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Moving forward: Edmonton doctor recalls highs and lows of working during COVID-19


A local doctor who worked in a COVID-19 ICU unit says she and her colleagues are just starting to process how Saturday marks three years since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.

On March 11, 2020, after more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, the World Health Organization characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic.

"It feels like a very long time, but it also feels like yesterday," said Dr. Neeja Bakshi, an internal medicine physician.

The last three years have challenged all medical professionals, Bakshi added, with many just starting to take stock of the pandemic experience.

"It's hard and I think any health-care worker that's gone through the trauma of COVID, I think it's really hard to let it go as well," she said. "I think we're all in that state of mind of is it okay to breathe now?"

Edmonton hospitals no longer have dedicated units for patients with coronavirus. Canada's top doctor Theresa Tam says the virus has reached a relatively stable state, with no new variant-driven waves expected.

"It does feel, I think, for the first time in three years, it really actually feels like something is shifting," Bakshi said. "We still have lots of COVID patients, and I don't think that will ever change, but there is a different feel."

As of Alberta's latest COVID-19 data update on Thursday, 518 people are in hospital with the virus, including 12 in ICU. The last time hospitalizations were that low was back in January 2022.

The Edmonton hospital physician recalled how at the pandemic's peak, she had to deal with multiple patients, capacity challenges and staffing challenges as co-workers fell ill or quarantined themselves.

"I think we're finally in a space where it's time to," Bakshi said, "really face what we saw and what we dealt with.

"Kind of how horrific and how dire the situation actually was; how much death we actually saw… It felt like a warzone."

According to Alberta Health, to date, 5,622 COVID-19-related deaths have been reported.

Bakshi said for many working at hospitals, the intensity and increased pace of work experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside the rollercoaster of different waves, made it the most challenging work experience.

"You remember every patent that you saw, all of the chaos," she told CTV News Edmonton. "I think I've been in survival mode for the last three years, and there's a glimmer of light now.

"To say it's time to get out of that survival mode and try to live on."

Much of the focus has now turned to treating patients with long-COVID symptoms. The waitlist for the specialized clinic in Edmonton is now into August, Bakshi says, which complicates options for care.

"Referrals have not slowed down," she added. "It's been hard because obviously, we don't have a cure yet for long-COVID, but because I've been seeing so many patients, I've been able to learn with these patients."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Kyra Markov