Four hours after arriving at Wollongong Hospital's emergency department, the area around little Kendall Wigger's lips turned blue.
Her mother, Tegan Castle, struggled to wake her up and rushed her again to the triage desk, pleading for the 17-month-old to be seen by a doctor.
Finally, after their interminable wait, mother and daughter were ushered in and the Wongawilli child would spend the next six days in hospital on oxygen.
It wasn't COVID-19 she was struggling with, but bronchiolitis. Yet her mother said the pressures of so many in hospital with COVID was putting pressure on resources. And she's scared of what that could mean for others needing emergency care.
"Kendall had woken up on New Year's Day with a cough and high temperature and firstly we monitored her at home," Ms Castle said.
"The next day when she wasn't keeping fluids down we rang the radio doctor and were on hold for 50 minutes before the line dropped out. That's when we decided to take her to hospital, which we had been trying to avoid with everything going on."
On arrival Ms Castle was told there were no beds, and the wait time could be up to six hours. She nearly went home.
"I'm so glad I didn't - I would have got home and had to call an ambulance when the area around her mouth went blue and I couldn't wake her - and the ambulance service is under as much pressure as the hospitals at the moment."
Ms Castle said while waiting she saw many parents with children with COVID enter before her.
"I don't blame them - they wouldn't be able to take them to a medical centre and they don't know where else to take them, and they're scared," she said.
"But when I'm sitting in the waiting room of the ED and the area around my daughter's lips is turning blue and she's unresponsive because of the lack of staffing and resources due to COVID - then it's a concern."
COVID has touched her family too - her husband Matthew and son Lleyton, 7, have tested positive so she and Kendall are now separated from them.
Ms Castle's mother has her other daughter Hallie, five, who continues to be tested.
Meantime, she never wanted to make a fuss. After all, the care Kendall received once admitted to Wollongong Hospital was fantastic and she's now feeling fine.
Then she heard the story of a Sydney couple who this month had to give birth at home as an ambulance was unavailable. They were then forced to drive themselves to hospital while performing CPR on their newborn son.
"It's only a matter of time before something goes wrong. Hospitals, and the ambulance service, need more resources," she said.
Northern Illawarra Hospital Group general manager Nicole Sheppard said management would contact Ms Castle.
"Wollongong Hospital takes very seriously any patient or family concern and will reach out to the patient's mother to discuss her concerns directly," she said.
"Emergency department staff work incredibly hard to ensure that waiting is kept to a minimum for our patients, but unfortunately delays do occur for a number of reasons. As is always the case in the ED, patients who are most seriously ill or injured are the priority, and will be seen first."
Ms Sheppard said NSW Health had rigorous infection prevention and control processes in place to help ensure the health and safety of all patients, visitors and staff.
"While the COVID-19 pandemic is placing pressure on our hospitals, significant planning has occurred to ensure our hospitals have capacity to care for patients requiring hospitalisation, including those with COVID-19."
Deputy editor and health reporter at the Illawarra Mercury, covering stories in the Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama local government areas. For news tips email email@example.com
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