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Kyle Merritt, an emergency room doctor in Nelson, British Columbia, made the diagnosis after the patient arrived at an emergency room with a worsening case of asthma that was aggravated by summer heatwaves and wildfires in the area.
“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,” Merritt told Glacier Media.
Another patient in her 70’s was reportedly admitted to Kootenay Lake Hospital in late June amid record-breaking heat with temperatures as high as 121 degrees Fahrenheit.
“She has diabetes. She has some heart failure. … She lives in a trailer, no air conditioning,” Merritt said. “All of her health problems have all been worsened. And she’s really struggling to stay hydrated.”
Record-breaking heat in British Columbia is believed to have caused the death of more than 500 people, according to coroner reports. Wildfires in the area reportedly made air quality levels worsen to a degree of 43 times what scientists say is safe.
“We were having to figure out how do we cool someone in the emergency department,” Merritt explained to the outlet. “People are running out to the Dollar Store to buy spray bottles.”
“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,” he added.
Merritt is convinced that more doctors should be including climate change in their diagnoses, and part of his reasoning is in order to raise awareness of the issue, though more bombarded with talk of climate change the world could not be.
Following the unprecedented diagnosis, clinicians in Nelson launched Doctors and Nurses for Planetary Health, an initiative of about 40 healthcare professionals “working to better human health by protecting the planet,” according to the group’s Twitter page.
The newly-united activists are calling on the government of British Columbia to end fossil fuel subsidies “immediately” and spend money to transition to “clean energy.”
“The Covid-19 pandemic proved that our leaders are able to face health threats quickly and resolutely. The health of our planet, and all its inhabitants, cannot tolerate any further delay in climate change mitigation,” the group said in a call to action. “We must implement bold and innovative climate solutions now. Our health depends on it.”
“I don’t think people realize the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change on human health,” Merritt told the local British Columbia news outlet Castlegar News during a climate action demonstration in early November. “Working with patients directly, we are actually starting to see the health effects of climate change now. It’s not just something that is going to happen in the future.”
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