Dr. Wesley Palatnick would be considered a healthcare hero under normal circumstances.
He's worked in emergency medicine in Winnipeg for over 40 years - being one of the first certified emergency medicine specialists in Manitoba and playing an instrumental role in developing the specialty within the province. He's held senior roles in seemingly every applicable organization, from serving as head of the Section of Emergency Medicine at the University of Manitoba and the Medical Director of the WRHA Emergency Program, to working as the Director of the Health Sciences Centre (HSC) Department of Emergency Medicine and being one of the longest serving Royal College of Emergency Medicine Program Directors in Canada. Needless to say, it's been obvious for a long time just how committed Palatnick is to his profession, to the academic growth of new doctors, and to the well-being of others.
Even with all that experience, Palatnick states that he's never encountered anything close to the COVID-19 pandemic in his career.
"While we have had previous flu pandemics, they do not compare to this," he said. "This has been going on for over a year, and while things are better, there is still a long way to go. As well, the most important difference is the danger that this virus poses to healthcare workers. Too many around the world have become infected and too many have lost their lives caring for patients."
For someone like the 65-year-old Palatnick, the onset of the pandemic and the stress it has brought on to healthcare workers would seemingly give him a great reason to retire. That's especially true when you consider that he's also considered high risk due to underlying health conditions. Despite his family encouraging him to do so, Palatnick saw things differently and continued to work part-time.
"I divide my reasons (for continuing to work) into two categories," he noted. "The first is somewhat selfish. I still enjoy my work for three reasons - the people I work with, the patients, and the intellectual challenge. The second reason would be altruistic. By continuing to work shifts, I can help support my colleagues, whom I must emphasize are doing the heavy lifting. They also allowed me to work in the area of the emergency department that is of lower risk."
His evident focus on others, whether that be the patients that come through HSC's emergency department, his colleagues at the hospital, or the medical students he's mentored throughout the years, has always been an example to follow, but perhaps never more so than in a time when medical messaging has primarily focused on sticking to health fundamentals to care for those around us.
Without a doubt, Palatnick has been in emergency medicine for the right reasons from the start, and that's what keeps him going in his job to this day.
"I've worked at a teaching hospital for most of my career and been very involved in medical education. I feel that helping to train the next generation of physicians is part of my job, and in many cases one of the most enjoyable parts. It is vital that we train and graduate competent and compassionate physicians."
That may seem an obvious statement, given that physicians are trusted to deal with the health of so many, but it's a point that can't be overstated amid a pandemic.
"Never before has there been such a significant danger to healthcare workers," Palatnick noted. "This has forced them to change processes of care and how they approach patient care."
The compassionate element can't be overlooked either for Palatnick, especially when doctors are continuing to show so much of it in highly stressful situations.
"Despite the challenges of PPE, danger of infection and more, doctors have adapted, and as far as I am concerned still provide exemplary and compassionate care often under extremely trying conditions. I would emphasize that this includes, physicians, medical trainees, nurses, and all the individuals needed to run an emergency department."
The new experiences the pandemic has brought for Palatnick aren't limited to the emergency room though. Since 2014, Palatnick has also served as an on-call emergency doctor at several Winnipeg Jets games each year, meaning he attends the game in case of any serious injuries to players that require immediate attention.
He's continued to do that this season, but the game experience too has changed a lot during the pandemic.
"That has been a very interesting experience," noted Palatnick. "The staff are great, very collegial and welcoming. I must admit, however, this year is very surreal with social distancing and an empty arena."
As Palatnick noted, we still have a long way to go to beating this virus, and so those surreal moments that are far from normal will likely continue to present themselves. With dedicated and experienced healthcare professionals like Palatnick who show such care for others though, we can hope that one day soon Bell MTS Place won't have to be empty anymore. More importantly though, we can be sure that our health is in the right hands.