ICUs Are Filled With Covid — And Regret

It’s a battle for Joe Gammon to speak. Lying in his mattress within the intensive care unit at Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, this month, he described himself as “naive.” 

“If I would have known six months ago that this could be possible, this would have been a no-brainer,” mentioned the 45-year-old father of six, who has been in vital situation with covid-19 for weeks. He paused to make use of a suction tube to dislodge some phlegm from his throat. “But I honestly didn’t think I was at any risk.”

Tennessee hospitals are setting new data every day, caring for extra covid sufferers than ever, together with 3,846 of the greater than 100,000 Americans hospitalized with the virus as of Sept. 9. The most crucial sufferers are nearly all unvaccinated, hospital officers say, which means ICUs are crammed with regretful patients hoping for a second likelihood.

In hospitals all through the South in addition to in elements of California and Oregon, greater than 50% of the inpatients are being handled for covid, an NPR analysis shows

Gammon is a truck driver from rural Lascassas in Middle Tennessee who mentioned he listens to a whole lot of conservative discuss radio. The every day diatribes downplaying the pandemic and selling private freedom have been sufficient to dissuade him from vaccination.

Gammon mentioned he’s not an “anti-vaxxer.” And he mentioned he’s a dedicated believer within the covid vaccine now. He’s additionally grateful he didn’t get anybody else so sick they’re in an ICU like him.

“Before you say no, seek a second opinion,” he suggested individuals who assume the way in which he did earlier than being hospitalized. “Just to say ‘no’ is irresponsible. Because it might not necessarily affect you. What if it affected your spouse? Or your child? You wouldn’t want that. You sure wouldn’t want that on your heart.”

Gammon’s lungs are too broken from covid for a ventilator. He is on the last-resort life assist ECMO, which stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. Unlike earlier generations of life assist, folks on ECMO could be totally acutely aware, can communicate to their family members (and even reporters), and may even transfer round with the assistance of a workforce of nurses and technicians. 

But it’s an intense therapy, with a machine doing the work of each the center and the lungs. Thick tubes run out of a gap in Gammon’s neck, and pump all of his blood by means of the ECMO machine to be oxygenated, then again into his physique by means of different tubes. A masks over his nostril forces air into his lungs as they’re given time to heal.

Even for sufferers who survive ECMO, many face months of rehabilitation and even everlasting incapacity or dependence on oxygen.

This Saint Thomas West ICU is treating covid sufferers solely, and that information level ought to be fairly convincing to vaccine holdouts, mentioned vital care nurse Angie Gicewicz.

“We don’t have people in the hospital suffering horrible reactions to the vaccine,” she famous.

If all of the sufferers on this corridor might discuss — and a few can’t as a result of they’re sedated on ventilators — Gicewicz mentioned they’d inform folks to be taught from their errors. She recounted the story of an aged girl who was admitted in latest weeks and spent her first days in isolation to manage an infection.

Gicewicz mentioned she’d wave on the nurses from her sealed room, determined for anybody to speak to. “The first day I took care of her, she said, ‘I guess I should have taken that vaccine.’ I said, ‘Well, yeah honey, probably. But we’re here where we are now, and let’s do what we can for you.’ ”

That girl, like so many who didn’t take the vaccine, by no means recovered, Gicewicz mentioned. She died at this hospital, which averaged multiple covid demise day-after-day in the course of the month of August.

This story is a part of a partnership that features Nashville Public RadioNPR and KHN.

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