A frontline doctor offers a horrifying glimpse into hospital life during the pandemic

hospital workers coronavirus
Photo via Hospital CLÍNIC/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)

Coronavirus cases are currently skyrocketing across the country, and it would appear that the second wave of infections (or, perhaps, the third wave) we’ve been hearing about for months has finally arrived. In many parts of the country, case numbers are already eclipsing what we saw when the pandemic first broke out in March, and hospitalizations are at their highest levels ever. And it’s taxing essential hospital workers.

To illustrate just how bad things have gotten, actress and comedian June Diane Raphael shared a text message she received from a pulmonary and critical care doctor friend on Nov. 15. Raphael asked her friend how she was doing. The response might give you pause—particularly those who are planning to go ahead with holiday celebrations like it’s a normal world.

“Tomorrow will be my 10th day working straight. We are completely surging. I am carrying more and sicker patients than ever in my career,” Raphael’s friend wrote. “They are almost all COVID. I expect at least half of them to die but probably not for an average of 1-3 weeks (which they will spend alone in the hospital).”

“I have to call their families and update them daily,” the doctor explained, adding that she recently “sobbed on the phone” with a mother whose daughter would likely die. 

She continued: 

We are overflowing our units. We are short-staffed. We are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.

People here aren’t wearing masks, they are having Sunday family lunches, going to church, planning for Thanksgiving. There is such a disconnect between hospitals and surrounding communities … I drive home stunned through a college town with lines out the doors for the local bars.

People complain about their personal freedoms being limited and the mental effects of social distancing and wearing a mask, but give no respect to others’ right to live and give thought to the mental effects of accidentally infecting and killing grandma or the trauma they are imposing on their healthcare workers. This is devastating.

Raphael’s tweet soon went viral, as tens of thousands of people shared it in less than 24 hours. Some hospital workers added horror stories of their own.

“The drive home after a shift is always a gut punch,” wrote one healthcare worker. “Watching people go about their lives, mask free—it is so difficult. The rage at that has nowhere to go. These people will soon be our patients, gasping for breath and risking healthcare workers and their families’ lives.”

“As a hospice social worker in a major medical system, it’s terrifying how everyone just thinks this is nothing,” added another. “Health care workers are experiencing real trauma and expected to do it day after day.”

With a long, dark, winter ahead for much of the world, the pandemic is likely about to get much, much worse before it gets better.

“I don’t, only in the sense that, again, we’re not really telling the complete story,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, when asked about the optimism of an impending vaccine program back in October. “We do have vaccines and therapeutics coming down the pike, but when you actually look at the time period for that, the next 6-12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the pandemic.”

With the holidays impending, those trends are unlikely to reverse anytime soon.

Source: June Diane Raphael

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