A New Surge at a Santa Monica I.C.U.
SANTA MONICA, Calif .– Two months ago at the Providence Saint John Health Center, Dr. Morris Grabie stood in front of a makeshift plastic wall in the intensive care unit and prayed.
“Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha’olam,” he began in Hebrew, the sterile divider behind him sealing Covid-19 patients from the uninfected. “Blessed are you, Adonai our God, sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, supported us and brought us into this season. “
Around the doctor at the Santa Monica, Calif., Hospital, a small army in lab coats – doctors, nurses, technicians – bowed their heads, testifying to what appeared to be the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Sixty-nine lives in the service had been taken away by the virus. Pain and sorrow, life and death, fear and loss, month after month, it all happened behind that thin divider.
And yet, that day, not a single patient in the Saint John intensive care unit had tested positive for the coronavirus. Dr Grabie turned around and the ICU medical director, assisted by a respiratory therapist, opened the wall.
“We were all amazed,” recalls Medical Director Dr. Terese Hammond.
It was June 1 at 7:56 a.m. on a Tuesday.
Now the Covid section of the service is back and closed again.
Covid-19 is on the rise again, in Saint John’s and the world around it, driven by vaccine resistance and the hyper-contagious variant of the Delta virus. In California, new infections are appearing at a rate not seen since February. Governments, schools and businesses are starting to demand indoor masks and vaccinations.
Los Angeles County records more than 2,500 new cases a day, and among those unvaccinated, hospitalizations and deaths are increasing. Even in the affluent city of Santa Monica, where about 80% of residents are now vaccinated, dozens of people test positive for the virus every day, and hospitals like Saint John’s – a 266-bed facility that generally meets ordinary needs. seaside communities around it – are again inundated.
Last week, so many Covid patients were in intensive care that there was not enough space behind the plastic wall. The hospital had to reconfigure and expand the unit. Bonifacio Deoso, nurse of the unit, was on a tired question:
“When will this end?” “
Over the past three weeks, the 23-bed intensive care unit has been overcrowded, Dr Hammond said. As of Sunday morning, eight patients on the ward were being treated for the virus or related infections. Four were treated with ECMO, a particularly laborious and continuous protocol.
Seven other patients were in the gradual intensive care unit on supplemental oxygen as they recovered from infections. “People are coming in sicker and sicker,” Dr Hammond said. At least six people have died from Covid-19 in intensive care in St. John’s since June 1.
The wave of new cases is particularly difficult because it accompanies another wave – patients who had postponed elective surgeries and other health care during the pandemic. In addition to the cases of Covid-19, Dr. Hammond’s staff this time are caring for people with serious illnesses unrelated to the pandemic, except to the extent that missed doctor’s appointments and postponed routine screenings helped land them in intensive care.
The patient demographics this time around are also different. Earlier in the pandemic, most were transfers from other healthcare centers in Providence. Now many more are local and younger, Dr Hammond said, and are being sent to intensive care after emergency room visits.
Considering Santa Monica’s high vaccination rate, she said, the influx is “disconcerting.”
“Santa Monica was pretty protected,” she said.
While vaccinated people seem to get much less sick from the infections, the superior powers of the Delta variant allow the virus to proliferate in their systems and spread, fatally, to the unvaccinated. Some 20 percent of the people of Santa Monica – and nearly 40 percent of those in the county surrounding it – have yet to be fully immunized, despite pleas from public health experts.
“You are here to take care of the human no matter what decision they make,” said Vickie Gaddy, a nurse on the unit. But the new wave of infected patients, so soon after the optimism of June 1, was overwhelming for Dr Hammond’s exhausted staff members.
“As an intensive care nurse you know you are going to see a number of deaths,” said Masha Crawford, who also works with Covid-19 patients at the hospital. But, she said, “in this pandemic, you see people who shouldn’t die die.”
Ms Crawford said that before the pandemic she loved to exercise. Now, she has no appetite for exercise or self-care.
“The new wave” of cases, she said, “took that energy.”
Emergency doctor Dr Brian Tu says he is concerned about hospital staff outside the unit who are now exposed to the virus, due to the number of cases detected during emergency room visits.
Dr Stefania Pirrotta says the relentlessness of the new wave has made her “angry”.
Just two months ago, she said, she was hopeful. Now there is no end in sight.
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