ICU teams report fatigue and frustration as they prepare for an omicron surge: gunshots

ICU teams report fatigue and frustration as they prepare for an omicron surge: gunshots


When Dr. Tiffany M. Osborn received her COVID-19 vaccination shortly after the vaccines were available in late 2020, she was hopeful about the course of the pandemic. A year later, she is sad and frustrated to see so many COVID patients in the intensive care unit.

Matt Miller / Washington University School of Medicine


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Matt Miller / Washington University School of Medicine


When Dr. Tiffany M. Osborn received her COVID-19 vaccination shortly after the vaccines were available in late 2020, she was hopeful about the course of the pandemic. A year later, she is sad and frustrated to see so many COVID patients in the intensive care unit.

Matt Miller / Washington University School of Medicine

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases is testing the endurance of critical care workers at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.

“You think, ‘What am I doing here?’ “says Dr. Nguyet Nguyen, a specialist in pulmonary intensive care at the hospital and assistant professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis.” I work as hard as I can and all these people are dying. “

“We’re tired,” says Dr. Tiffany Osborn, professor of surgery and emergency medicine. “We see so much unnecessary suffering.”

Both doctors say that unvaccinated people make up the vast majority of COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit. None of the doctors expected to be able to care for so many seriously ill patients almost a year after the vaccines became widely available.

The number of staff in the intensive care unit has steadily increased despite advances in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

From fear to fatigue

“At first we were all very scared because we had no idea what it was,” says Nguyen.

“We didn’t know how to prevent it and we didn’t know how to treat it,” says Osborn, “and many of us had a lot of concerns, could we bring this to our family? “

So Osborn moved into a mobile home parked in their driveway. She accepted this, but struggled with the burden of seeing so many of her patients die.

The best Osborn could do was often make sure a dying patient’s family could say goodbye – and even that could only be done over the phone. One of those calls that she supported from the intensive care unit is still haunting her.

“As I turned to go, I heard this voice come over the phone, this little voice that said, ‘I love you, Grandpa.’ And all I could do was close the door behind me as I left, “she says.” It’s a very helpless feeling. “

Nurses working with COVID-19 patients in an intensive care unit at Barnes-Jewish Hospital write a message of love and support on the glass door to the patient room.

Matt Miller / Washington University School of Medicine


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Matt Miller / Washington University School of Medicine


Nurses working with COVID-19 patients in an intensive care unit at Barnes-Jewish Hospital write a message of love and support on the glass door to the patient room.

Matt Miller / Washington University School of Medicine

However, when vaccines hit the market in late 2020, Osborn saw reason for hope.

“When you got the vaccine, it was like you could take the pressure off your shoulders,” she says.

Healthcare workers could finally protect themselves with something other than PPE masks and gloves. And it looked like widespread vaccination would reduce the flow of seriously ill patients from a stream to a trickle.

But fast forward a year and that still hasn’t happened.

“Most of the people who come to the intensive care unit are still unvaccinated and didn’t have to be where they ended up,” says Nguyen. “That’s why it’s very frustrating for us to deal with it every day.”

The fatigue and frustration can be most acute for ICUs and respiratory therapists who handle most of the hands-on care in the ICU, says Nguyen. Many in St. Louis have retired or changed jobs.

Nguyen thinks he understands why.

“We’re used to dealing with death, but not at the level we’ve seen with COVID,” she says. “And [we saw] People who were so young and people who – they didn’t have to die. “

Intensive care teams still have to put otherwise healthy, young COVID patients on the final life support machines known as ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), Osborn says.

“We have capacity for around 12 ECMO machines,” she says. “On our last climb, half of them were [being used for] pregnant woman.”

And most of these pregnant women were not vaccinated.

Nguyen wants people who have not yet been vaccinated to know more about what is happening to COVID patients in an intensive care unit.

“I don’t think people understand that COVID is going to kill you for a certain unhappy population,” she says. “And it’s going to kill you a lot faster than you think.”

When COVID patients arrive in the intensive care unit, Nguyen explains that they often need to make immediate decisions about their care as many intensive care patients are unable to speak or think clearly within a few hours.

CONNECTION FOR OMICRON

For many exhausted health professionals, Nguyen says, each new wave of COVID-19 has been like a slap in the face. “We felt like we were over the top of Delta and then Omicron comes rolling in and just knocks everyone out again.”

The teams in the intensive care unit are better prepared today than at the beginning of the pandemic. You’ve learned what works to keep COVID patients alive, and new drugs are emerging that promise to reduce the severity of infections.

Even so, the nation needs to focus on prevention rather than counting on treatment, Osborn says.

“This Christmas season is really all about those interactions with the people we care about,” she says. “You don’t want it to be from a hospital bed while I hold up a phone so you can speak to your family.”



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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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