Why Calgary’s emergency rooms aren’t as busy as the ICU units

The head of Calgary’s emergency rooms says people should still seek care for their health issues despite what might be fear about using the city’s hospitals

By Krista Sylvester | October 4, 2021 |11:50 pm

While the province's ICU units are bursting at the seams, the city's emergency rooms have actually been quieter than normal, according to the city's head of the emergency Dr. Eddy Lang, at right

Photo: Submitted by Cumming School of Medicine

If you look at the emergency wait times in our city, you might think things don’t look so bad after all in our hospitals.

After all, usually wait times are at least four hours — and often many more — when you head to the emergency room.

But Dr. Eddy Lang, professor at the Cumming School of Medicine and Alberta Health Services department head for emergency medicine in Calgary says that can be misleading — and problematic.

“Usually on a Sunday afternoon, there’s a three-or four-hour wait. But in Calgary right now, there’s basically no wait at all,” he said Sunday afternoon.

“What’s happening is people are afraid to come to the hospital because they think we are overwhelmed and they’re afraid of catching COVID. But people need to come to the hospital if they are worried about their medical conditions.”

Dr. Lang says this situation is mirroring what happened at the beginning of the pandemic when the emergency departments were quiet and people were “staying away because of fear.”

If you need help, seek help

This is concerning because some people need care and their conditions can worsen if they don’t seek help.

“People are probably sitting at home with their chest pain or having significant neurological symptoms that require attention,” he says, adding there are still patients attending with major issues but the ER’s are less busy than usual.

“The only explanation for something that could happen so quickly after the declaration of the public health emergency is that people are afraid to come in and they’re avoiding care.”

While Alberta’s Intensive Care Units (ICU) are under tremendous strain, Dr. Lang says the busiest hospitals are in the Central and North Zones. Calgary’s are also busy but a lot of the strain in our city is from patients being transferred from other zones.

“We were not that busy with COVID patients, because most of the ICU patients are coming out from the North Zone and Central Zone because we have the capacity to absorb them,” he adds.

Treating the unvaccinated

Dr. Lang says his personal experience in the city’s emergency rooms has been sad.

“It’s disheartening and tragic to care for an unvaccinated patient who is very sick with COVID,” he says, adding many of the cases were preventable.

“Emergency medicine is very much the care of people who have made bad decisions — drank too much, no helmet, no seatbelt, uncontrolled emotions. So, in that way, the unvaccinated patient is no different, but we don’t have a vaccine for those other situations.”

He says almost all of the unvaccinated patients he treats express immediate regret.

“It is sad to see the blood drain from patients’ faces when we explain to them how sick they actually are and they then realize that not getting vaccinated was the biggest mistake of their lives,” he says.

With Thanksgiving approaching — and in general — Dr. Lang recommends people still wash their hands frequently, social distance, and wear masks when necessary.

He says not only will it help to hopefully avoid COVID, but it’s also helping with the common cold and flu as well as pneumonia. In general, people are getting sick much less frequently.

“People are being germaphobes. They’re washing their hands, they’re being cautious.”

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Krista Sylvester

Reporter at Calgary Citizen

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