Most tough time for pediatric ERs is now, Saskatoon physician says

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic Dr. Ben Thomson says he was scared he’d be treating unprecedented levels of kids who were sick with the virus.

But that wave of sick kids didn’t materialize then.

It is now.

“Over the last few years of the pandemic, the most difficult for pediatric emergency has by far been the last eight or nine months,” Thomson told Global News.

Thomson, the University of Saskatchewan pediatric emergency medicine division lead and a pediatric ER doctor, also said the influx of patients will probably get worse.

“We’ve really just hit the beginning of it,” he said.

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“And we are kind of buckling down for probably a few more months of pain.”

Many children’s hospitals and pediatric departments across the country are filling up and strained.

The Canadian Red Cross will be sending teams to Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. And the Alberta Heath Services is discharging all children from a house that helps dying children and their families in Calgary because of a surge of children with COVID-19, RSV and the flu.

Thomson said, as he understands it, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is planning for how to get extra staff to help on the front lines.

He said they haven’t had major issues with gaps so far.

“But we can see in two weeks we’ve got shifts that are open,” he told Global News.

“How are we going to fill those? How to incentivize those shifts? Is there anyone else we should be bringing on from the outside or general pediatrics who can help us out under the pediatric emergency umbrella?”

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Global News reached out to the SHA and asked if it anticipates having to reassign staff to help with a surge of sick kids and at what point that would begin.

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Salma Sarhan is one of the parents who brought her children to Saskatoon’s ERs.

In fact, she says she brought her one-year-old son to the ER four times in a matter of weeks.

“I just cried. I couldn’t stop crying because I was so stressed,” she said.

“My kids are sick. There is a shortage of all medicines that can make them better. And I have no idea what’s going on… then I just had to hold myself together because (I’m) the mom.”

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Sarhan said she remembers the date when her kids first got sick. It was Oct. 2.

Sarhan said her oldest, her six-year-old daughter, had an eye infection. The six-year-old and Sarhan’s other daughter, a five-year-old, were fussy all night.

At the same time, her son had a really bad fever and was shaking so hard Sarhan thought he was having a seizure.

What followed, she said, was weeks of illnesses, ranging from infections, to allergic reactions to the medication to treat the infection, to the infant catching croup, to waiting more than 12 hours in the ER, to everyone, including the one-year -old, catching COVID.

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It was only last week they were all healthy once again, Sarhan said.

Sarhan said she’s thankful and hoping everyone can stay healthy.

“Since the older kids went back to school in August, it has been non-stop with us,” Samantha Irvine said.

Irvine, who runs a daycare in Regina, said her child or at least one of the five children she regularly takes care of has been sick since August until about two or three weeks ago.

“I think all of the kids have had the stomach flu at least once in the last probably month,” she told Global News.

She said her own kid was sick with a respiratory illness that turned into pneumonia while hers turned into a sinus infection.

And she said she’s worked through nearly all of it, because she doesn’t have paid sick days.

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She said many of the parents of children she cares for ran out of sick days during the summer.

“Pretty much as long as they don’t have a fever and they’re able to play,” they’d be there, Irvine said.

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Epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine said kids always spread germs and like when they play together.

Children are among the least vaccinated, Muhajarine pointed out, since they became eligible for vaccines last. And now their vulnerability to RSV, combined with a flu season that started early, means what they may be spreading is worse.

“I think it is going to last a little bit longer than the typical flu season would last (compared to) before the pandemic,” Muhajarine said, “because there’s so many pathogens that are circulating right now.”

Both Muhajarine and Thomson encouraged the use of masks and said it’s up to adults to mask in order to protect children.

They both lamented how wearing a mask has become politicized.

“What’s a little sniffle in an adult can actually be potentially life-threatening illness in a young baby or a child or an older person,” Thomson said.

“And so leaving the politics of masking aside, if you have the tiniest tickle in your throat with the tiniest bit of sniffles, the responsible thing to do, in my opinion, is to be masking.”

— with a file from the Canadian Press.

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