I never thought I would be deployed for the Red Cross to help with Canada’s shortage of doctors


This First Particular person column is written by Dr. Anthony Fong, who labored as a locum in Hay River, N.W.T., for 2 weeks. For extra details about CBC’s First Particular person tales, please see the FAQ.

In Could, when large ranges of snowmelt brought about unprecedented flooding and an evacuation of the city of Hay River, N.W.T., it was no shock to me that the Canadian Purple Cross (CRC) was deployed to assist evacuees.

However in September, as an emergency doctor for the CRC, I did not count on to be despatched to Hay River to answer a distinct sort of disaster — a crippling scarcity of household medical doctors that left the city with no full-service emergency room for greater than two months. This case is quick changing into a stark actuality throughout Canada.

Perched on the quiet southern shore of Nice Slave Lake, Hay River has a inhabitants of almost 4,000. The native well being authority additionally serves one other 6,000 individuals who stay in its surrounding catchment space.

The area has sufficient work for no less than 5 full-time medical doctors. At the moment, it has none.

Final 12 months the primary downside was masking health-care staff who needed to self-isolate at dwelling because of COVID-19. This 12 months, it is burnout.

Over the summer season, a mix of seasonal absences and country-wide shortages left the city scrambling for backup. In consequence, a number of organizations have been requested to assist recruit locums — non permanent health-care workers — for the territory. The Purple Cross was amongst them.

For a lot of, this was the longest time with out emergency care in current reminiscence. Native workers advised me earlier closures had been just a few days lengthy at most.

The Hay River Regional Well being Centre in September 2019. (Emily Blake/CBC)

To deal with the scarcity, a nurse practitioner noticed minor emergency instances through the day whereas sicker sufferers required telephone calls to the emergency room physician on name in Yellowknife.

Over the course of the summer season, residents who wanted stitches must drive 5 hours to Yellowknife simply to get them. Others selected to go away the territory for care — the closest 24-hour emergency room was a three-hour drive south in Excessive Degree, Alta.

However for a lot of, there is no substitute for quick, in-person care.

The day I arrived, a person was shot within the chest and survived — thanks partially to the actions of two locum medical doctors who had arrived simply the evening earlier than.

Whereas I used to be not concerned in his care, I do know that sufferers with this kind of damage normally require a doctor to insert a tube to empty blood or air from the chest which may be compressing their lungs. This have to be completed earlier than the affected person is placed on an air ambulance to Edmonton; altitude can worsen the damage.

One other evening within the emergency room, I noticed a lady in her 20s with an early being pregnant who was struggling belly ache. Utilizing ultrasound — a ability that the majority emergency physicians have — I used to be in a position to see that her being pregnant was within the uterus and spared her being flown to Yellowknife to rule out ectopic being pregnant, a doubtlessly life-threatening situation.

In the meantime, on the Hay River Regional Well being Centre’s household follow clinic, my schedule slowly stuffed up for the week. Many sufferers have been stunned to see a health care provider on the town as soon as once more and I used to be more than pleased to alleviate them from their health-care limbo.

When folks do not have common entry to main care, their well being issues accumulate and worsen. By the point they can see me, the chance of a short, single-reason go to — widespread simply 15 years in the past once I graduated — is exceedingly low.

One after the other, every affected person gave me a laundry listing of considerations: hernia, diabetes and medicine refill; pelvic ache, foot ache and attention-deficit dysfunction; anxiousness, melancholy and inflammatory bowel illness. Every merchandise was worthy of its personal appointment.

As a health care provider assembly sufferers for the primary time, I spent a lot of the 15-minute appointments acquainting myself with their previous medical histories — a step that household medical doctors can skip — and I used to be typically left with simply treasured seconds to formulate a plan and counsel them.

With solely a handful of nurses and nurse practitioners to maintain the clinic working over the summer season, there was additionally a backlog of Pap smears to do, implantable contraception gadgets to interchange and blood work to verify — a few of it left over from the spring. 

A smiling woman sits in a garden next to her dog.
Audrey Berens, who has lived in Hay River since 1960, together with her canine Daisy. (Anthony Fong)

The frustrations of Hay River residents are maybe greatest described to me by Audrey Berens who underwent breast most cancers surgical procedure in Edmonton over the summer season. The 64-year-old stated she was afraid to return again dwelling with no physician on the town.

“This physician scenario — it is terrifying … Like, a pal of mine had a breast most cancers an infection. It wasn’t caught quickly sufficient and he or she died.”

As I received again on a airplane to Vancouver after my two weeks in Hay River, I could not assist however wonder if it is time we handled disparate emergency room closures throughout Canada as what they honestly characterize — a nationwide public-health emergency that requires extraordinary options.

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