When a northern B.C. construction crew cut NorthwesTel’s fibre optic cable Monday, it could have been a life-or-death situation for visitors to the emergency room at the Whitehorse General Hospital, according to Dr. Rao Tadepalli.
“If a patient has had a head trauma, or somebody collapsed with a brain aneurism, or something like that, you would need head scans done immediately.”
Those scans are typically sent to Calgary to be read by a radiologist, he said.
But on Monday evening the Internet was too slow for the files to be read.
The doctors were left making their best professional guess reading the scans without expert advice, said Tadepalli.
“It gave me a restless night. I couldn’t sleep and I was up at four o’clock in the morning thinking, ‘Oh, gee, what happened here yesterday.’ You do your best and you put out whatever you can and you have your fingers crossed.”
In the end, there were no major errors or problems, he said.
“We were lucky.”
Accessing patient data is another issue when the Internet is down, said Tadepalli.
“Doctors’ offices comes to a grinding halt if we do not have Internet service.
While the hospital keeps paper charts, 95 per cent of patient information is stored online, he said.
Accessing that patient history is crucial to making correct diagnoses, said Tadepalli.
“I just close the clinic. I say, ‘Look, it’s too dangerous for me to even do anything.’”
Monday’s decrease in Internet service occurred when both of NorthwesTel’s fibre lines to the south were cut, said spokesperson Eric Clement on Tuesday.
The two lines follow the same route but are kept apart from each other to minimize the risk of a situation like this, he said.
“You don’t often see both lines get cut.”
With fibre service down in Yukon, Internet, cell phone and home phone services were transferred to NorthwesTel’s microwave link, which has a much lower capacity.
The fibre link was repaired as of 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to a news release.