Naperville doctor: What I’ve seen when people wait too long
Tom Scaletta
By Marie Wilson (

In three months of caring for patients with COVID-19, none of the 40 doctors in the emergency department at Edward Hospital in Naperville have contracted the virus.

That’s important to mention, said Dr. Tom Scaletta, medical director of the emergency services department at Edward, because it illustrates that there is not a high risk of picking up the virus from visiting an emergency room for urgent medical needs.

Hospitals across the region and the country, including Edward, have been reporting lower patient volumes during the pandemic. Doctors say as many as a third of the typical number of patients are staying away — at significant risk to their health — because of what Scaletta described as “a misperception that they’re going to be at high risk for acquiring COVID.”

When a patient comes to the Edward emergency department with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, such as shortness of breath, coughing or fever, Scaletta said, that patient is placed in a private room. Rooms for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients are in a separate area, away from patients visiting the hospital for other reasons.

Most patients go straight from a podium at the door where they are greeted and triaged into a private room to await a nurse and a doctor.

“You’re not going to be in the waiting room sitting next to somebody who is coughing, which would be very scary,” Scaletta said.

Everyone at the hospital is required to wear a mask.

Still, during his shift May 24, Scaletta saw two patients who waited days to seek help, one who likely had suffered a heart attack two days before, who came in only because he fainted, and another whose sudden shortness of breath began two days earlier, a result of a blood clot that could have killed him.

“Usually, you don’t ignore that. Waiting two days is very, very dangerous,” Scaletta said. “That guy took a chance with his life.”

With patients like these in mind, Scaletta posted a question on a private Facebook page for doctors across the country, asking what examples they’d seen of patients suffering consequences that could have been prevented because they waited too long out of fear of the coronavirus.

He got hundreds of examples within hours. On the list were deaths, amputations, gangrene, kidney failure, aggressive cancers, strokes, ulcers, cardiac arrest, internal bleeding, multiple organ failure, full-body infections, clogged arteries, ectopic pregnancies.

wSome doctors even said their own relatives waited too long to seek care.

“I’ve filled out more death certificates in the last two months than in the last five years combined,” one doctor wrote. “Some may have been COVID, but I think the majority are from delay of care, with family frequently telling me the delay was due to fear of COVID exposure in the (emergency department).”

Scaletta’s message in light of these treatment delays is not to take health risks of any kind. Follow the distancing and sanitizing guidelines to help limit the spread of COVID-19, but do not fear it. For true medical emergencies, visit an emergency room or call 911.