People & Places

Pandemic preparations: at home with an ICU doctor and a psychologist

Since the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Ottawa on March 11, the number of cases confirmed daily has turned from a trickle to a steady stream of double digit figures.

Dr. Kwado Kyeremanteng, 42, is treating some of the sickest patients in the intensive care unit while relying on his wife, clinical psychologist Dr. Catherine Kyremanteng, to maintain stability at home. Together, they paint a reassuring picture about Ottawa’s medical response to COVID-19.

Kwadwo intubates those who can’t breathe on their own and connects them to ventilators. He splits his time between both campuses of the Ottawa Hospital and the Montfort hospital. As COVID cases spike, the physician is confident the city is ready.

“Our public health system has been excellent in terms of getting people tested, promoting social isolation, and closing borders. We are as prepared as we can be.”

Since the pandemic was declared, Kwadwo has been using his podcast, Solving Healthcare, to calm the anxiety he sees in the public and in some of his hospital colleagues.  He wants to empower people by highlighting stories that help healthcare workers gain ground on the viral enemy. One recent episode included an interview with a critical care doctor in Seattle, who discussed new information about how COVID-19 patients are clinically presenting themselves in hospital — for example, in his experience, they don’t usually have a fever, but frequently have coughing and diarrhea. Another episode involved a discussion of how the Queensway Carleton Hospital set up a drive-thru swab program within an hour to test 70 people.

The critical care doctor has seen the footage of overwhelmed hospitals in Northern Italy and read the stories of  New York hospitals running out of medical supplies, but that doesn’t change his optimistic opinion. Kwadwo points out we don’t have Italy’s high numbers of elderly people, nor do we have the population density of New York City. He believes that Canada’s early social distancing measures will make a difference. 

“There are so many ways this pandemic can go in terms of capacity, in terms of how it will affect our system — to get caught up in what our future will look like when we don’t know what tomorrow will look like is futile.”

“Go on Twitter right now. You can read about how many hundreds of thousands are sick, but how’s that affecting your life right now? It’s not. I want us to think about solutions, and hopefully people find (the podcast) refreshing.”

But there’s one area that he’s happily ceded control. As a father he worries about the time he’ll be away from his family as more COVID patients are hospitalized. To ease that stress, he’s relying on his wife. Dr. Catherine Kyremanteng, whose speciality is in rehabilitation therapy. These days, her most important responsibility is maintaining calm and stability at  home. The couple have three active boys under the age of seven and have explained COVID to the kids as a “bad flu”, a term they can understand. As parents they haven’t stopped the boys from tackling their Dad as he walks through the door. 

Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremantang and Dr. Catherine Kyeremantang with their children Teddy, Zeke, and Marlow

“We’re not covering him in hand sanitizer,” said Catherine. “We know Kwadwo is exposed at work, but we’re trusting him to be safe and not bring anything into the house.” 

But they do have a family COVID protocol. Her husband changes out of his scrubs at work and they have a quarantine strategy ready to go. 

Currently, Catherine’s 67-year old mother lives with them and she, along with the family’s nanny, are immuno-compromised, which means they are more vulnerable if they get infected. Their boys know if Kwadwo gets sick, he will have to stay in a different part of the house and will need space to get better. Kyreemanteng says simple truths help the kids cope.

“I don’t want them to worry,”  My goal is to reassure them and also tell them the adults are taking care of it.” says Catherine. “Your job as a kid is to go have fun and play when you have nowhere to go.’

The psychologist’s advice for adults is to stay active and create a daily routine that incorporates both work, family, or both, and not plan more than two weeks into the future. Like her husband she advocates for taking a break from pandemic news and to limit consumption to certain times of the day, or even days of the week. But her most important advice for surviving this outbreak is to accept the uncertainty.

“We’ve never been through anything like this. The thing about managing anxiety is that it’s not about controlling everything. That makes it worse,” Catherine says. “Learn to let go of things we cannot control and focus on what you can.” 

Lessons applicable inside and outside a hospital.