A B.C. doctor has captured the world’s attention by likely being the first physician to diagnose a patient with “climate change.”
Nelson-based Dr. Kyle Merritt gave the controversial diagnosis over the summer, saying the symptoms a patient in her 70s was seeing all tied back to one thing.
Those effects included heatstroke, dehydration and breathing issues. As he treated the patient, he started thinking about underlying issues. He ultimately diagnosed her with climate change.
To hear Merritt tell it, he’s just a small town family doctor, interested in being accurate and helping his patients.
But with one diagnosis, he made headlines around the world.
“I’m not used to this amount of attention that I’ve been receiving recently over the past couple of days here. Yeah, it’s interesting the way that things I guess make an impact,” he said.
That diagnosis came as the province was in the grips of an unprecedented wildfire season, then punished by oppressively hot temperatures. The emergency department he works in was busy with those suffering from heat-related issues.
He noted many patients had similar symptoms as temperatures in parts of B.C. climbed above 40 C.
“As I started to see more and more of this and started to make those connections between what was happening with the climate and my patients’ health, it became upsetting, honestly, to see the effects that were happening on people,” he told CTV News in an interview.
Merritt said he could see that climate change was impacting those who were impoverished and vulnerable.
“So people that can’t afford air conditioning, for a variety of reasons, can’t escape the smoke, etc., have to work outside. Those are the folks that we’re seeing the highest impacts on. And as physicians, it’s our responsibility to start looking at those underlying causes and trying to advocate to protect our patients,” he explained.
The doctor is also a member of Doctors for Planetary Health. On their own time, members of the group advocate for policy makers and the public to take action and be aware of the impacts of global warming. He and other doctors are clear, their views are their own and not necessarily their employers’.
Dr. Linda Thyer is a founding member of the group. She works with young people and told CTV News she’s also seeing the impact the climate crisis is having on that demographic. Along with physical impacts noted in Merritt’s diagnosis are the mental health impacts.
“We’re seeing this playing out in many ways. Some of them are losing hope for their future. They’re not necessarily seeing that there’s a point to going to university, to saving for retirement, and many are even considering whether they want to have kids,” added Thyer.
Another doctor, Maura Brown, outlined some of the positive things people can due to reduce climate change and its impact on their health. She listed going vegetarian more often, walking or biking to work and heating homes with electric pumps as options that can make a difference, and may also make people feel they have some sense of control over what’s happening.
At a community level, she said talking about the issue and anxieties can also help.
“If you do something to contribute, you gain a sense of advocacy, you become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. And that just really helps people,” she told CTV News in an interview.
She added for young people, it can really help to see older generations step up to address the issue.
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