along with my family practice colleagues, are working together to ensure the least number of people enter the hospital to care for patients. Everyone is screened on entry and beginning this week, and we’re all wearing masks as we care for patients.

I’m seeing patients from our practice who require hospitalization for reasons that are not associated with COVID-19. Patients in alternate levels of care have been transferred to long-term care homes or other facilities, so the only patients who remain in the hospital are those who really need to be here. COVID-19 presumed or confirmed cases are being cared for in a completely separate unit.

Dr. Collins wearing a mask at the hospital Dr. Ann Collins wearing a mask while working at the hospital

The hospital building is very quiet. I have concerns ― shared by my colleagues ― that some patients who need care may not be seeking it. Are there people sitting at home who’ve had strokes or increased episodes of chest pain and are choosing to stay isolated? Are they too scared of contracting COVID-19 to come to the hospital?

The no-visitors rule in hospitals is also making it more complicated to care for the patients who are admitted. If a patient is having problems communicating, assessment can be difficult, and getting the necessary information from their loved ones over the phone poses its own challenges.

It can also be very difficult for patients. Some stay in touch with relatives and friends through electronic means. But many of my older patients don’t have a smartphone or an iPad, and don’t know how to use Facetime or Skype. Some come from communities without reliable Internet access. In the palliative care unit, where patients are limited to one visitor, there is often anxiety and sadness that families cannot visit. 

But despite these sacrifices, patients and hospital staff are persevering ― watching and waiting and praying the flood never arrives.

More from Dr. Ann Collins' COVID-19 experience:

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This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. The opinions stated by the authors are made in a personal capacity and do not necessarily reflect those of the Canadian Medical Association and its subsidiaries including Joule.  Feel passionate about this topic? Please connect with us at jouleinquiries@cma.ca.

About the author

Dr. Ann Collins

Dr. Ann Collins runs a full-time family practice in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and is president-elect for the Canadian Medical Association.

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