When we hear about hospitals running out of ICU beds and having to ration care, we may erroneously picture Hollywood movie scenes with frantic healthcare workers hustling constantly with patients and crash carts being frantically wheeled around.
That kind of hectic scene might happen in a single mass tragedy event in an emergency room, but a real ICU isn't like that, even when it's full. The ICU (Intensive Care Unit) is where patients go when they are severely ill or have sustained injuries that require ongoing, life-saving care. Saving lives in the ICU is a days, weeks, and sometimes even months-long endeavor, where nurses and doctors get to know patients a little before sending them home (which is always the hope) or saying goodbye (which has happened far too often in the past 18 months).
A crew from 4 News Now in Spokane was granted rare access to the ICU at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, where COVID-19 is taking a toll on doctors and nurses.
"We have 54 beds for adult critical care at Sacred Heart; 26 are in our general medical neuro-trauma ICU and 28 are in our cardiac ICU, but we have had to use the cardiac ICU beds also for COVID patients," ICU nurse manager Deb Gillette told 4 News Now. The hospital has also designated two additional floors for COVID patients who aren't sick enough to need ventilators.
You can hear the weariness in the voices of the doctors and nurses as they explain what they do to keep COVID patients alive and how hard the pandemic has been, even for people who are accustomed to critical care.
Watch this rare glimpse inside an ICU:
Inside the ICU: An exclusive look inside Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center's intensive care www.youtube.com
The nurses interviewed pointed out that the age of those being admitted to the ICU has dropped from earlier in the pandemic, when it was mostly older patients. Now they're mostly seeing people in their 30s to 60s.
And the message they are sending is the same one we are hearing from ICU staff across the nation: "Get vaccinated."
"We're really trying here and the best thing our community can do is get vaccinated. We really have nothing else," nurse Emily Crews said. "That's our only solution and the more that people do that, the less time we'll spend in here, and the less time at home I'll be thinking about these people who are never going home."
This is the kind of coverage we need to see more of. When the overwhelming tragedy of the pandemic is happening inside hospital rooms where average Americans don't have access, it's far too easy to ignore numbers and pleas because it feels like it's not that bad.
It is that bad. Hospitals across the country are telling us it's bad. ICU workers are telling us it's bad. The past year and a half has been exhausting, but we can relieve some of the burden on healthcare workers by getting vaccinated as soon as we are able.
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