'Denial, fear and frustration': Critical care doctor looks back on one year of COVID-19
KITCHENER -- A critical care physician in Waterloo Region had three emotions preparing for the pandemic to hit the area one year ago.
"Denial, fear and frustration," Dr. Rob Chernish said.
Dr. Chernish, who works in critical care at St. Mary's General Hospital, spoke about his pandemic experience at the Region of Waterloo's COVID-19 briefing on Friday morning. He also works with Grand River Hospital and has his own local practice.
"I've seen different facets of how this virus affected the community," Dr. Chernish said.
Looking back on a year of COVID-19 in the region, Dr. Chernish said his own experience was broken down into three phases.
The first phase was at the beginning of 2020 as the pandemic started to take hold of the region.
"The denial was how we felt when we saw what was happening in China, thinking there's no way it's coming here," Dr. Chernish said.
Then came fear, as doctors watched what was happening in other countries like Italy and the United States.
"Then it became an issue of not if, but when it was coming," he said.
Once the disease arrived, Dr. Chernish said there was a sense of frustration in the medical community.
"We realized how ill-prepared our supply chain was for PPE," he said.
As more cases and deaths were reported in the region, Dr. Chernish said he saw a lot of courage from local health-care workers.
"The people I work with in the hospital really stepped up the courage and continued doing the work at that point in time like something I've never seen before."
According to Dr. Chernish, most hospitals were already operating at 85 to 90 per cent capacity before the pandemic began.
"There wasn't really any room to absorb a pandemic," he said. "What happened was the patients came and they stayed a long time and, quickly, our numbers swelled."
Cardiac patients moved to other areas of the hospital.
"I've never done that before," Dr. Chernish said. "But, there was nowhere to put them because we had so many COVID patients."
He identified the second phase of the pandemic as the summer slowdown, when case counts stabilized and dropped and the economy started to reopen again.
"We got to reflect on what we could do better, knowing there's probably going to be a second (wave)," Dr. Chernish said.
It was at that point the health-care community realized many people weren't seeking treatment for other ailments due to fear of the novel coronavirus.
"We had a lot of work to do to make those systems safe to be up and running," he said.
Dr. Chernish said the third phase started in the fall, when numbers started to increase again in October.
"Eventually by December, January and February, our numbers were worse than they've been been at any point," he said.
Variants of concern have also complicated the recent pandemic response. So far, more than 100 cases have screen positive for a variant of concern in Waterloo Region, although not all variants have been identified.
As the region marks one year since its first case, Dr. Chernish said he understands people are tired.
"The COVID fatigue is real in the community and it's definitely real in the hospital," he said. "We're ready to keep working and we're going to keep working."
"If we do this for a few more months, it's going to be OK."
As for people who believe COVID-19 is just a bad flu, Dr. Chernish said this disease is much worse.
"I've worked in this ICU for 15 years, including 15 flu seasons and H1N1 and I've never seen anything like this, the volumes we see," he said.
According to Dr. Chernish, patients that need ventilators will stay on them for a minimum of three days and some may need them for months.
"When people come in, they stay," he said.
Dr. Chernish urged people to continue following public health guidelines for a while longer as COVID-19 vaccinations roll out in Waterloo Region.