It happens roughly once a week.
The conversation goes something like this:
Dr. Simon Demers-Marcil ensures the person on the other end of the line is somewhere safe, perhaps, not behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Then, he breaks the news as respectfully as possible.
“There's no nice way to say it. The news is bad,” he told CTV News Edmonton.
“You usually just say that you have bad news and then you go on to say that the patient and their loved one has died.”
Typically, the conversation is private. But on Friday, thousands of others heard the Alberta doctor’s message.
That day, the province’s COVID-19 death tally rose to 462.
In the days since, the count has risen to 471.
One of Demers-Marcil’s ICU patients was among those who succumbed to the disease.
While he was on the phone informing the patient’s family, his photograph was taken, unbeknownst to him and posted to social media on Friday.
In the picture, Demers-Marcil is on his knees. One hand cradles his head while the other holds the phone to his ear.
“I’m not an artist,” he told CTV News Edmonton. “But I guess I was impressed by the emotion that the picture conveyed. Looking at it from a third-person perspective and forgetting it was me in the picture.”
As of Friday, 462 people had died of COVID-19 in Alberta. In this picture, ICU physician Dr. Simon Demers-Marcil calls a family to tell them a loved one died of COVID-19. Help prevent the spread of #COVID19ab by following all public health measures: https://t.co/C0V22rhMrD pic.twitter.com/EuVvcfV1Jh— Alberta Health Services (@AHS_media) November 21, 2020
These kinds of conversations aren’t unfamiliar to the respirologist at Calgary’s Peter Lougheed Centre, who has been trained in how to tell someone their loved one has died.
But the pandemic has changed the duty. More often now, the conversation happens over the phone. In the exceptional case family has been allowed in the hospital, their grief and that of the staff is masked – literally. Frequently, the patient died alone.
To care for someone and share in their last moments is an equally stressful and rewarding responsibility, Demers-Marcil said.
“I'm just so grateful some people are able to relate to the some of the emotions that we feel as health care workers on a daily basis,” he told CTV News Edmonton.
“Everyone feels the weight of this pandemic after the many months that we've been in this…
“And I hope that they understand that they have an impact, too.”
As of Saturday, the province had 11,274 active cases. Since the start of the pandemic, Alberta has counted in total 45,300 of Canada’s 322,100 COVID-19 cases.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nicole Weisberg