Ontario hospital opens a window into its ICU, hoping it will convince Canadians to stay home


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Markham Stouffville Hospital, just northeast of Toronto, had its first COVID-19 case in late January. Since then, its staff have cared for hundreds of positive patients and dozens have been put on life-support. Many people have survived and gone home to their families. Nine have died. 

It’s been an emotional roller-coaster for everyone who works there. 

Today, Markham Stouffville has more than 60 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients.

And now, there’s a new threat: another potential surge of cases coming from outbreaks at nearby long-term care homes, group homes and shelters. 

Doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists gear up in personal protective equipment to do an intubation procedure on a COVID-19 patient at Markham Stouffville Hospital. (Markham Stouffville Hospital)

At the same time, the medical staff are worried Canadians are becoming less vigilant about physical distancing — even those who have the virus. 

‘Almost an insult to what we’ve been doing’

During check-in calls with people who’ve tested positive at the hospital’s assessment centre, they’ve found 20- and 30-year-olds out in the community. Meanwhile, inside the hospital, they’re intubating patients of all ages.

“So many times, they’re in their cars or it’s very obvious they’re in a large gathering,” said Jeya Nadarajah, the hospital’s infectious disease specialist. “We actually have one of our nurse practitioners call them and tell them: ‘You’re being very irresponsible. Although you have mild symptoms, your parents, your uncle or your neighbour may not be that lucky.’ “

Markham Stouffville’s chief of medicine, Anand Doobay, says he’s ‘terrified’ that people will stop physical distancing. (Markham Stouffville Hospital)

The hospital’s chief of medicine, Anand Doobay, said they’re seeing signs that physical distancing is working.

“But it’s not anywhere near over,” he said.

“When we hear about people [at] a big barbecue or something, it’s almost an insult to what we’ve been doing because we are working so hard to get these people back to their families.

“We’re terrified of people letting up a little bit.”

Emotional toll

That’s why the team decided to let CBC News look inside their ICU. They thought if Canadians could see what they see, how the patients suffer, alone — and how the staff put their own lives on the line to try to save them — they might take the virus more seriously. 

Over three days, they shared hours of video from inside the hospital and opened up about the emotional toll it’s taking as they’re not only saving lives, but also filling in for family members who aren’t allowed to visit even when a loved one is dying. 

WATCH | A look inside an ICU: 

Staff from Markham Stouffville Hospital outside Toronto offer a glimpse inside the ICU as a warning about the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic. 6:28

Read more at CBC.ca