• Chunichi Shimbun

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Amid a surge in new COVID-19 infections and the number of patients recuperating at home, more people are rushing to emergency medical centers or being taken to them at night when it becomes difficult to contact others.

They are apparently feeling isolated and worried that their symptoms might suddenly get worse.

Nighttime emergency medical services are a last resort, not only for COVID-19 patients but also others seeking care.

At 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 19, a man in his 50s was rushed to Nagoya Ekisaikai Hospital’s Emergency Medical Center in Nagoya. With more than 40 years of history, it is the oldest emergency medical center in Japan’s central Tokai region. Hospitals in Nagoya have been taking turns to treat COVID-19 patients during the nighttime, and on that day the center was in charge.

The man had been recuperating at home since mid-August, but called an ambulance after his blood oxygen levels dropped to 87% and he started to have difficulty breathing.

He was immediately hospitalized after a CT scan showed that he had severe lung inflammation. Soon afterward, his condition deteriorated, and he had to be intubated to use a ventilator.

The man was not vaccinated and, despite the pandemic, he had visited nightlife establishments with hostesses four times in the week before testing positive. Even after developing a fever, he traveled on a shinkansen train.

“Among the people who are transported (by ambulance), there are some patients who have little awareness about infection prevention,” said Kazuya Suami, 31, a doctor on duty at the center that day.

By 12:30 a.m., all four of the examination rooms at the center were occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Although there was a request from ambulance staff to accept a 5-year-old boy with a fever of 39 degrees Celsius, the center had to tell them to try asking other hospitals.

According to the Aichi Prefectural Government, COVID-19 patients recuperating at home totaled 8,347 as of Aug. 22.

Suami said numerous COVID-19 patients had come to the emergency center at night after becoming worried that they might not be able to wake up again, or because they didn’t know who to contact if their symptoms suddenly worsened.

Kazuya Suami, a doctor at Nagoya Ekisaikai Hospital’s Emergency Medical Center in Nagoya, says there are some patients who have little awareness about infection prevention measures against COVID-19. Part of the photo is blurred for privacy reasons. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN
Kazuya Suami, a doctor at Nagoya Ekisaikai Hospital’s Emergency Medical Center in Nagoya, says there are some patients who have little awareness about infection prevention measures against COVID-19. Part of the photo is blurred for privacy reasons. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

By dawn, the center had treated a total of seven COVID-19 patients, from those under 20 to people in their 50s. All of them had been recuperating either at home or at accommodation facilities designated for such patients.

Among them, four patients with milder symptoms were given an intravenous drip or an antipyretic.

Three male patients, in their 30s to 50s, that arrived by ambulance were hospitalized.

But COVID-19 patients are not the only people treated by the around 20 doctors and nurses working at the nighttime center.

A total of 50 people visited the center that night, including a 9-month-old boy with suspected encephalitis, a 67-year-old woman with a hearing impairment who was found collapsed near a station, an 87-year-old woman who fell and broke her thigh, a 92-year-old man with dementia and suspected aspiration pneumonia, and a person with a fever who had returned home after PCR testing.

Amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, Nagoya Ekisaikai Hospital conducted some 300 PCR tests for its patients in August — double the number conducted in July.

As of Aug. 23, some 20 beds for COVID-19 patients at the hospital were all occupied.

“There is a possibility soon that patients with moderate symptoms will not be able to be hospitalized in Nagoya,” Suami said.

According to data from Nagoya’s fire department as of the morning of Aug. 23, 317 COVID-19 patients were taken to hospitals by ambulance in August because their conditions worsened while they were recuperating at home or other places. The number of cases reached nearly 30 on some days.

“To ensure everyone has access to emergency medical service, each and every one of us needs to recommit to implementing thorough preventative measures,” Suami said.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Aug 24.

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