TV’s gripping, inside look at the JGH’s frontline battle against COVID-19

A scene inside the JGH, as shown on Radio-Canada’s Découverte
A scene inside the JGH, as shown on Radio-Canada’s Découverte

It’s something most of us could only imagine: Healthcare workers at the Jewish General Hospital stretched to their limits, yet fighting with determination to save lives at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.

Now, we can see the reality for ourselves.

An award-winning television show has presented a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how JGH workers waged their heroic battles day by day. A team from the Radio-Canada science show Découverte was given exclusive access to the JGH while the COVID-19 pandemic raged. For more than a week, journalist Dominique Forget interviewed nurses, doctors, housekeeping staff, building engineers and others, piecing together a gripping account of the herculean efforts to care for patients while preventing the virus from spreading.

The result is an engrossing peek inside Montreal’s first adult hospital to be designated as a COVID-19 treatment centre, at a time when much about the virus was still largely unknown.

“It’s a moment people will look back on, maybe 100 years from now,” Ms. Forget says. “To be able to see how things were going on inside the Jewish General, the main hospital receiving patients with COVID-19 – it has high historical value.”

The scenes would be familiar to anyone who has ever watched a TV medical drama like ER. In one of them, Emergency Department staff are shown desperately working to revive a patient in cardiac and respiratory arrest. Ms. Forget says the scene was one of the most memorable she witnessed. Although the moment was extremely tense, members of staff stayed relatively calm, she says.

“I saw a sort of a well-rehearsed choreography and a well-oiled machine,” she says. “We could see that everyone knew what they had to do. It was a bit like watching artists at work. Everyone had their role to play.”

Overall, Ms. Forget says she came away “in awe” of the dedication and sacrifices of JGH staff, some of whom willingly isolated themselves from their own families to protect their loved ones from possible infection. She says her sentiments are captured by Dr. Karl Weiss, part of the JGH medical team featured on the Découverte program.

“They’re the people who put their lives at risk every day. The people at the frontlines. The people who were human with dying patients,” Dr. Weiss, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, tells the journalist. “It’s the people in emergency rooms in Quebec, the people who intubated patients, the nurses who cared for patients, the people who cleaned the rooms, the people who brought patients their food.”

“These are the people,” Dr. Weiss says, “who saved the system.”

The Radio-Canada team worked with Carl Thériault, Media Relations Specialist for CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, who set up the interviews and acted as liaison with JGH staff. “It was important to show how everyone who works at the JGH and the entire CIUSSS rolled up their sleeves to combat this pandemic,” Mr. Thériault says. “Our teams surpassed themselves during a very demanding period.”

The Découverte episode was broadcast on September 20.

Listen to the interview with Dominique Forget on the Your Health Podcast: