"Brutal" is how one doctor described this past weekend's activity at the Boundary Trails Health Centre (BTHC) in Winkler, Man.
Dr. Ganesen Abbu, the special care unit lead at BTHC, says they had to transfer six patients suffering from the COVID-19 virus to intensive care units in Winnipeg between Friday afternoon and Monday morning. He says that accounted for about 20 per cent of all ICU admissions in Manitoba over those three days.
Dr. Abbu says one of the things they saw this past weekend among younger COVID patients was a more rapid deterioration of their condition.
"Usually, around day nine, 10, 11, patients would declare themselves and deteriorate and need increased oxygen or need intubation and ventilation. However, over the weekend we had several young patients, 31 to 52 years of age, that deteriorated within two or three days of hospital admission. So that's a significant change."
Meanwhile, the pressure being exerted from the third wave of this pandemic is highlighting the human toll it is having on staff.
"It was very brutal this weekend. I was on-call for anesthesia but spent most of my time in the ICU. I had a total of seven hours sleep in that 48 hour period," says Dr. Abbu.
He says nurses are bearing the brunt of the situation, monitoring and checking up on patients every hour of the day from beneath the hot and uncomfortable personal protective equipment tightly secured to their faces.
And then there's the emotional cost.
"...of managing patients who are dying, who are unable to see their family," explained Dr. Abbu. "To see that strain on patients and their families, to talk to them on the phone and mitigate their frustrations."
"I think it's amazing that the nursing staff, and all staff, the way we've held up and been resilient in this really trying situation," he added. "I wouldn't say we're at a breaking point or anything like that. I think people have stepped up and really tried to make things work. We really have to take our hats off to the people who spend most of the time with patients, and that's really nurses."
The biggest frustration for healthcare workers in all of this is what Dr. Abbu says is, "a certain level of disengagement from reality".
For example, Dr. Abbu says there is an inclination among a segment of the population that doesn't believe the virus is real and those who believe a microchip has been placed in the vaccine doses.
"I think most people understand that we're doing the best that we can, that this is real and we're working hard," he said. "We want to work with the community, and even if you don't believe this is real, we're going to take the best care that we can when you come to our hospital because when this is all said and done, we still want to be there to provide care for you. So, we don't need this distrust with people, regardless of their beliefs."
"We are respectful that this is a faith-based community, we are not against anybody's faith," added Dr. Abbu, noting the local medical community wants to work together with citizens. "If people have questions about how to take precautions - masks, social distancing, vaccination - we are not in the business of controlling people, this is not our attitude. We want to help. Feel free to contact your family doctor, your physician in the hospital."
According to Dr. Abbu, as of late last week, every one of the COVID-19 patients admitted to the hospital between Morden and Winkler had not been vaccinated against the coronavirus. He noted that some patients were ineligible for their first dose when they initially contracted the virus but said that is a minority.
"The reason we ask people to vaccinate is because vaccination prevents dying from COVID and prevents being admitted to intensive care," he said.
In an earlier interview, Dr. Dan Hunt, who works in the Boundary Trails Hospital emergency room, says every day for the past month people have been arriving in the ER with COVID-19 symptoms and many of those people have to be admitted because their symptoms are so severe.
As a result, Dr. Abbu says the hospital's operating rooms had to be shut down, and nursing staff shifted to other wards, putting critical surgeries and procedures on hold.
"People who come with non-COVID-related illness, those patients now will not get the care they deserve because we don't have any facility to take them. We can not ventilate them, we cannot manage them because everything is taken up by COVID, and this is the impact," explained Dr. Abbu. "I think if the community can understand that there is a responsibility in all of us to try and help because vaccination prevents that. It can be your grandma or your grandpa that actually is the one impacted by the delay in the cancer surgery, or by not getting an ICU bed."