An Edmonton ICU doctor is sharing a photo of the ventilator supply at his hospital as a reminder of how serious COVID-19 can be and what it can do to a patient’s lungs.
Global News spoke to Dr. Darren Markland, an intensive care physician and nephrologist at the Royal Alex, in the summer when he tweeted a photo of the stockpile of ventilators.
At the time, the province was beginning to re-open its economy and Markland wanted to visually remind Albertans to stay vigilant.
On Sunday, Markland tweeted another photo – this one, showing how the ventilator supply has dwindled.
He is clear that the inventory of ventilators can always be expanded, but he said Albertans are facing a challenge right now.
“People are people, and everybody wants to get back to their life and right now, we’re paying a price for that,” he said.
“That price is that people who are otherwise healthy and young are getting very sick. They are using those ventilators. [The] storage space is now relatively empty because those ventilators are being used on your neighbours and your family right now.”
Markland said the ICU sees three different types of patients: one comes in with more of a bronchitis and gets better within a week, another gets pneumonia and can be on the breathing machine for up to two weeks but recovers, and a third.
“Then we have the worst-case scenario where people initially get better, then they get this secondary injury that slowly turns their lungs into concrete.
“It’s like concrete slowly setting and those people become dependent on a ventilator to the point where we actually can’t push through air in and out of them anymore and those are the ones who succumb to COVID-19.”
Typically ICU patients may be in the ward for three to five days; Markland says COVID-19 patients are there for between two and four weeks, adding that every COVID admission is taxing for the unit.
“I continue to be firm in my belief that people will do the right things… most are trying to protect their fellow citizens. This is just the hardest time to do it,” he said, with Christmas quickly approaching.
“I also go to work every day knowing that people will hold up their end of the bargain so what we’re doing here means something in the end.”
AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said there are 570 conventional ventilators available for adult critical acre patients at AHS and Covenant sites. Additional ventilators could be available to raise the supply to approximately 900, he said.
Physicians and staff at Provost Health Centre have been trained to use the Alberta E-Vent, a custom-made piece of equipment designed to automate the breathing of patients in respiratory distress. The ventilators, created in part through 3D printing technology by Calgary based engineering firm Exergy Solutions, can provide short-term respiratory support, monitoring and treatment of adult patients for use if and when a conventional ventilator is unavailable.
After a successful pilot in Provost, additional devices could be sent to any other rural sites in the Central zone that don’t currently have access to a ventilator.
Williamson said 65 ICU beds have been added to the Edmonton zone since early November, bringing the total number of ICU beds to 137.
As of Monday, ICU capacity in the Edmonton zone, including surge beds, was 85 per cent. Williamson said that, without the additional beds, it would have been 161 per cent of the base ICU beds.
In the Calgary zone, 30 additional ICU beds have been added, bringing the total number to 96.
As of Monday, ICU capacity in the Calgary zone, including surge beds, was 83 per cent. Williamson said, that without the additional beds, it would have been 121 per cent of the base ICU beds.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.