Hospital Worker Gives Scary First-Person Account

Respiratory therapist in Louisiana talks to ProPublica
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 22, 2020 9:29 AM CDT
Hospital Worker Gives Scary First-Person Account
An ICU doctor in Italy, Monday.   (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Fair warning: It makes for disturbing reading. An ICU staffer at a hospital in Louisiana has provided a first-person account to ProPublica of what some COVID-19 patients are going through. The worker is a respiratory therapist, and neither he nor his hospital are identified. He estimates dozens of coronavirus patients have been admitted, and about a third have required ventilators, usually cranked up to their highest settings. Some snippets:

  • Middle-aged: The worker says he has been "shocked" to be treating so many relatively young patients, in their 40s and 50s, who did not have preexisting conditions. "This is knocking out what should be perfectly fit, healthy people."
  • The damage: He's also been stunned at the severity of damage to lungs, saying it's "usually more typical of someone who has a near drowning experience—they have a bunch of dirty water in their lungs—or people who inhale caustic gas."

  • Speed: Another trait is the speed at which patients go from bad to worse. "Patients will be on minimal support, on a little bit of oxygen, and then all of a sudden, they go into complete respiratory arrest, shut down and can’t breathe at all." Typically, this kind of shutdown happens over time, "but with this virus, it seems like it happens overnight."
  • Grim image: With his first patient, the worker realized this wasn't like the flu. "Watching this relatively young guy, gasping for air, pink frothy secretions coming out of his tube and out of his mouth. The ventilator should have been doing the work of breathing but he was still gasping for air, moving his mouth, moving his body, struggling. We had to restrain him. With all the coronavirus patients, we’ve had to restrain them."
Read the full interview, in which the worker explains acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, in which lungs fill with fluid. From the patient's view, "you are drowning." (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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