It all started with a cough. In the time of COVID-19. A dry cough, and shortness of breath and over the course of three days got progressively worse. As an asthmatic, this was concerning. I can’t say the thought of COVID didn’t cross my mind, but I had no other symptoms and we had been super careful. Day four and walking around the block resulting in a high pitched voice, right hand chest pain and laboured breathing. I used the COVID Self-assessment tool, which told me to call my family doctor. She triaged me electronically, concerned about non-COVID issues. She advised me to go to the ER, and to call ahead, if possible. All in the time of COVID.
For the past few weeks, I have been telling my son “let’s try to avoid the ER” as he gallivanted around like a teenage boy. I didn’t want to burden an already challenged health care system. I was also concerned about entering the ER from a safety perspective. I knew I was not alone with these thoughts. Yet, here I was, the least adventurous of our family, on the way to the ER.
Not knowing what was wrong, I packed a few things, knowing it would be just me entering the ER. I put on a face mask, said goodbye to my son, without hugging him. My husband drove me to our local hospital. By now talking was a challenge. As we drove in silence, thoughts flew through my mind. I didn’t hug my son – ‘what-if?’ – No! I told myself – I have been down the ‘what-if’ route too many times in my health care past. Uncertainty is the biggest challenge at the beginning of any new health crisis. Be in the present.
We arrived at our well known ER and everything looked different. White tent out front. Masked up staff at the front door. I said good bye and I love you to my husband. They asked me what my health issue was, “Shortness of breath, cough and asthma.” “Please go to the side door and we will admit you there”. I waited. The doors opened to a newly reconfigured ER. Draped with white plastic material to cordon off and seal areas. The nursing staff, in gowns, masks, eye visors and gloves. A new reality. Kind greetings and questions.
Step one: I cleaned my hands with hand sanitizer. My mask off, new mask on. Blood pressure, temperature, triage and questions. It’s important to be truthful about our symptoms to protect health care workers and patients and to ensure we get the treatment we need.
Step two: I was moved onto the next station through the white plastic material.
I have been to the ER many times over the past decade. As an individual with a brain tumour, the ER was where I was diagnosed. There are many memories in these hallways. But no memories like those of today. Quiet hallways. Few patients. Many staff, all gowned and masked. Unrecognizable faces – only eyes. Yet kind eyes that crinkled at the sides when they smiled. Cleaning staff were on a constant mission, cleaning all surfaces on a regular basis. I felt safer here than going out for groceries!
As a health care advocate and an individual with chronic health issues, I know access to care during COVID is a concern to many. It may be access to care for individuals who are chronically ill or those with life threatening non-COVID illness. As I waited in the ER, the quick assessment and care I was receiving and attention to my symptoms, vanquished any concerns I had about my access to acute care.
My diagnosis with pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in my lungs) made my visit to the ER a crucial one. I had done the right thing by coming to the ER. All in the time of COVID.
Heart attacks still happen. Car accidents still happen. People get injured. Crises still happen. All in the time of COVID. It’s important to know that if we need urgent non-COVID acute care, the process still exists. That part of life has unfortunately not gone on hold.
While we need to be vigilant about approaching health care systems and the ER to keep both patients and health care workers safe, if there is a crisis or an acute care episode, it’s important to reach out. The care is there and I felt safe.