A Canadian woman in her 70s could be the first patient to be ever diagnosed as suffering from ‘climate change’ as doctors blame her health condition on the deadly heatwaves earlier this year. Dr Kyle Merritt of Kootenay Lake Hospital, who diagnosed the patient, told Times Colonist about the aggravated toll of the heatwaves on patients battling multiple health problems at once.
“All of her health problems have worsened and she’s really struggling to stay hydrated. We had to figure out how to cool someone in the emergency department. People were running out to the Dollar Store to buy spray bottles,” the head of the emergency department told local media.
The record-shattering heatwaves in Canada and parts of the United States were responsible for hundreds of deaths. At least 233 people died in British Columbia from the heatwaves. The emergency condition was caused by what meteorologists described as a dome of high pressure over the Northwest, worsened by human-caused climate change, which is making such extreme weather events more likely and more intense.
It was unclear what triggered the dome, but climate change looks to be a contributor, given the heatwave’s duration, extremes, and the fact that it is setting new temperature highs a month earlier than the usual hottest time of year. The very high temperatures or humidity conditions posed an elevated risk of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.
Doctors had to try and figure out ways to sustain the increasing pressure on the hospitals in the region as more and more patients arrived with heatstrokes and other heat-related illnesses. The emergency room doctor then reached out to his counterparts in other hospitals only to find out the situation was worse than he had imagined.
Heatwaves were not the only cause of mortality in the region as raging wildfires contaminated the breathable air filling it with suspended particulate matter PM2.5. “If we’re not looking at the underlying cause, and we’re just treating the symptoms, we’re just gonna keep falling further and further behind,” Dr Merritt told Glacier Media.
Healthcare professionals have now come together and launched an initiative to better human health by protecting the planet. Led by 40 healthcare professionals, the initiative, named Doctors and Nurses for Planetary Health, works to inform people about the effects of climate change on health.
He added, “It’s me trying to just … process what I’m seeing. We’re in the emergency department; we look after everybody, from the most privileged to the most vulnerable, from cradle to grave, we see everybody. And it’s hard to see people, especially the most vulnerable people in our society, being affected. It’s frustrating.”