It is difficult to put into words what we have witnessed over the past week in the Intensive Care Unit. This is being written after my last shift ended and with a heavy heart because of what my colleagues and I have observed treating critically ill patients in Lincoln.
What we are dealing with inside the units of our hospitals is nothing short of an absolute tragedy. While the world outside pretends things are getting back to normal, your local community of health care providers have been fighting tooth and nail, only to stand by and watch patients succumb to an illness leaving merely devastation in its wake.
Never before have we experienced more misery on a daily basis than where we are at right now. Since coming onto the ICU service on Oct. 4 there was only a single 24-hour period without losing at least one patient to direct or indirect COVID complications.
On Sunday we lost three patients to the virus, all unvaccinated. A handful of nurses and I watched as a patient’s wife, who was also admitted with COVID, was wheeled into her husband’s room just in time to say her goodbye before he passed. They were married for 21 years she told me and asked, “How can I go on without my rock by my side?” There wasn’t an answer. I again offered our deepest condolences while trying to hold back my own emotions, as I kept thinking how this didn’t have to happen.
One can’t express the amount of senseless sorrow these families have had to endure because their loved ones chose not to get the vaccination. We have lost siblings, husbands and wives, parents and children who all left behind others to face incredible burdens due to not protecting themselves against this unrelenting disease.
When a patient is so far into their respiratory failure, there is little we can do after they arrive through our doors. We can’t stop their organs from shutting down one by one. Even with very potent therapeutics, most patients right now have become too riddled with COVID, and its dramatic inflammation, that it becomes nearly a death sentence once the last resort measure of mechanical ventilation is attempted as a fleeting hope to save their lives.
Staff members are visibly shaken each time a family cries out in pain watching their loved ones take a last breath, and I don’t know what else to do but share this experience with the public.
It’s not getting better in the ICU. As we continue to take patients from the western part of the state there is no conceivable end to this grief without the remaining 45% of the local population getting protection. Beyond COVID there are still patients who need our assistance in order to treat their heart attacks, strokes, septic infections and many other critical illnesses. However, the strain that this virus has put on the ability to do that is felt throughout all aspects of inpatient care.
This is a warning to all those who value health and the confidence in your providers to successfully treat you or your loved ones if ever unfortunate enough to need the ICU. No politicians or constitutional scholars can defend you, only you alone have the capability to protect yourselves.
It isn’t about freedom at this point: it’s about community.
Our community continues to grieve within the walls of the ICU.
Dr. Matt Maslonka of Lincoln is a pulmonary and critical care physician who has been involved with treating COVID patients throughout the area along with his partners at Nebraska Pulmonary Specialties.