Opinion: Seek medical attention if you need it

There’s little doubt that COVID-19 has been the top item on the news and the dominant topic of conversation for the last year – from masks and lockdowns to hospital capacity and vaccines.

But one of the less-discussed aspects of the pandemic is the indirect effect of the virus.

As the healthcare system grapples with COVID-19, the measures taken to combat the pandemic – and our own behavioural responses – have had an impact on our health.

We work in acute care medicine and are the first to stress the importance of rules such as “wear a mask, physical distance, stay in your bubble.”

There is one, very critical, exception however – please seek medical attention if you need it.

Unfortunately, we have seen that COVID-19 has resulted in a reduction in utilization of ambulatory care; in select procedures such as bronchoscopy, colonoscopy and certain types of surgery; and access to other medical services.

Some of the reasons why are understandable.

If you go to an emergency department, you are likely to be COVID-screened before anyone asks “what brings you here today?”

Extra precautions appropriately taken by all hospital staff take time and delay care. If you are admitted to hospital, with restrictive visitor policies, you are, well, alone.

When we hear these stories, or about outbreaks in hospitals and in long-term care facilities, or speculation that intensive care units might run out of beds (which hasn’t occurred) , there is no mystery why some people are choosing not to seek care.

We know some people are scared to access the healthcare system for non-COVID-19 related problems, or believe it’s too much hassle. Those chest pains must be indigestion, right? And that lump can wait, surely?

Very early on in the pandemic, it was noticed in Italy there were significantly fewer acute heart attack and stroke admissions.

This pattern has repeated around the world, including Alberta, where there was a drastic fall in the rate of admission to hospital for stroke and heart attack in March and April of 2020. Those who finally came to hospital were extremely sick.

The same pattern is now repeating itself again this winter. These are what we call “time-dependent” conditions, where effective, life-saving treatments are routinely used, but they need to be applied very early after symptom onset.

This has long-lasting implications.

Without treatment, you may end up dead – or seriously disabled. You may survive that heart attack while staying at home, but might then develop heart failure, which has a worse prognosis than many cancers.

In some cases, the deferral of care is unavoidable. But in others, it is a behavioural choice by the patient.

Virtual care has made great strides but it is simply not a substitute for in-person evaluation in some circumstances, like those noted above.

Without a physical examination, we will not catch things like that new heart murmur. You have to tell us something is different

If you have central chest pressure radiating into your left arm, “funny” indigestion or you have any of the F.A.S.T signs for stroke (face, arm, speech, time) then you need attention immediately.

Please know the health system is here for you and ready to provide life and disability-saving intervention.

All AHS facilities enforce rigorous infection prevention and control standards, screen staff for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure risk, and have staff follow continuous masking and diligent hand hygiene policies. They are safe places to seek care.

Family doctors are available and able to assist you with health concerns. Primary care offices screen patients for COVID-19 and take precautions to ensure that they can provide safe treatment for their patients. They will work with you to decide if your concerns can be addressed by phone, or require an in-person visit.

Wear your masks, respect physical distancing, and find new and creative ways to stay in touch.

When it’s your turn for the vaccine, head to the front of the line.

But those chest pains need to get checked out now, and that facial droop and arm weakness means a trip to the Emergency Department immediately.

Let’s all stay safe…and healthy.

Michelle M. Graham is co-senior medical director at Cardiovascular Health and Stroke (CVHS) Strategic Clinical Network (SCN); Colleen M. Norris is scientific director at CVHS SCN and Michael D. Hill is co-senior medical director at CVHS SCN.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Arshdeep Bains eyes a loose puck in front of the Medicine Hat Tigers net Saturday night in WHL action at the Centrium. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels fall short in 12th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 (Saturday) Tigers 3 Rebels 2 (Monday) The Red… Continue reading

Red Deer property owners will receive their 2019 property assessment notices in the next few days.  (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer awaiting more details on how federal budget impacts city

The City of Red Deer is awaiting more information on how much… Continue reading

With a ban on sit-in dining once again in place, Las Palmeras owner Andre Lemus is gearing up for more takeout and delivery business. He has also applied to set up an outdoor patio, where dining is allowed under new restrictions. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Big interest in outdoor patios in Red Deer as sit-down dining banned again

City of Red Deer has tweaked its patio regulations to make it easier to get a permit

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators' Connor Brown, right, scores on Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom during second-period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Alta., Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Connor Brown scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 4-2 win over Calgary Flames

Connor Brown scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 4-2 win over Calgary Flames

Canada head coach Bev Priestman reacts during the women's international friendly soccer match between England and Canada at Bet365 stadium in Stoke on Trent, England, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Priestman says her goal is to help Canada move up the Olympic podium after back-to-back bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Rui Vieira
Olympic soccer draw will allow Canadians to start planning on and off the pitch

Olympic soccer draw will allow Canadians to start planning on and off the pitch

Federal government’s extension of CEWS in budget is some good news for CFL franchises

Federal government’s extension of CEWS in budget is some good news for CFL franchises

Canada's Brendan Bottcher dropped a 6-3 decision to Scotland's Bruce Mouat in the men's final of the Humpty's Champions Cup. Bottcher makes a shot against Scotland at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Friday, April 9, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Mixed results for Canadian teams at Champions Cup as Homan wins, Bottcher loses

Mixed results for Canadian teams at Champions Cup as Homan wins, Bottcher loses

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. The University of Victoria says Williams has resigned effective immediately. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

Stewart Cink watches his drive down the second fairway during the final round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Sunday, April 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Cink coasts to win at Hilton Head for 2nd title of season

Cink coasts to win at Hilton Head for 2nd title of season

The Official UEFA Champions League match balls are on display ahead of the Champions League quarter final second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Threats of expulsion as UEFA confronts Super League rebel 12

Threats of expulsion as UEFA confronts Super League rebel 12

San Jose Sharks center Patrick Marleau (12) motions to the crowd during a break to mark his passing Gordie Howe for most NHL games played in the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, April 19, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Sharks’ Marleau breaks Howe’s NHL games played record

Sharks’ Marleau breaks Howe’s NHL games played record

Most Read