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Judy Kucharuk: Have you ever had a loved one waiting for medevac?

I certainly have
BC Air Ambulance
Judy Kucharuk: "During the past few weeks, the frequency of take-offs and landings has increased ten-fold. Every single day I hear at least one medevac aircraft land and depart." (BC Air Ambulance)

One of the lingering reminders of my time as an airline customer service agent for so many years is that I notice every aircraft that arrives or departs our regional airport.

The droning sound of a Dash 8 as it climbs into the sky, the whoosh of a small jet, the put-put of a Cessna as they circle the city practicing their touch-and-goes, the rumbling of propellers when taxiing onto the airport apron.

I can hear it from my house, almost feel it in my chest.

During the past few weeks, the frequency of take-offs and landings has increased ten-fold. Every single day I hear at least one medevac aircraft land and depart. I know they are medevac aircraft because I get curious and log onto FlightAware where I can see exactly what aircraft is departing.

My mind wanders: Is it someone I know? Where are they going? Are they going to be OK?

The medevac traffic correlates directly with what I read on social media, where people post, “Did you know so and so was airlifted to Vancouver/Victoria/Prince George/Nanaimo?” Or when government officials impress upon us the stress that the pandemic is placing on our Northern communities and how many have been flown out of the region.

They are not lying, nor are they blowing it out of proportion.

We are in crisis.

Have you ever had a loved one waiting for medevac transport? I certainly have.

They wait in hospital for their turn. If someone comes into the ER with a higher priority for transport, the wait gets longer. The nurses and doctors manage them the best that they can while they wait for news of a flight. Sometimes that means waiting two, three, or four days for a rested crew, available aircraft, and hospital destination with the space and resources.

In some cases, the wait is deadly.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a pilot or crew of these aircraft. These days, it must feel like they are being dispatched to a war zone, picking up one critical patient after another – the majority being COVID-19 patients destined for a dwindling number of open ICU beds somewhere in the province.

How does it work exactly? Who gets the first medevac flight? Would a 40-year-old COVID patient needing a higher level of care take precedence over a 60-year-old heart attack patient who requires an emergent angioplasty and stent placement? Do they triage according to seriousness or chance of survival?

The healthcare system simply cannot handle the current load.

The available ICU beds are not infinite, neither are the aircraft and crew or the paramedics, nurses, doctors, lab technicians, and radiologists.

I watched the press conference where B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix pleaded for the Northern Health communities to get vaccinated and shared how dire the situation and how it is stretching and stressing our health care.

I thought back to when my father passed away this spring and how I imagined that his death would inspire others to get vaccinated. I thought to myself, “This is what it takes. It takes someone local to pass away for others to realize that the virus is real and deadly.”

The truth is that it wasn’t enough.

The fact is that one person with COVID-19 can spread it faster and to more people than the number of people compelled to get vaccinated because they knew someone who died of the virus. One exponentially outpaces the other.

What will it take?

Judy Kucharuk lives and writes in Dawson Creek.