Thursday, July 18, 2024
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Grasping at straws

NEW YORK (AFP) – Exhausted and overwhelmed by the influx of mostly unvaccinated COVID patients, intensive care physician at Hartford Hospital in the US state of Connecticut Dr James Samuel Pope, hopes the Omicron wave of the pandemic will be the last.

“It’s been very much the wild west for about the last two weeks,” said Pope, medical director of the ICU at Hartford Hospital. “More ER visits in a day than we’ve ever had.”

Most of the patients Pope sees today are unvaccinated, many of them intubated or attached to ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) systems to help them breathe.

Pope knows that not all the patients he is taking care of will go home.

“The frustration is very real,” Pope said, making rounds with the medical team and going over the cases of each patient, who range in age between 22 and 80-something.

ABOVE & BELOW: Dr James Samuel Pope treats a patient who is suffering from the effects of COVID-19 at Hartford Hospital; and Dr Pope asks a fully intubated man if he could feel his hand and squeeze it in the intensive care unit. PHOTOS: AFP

“All of us are burned out,” Pope told AFP, especially health care workers who have been taking care of coronavirus patients since the beginning of the pandemic.

“It’s hard to find somebody who’s bubbly and feels like this has been an uplifting and positive life-changing experience. It has not,” he said, though he acknowledged there have been some moments of inspiration.

Another medical worker approached Pope, asking him to sign a patient’s death certificate. There is an empty bed visible in the ward, where a COVID-19 patient died during the night.

Pope remembered the other patients he has lost. He said most don’t even realise they are dying, because they are so sedated.

“We had a number of young people who died that we tried very hard to save, we just couldn’t,” he said.

“You don’t want to put any kind of value judgment on people’s lives, but you at least can feel like if a 90-year-old passes away, they lived life.

“But not somebody who’s 25 or 18, which was (the age of) the youngest person that I took care of,” Pope said.

The doctor said conditions have improved in the last two years, but he still laments the state of the pandemic.

He said ICU beds have not been empty in some time, and that the hospital’s ER has recently become overrun as the Omicron variant sweeps through the country.

He said he is not sure he wants to keep doing this work unless something changes.

“I will not keep doing this. It is a drain,” he said.

“I hope this is it. I hope this is the last big surge.”