Overwhelmed by COVID-19: A day inside a Louisiana hospital

Aug 11, 2021, 1:00 AM | Updated: 7:05 pm
Medical devices are seen at Ochsner Medical Center in the New Orleans suburb of Jefferson, La., on ...

Medical devices are seen at Ochsner Medical Center in the New Orleans suburb of Jefferson, La., on Tuesday, Aug.11, 2021. The rapidly escalating surge in COVID-19 infections is once again overwhelming hospitals across the U.S. That is especially true in hot spots such as Louisiana, which is hitting record numbers of coronavirus hospitalizations, driven by the highly infectious delta variant and the state's low vaccination rates. (AP Photo/Stacey Plaisance)

(AP Photo/Stacey Plaisance)

              Medical devices are seen at Ochsner Medical Center in the New Orleans suburb of Jefferson, La., on Tuesday, Aug.11, 2021. The rapidly escalating surge in COVID-19 infections is once again overwhelming hospitals across the U.S. That is especially true in hot spots such as Louisiana, which is hitting record numbers of coronavirus hospitalizations, driven by the highly infectious delta variant and the state's low vaccination rates. (AP Photo/Stacey Plaisance)
            
              Medical devices are seen at Ochsner Medical Center in the New Orleans suburb of Jefferson, La., on Tuesday, Aug.11, 2021. The rapidly escalating surge in COVID-19 infections is once again overwhelming hospitals across the U.S. That is especially true in hot spots such as Louisiana, which is hitting record numbers of coronavirus hospitalizations, driven by the highly infectious delta variant and the state's low vaccination rates. (AP Photo/Stacey Plaisance)
            
              Coronavirus patient Joan Bronson walks across her hospital room with the help of a physical therapist at Ochsner Medical Center in the New Orleans suburb of Jefferson, La., on Tuesday, Aug.11, 2021. The rapidly escalating surge in COVID-19 infections is once again overwhelming hospitals across the U.S. That is especially true in hot spots such as Louisiana, which is hitting record numbers of coronavirus hospitalizations, driven by the highly infectious delta variant and the state's low vaccination rates. (AP Photo/Stacey Plaisance)

JEFFERSON, La. (AP) — Before the latest surge of the coronavirus, Louisiana neurologist Robin Davis focused on her specialty: treating patients with epilepsy. These days, as virus patients flood her hospital in record numbers, she has taken on the additional duties of nurse, janitor and orderly.

“I was giving bed baths on Sunday, emptying trash cans, changing sheets, rolling patients to MRI,” said Davis, who has been coming in on her days off to provide some relief to overworked nurses at Ochsner Medical Center in the New Orleans suburb of Jefferson.

The rapidly escalating surge in COVID-19 infections across the U.S. is once again overwhelming hospitals, especially in hot spots such as Louisiana, which hit a record number of coronavirus hospitalizations last week. Nearly 2,900 virus patients are currently hospitalized — and state health officials say the number of cases may not peak for several more weeks. Louisiana has the country’s fourth-lowest vaccination rate, with just a little more than 37% of residents fully inoculated.

On a recent day at Ochsner, health care providers rushed up and down halls, throwing on and taking off protective clothing every time they entered a new area of the building. In dozens of ICU rooms, patients lay pallid and motionless, tubes down their throats, as beeping machines pumped drugs into their system and ventilators forced air into their weakened lungs. Health care contractors brought in from other hospitals quickly familiarized themselves with a new environment as they rushed to ease the load of the overtaxed staff.

“We’re trying to provide the most consistent care we can, but to do that we need more hands,” Davis said. “One of the biggest issues for our nurses is, the volume of patients is such that we’re having to create beds that didn’t previously exist. We’re having to find providers that weren’t previously put in place.”

AN OVERWHELMING CASELOAD

Ochsner Health is the largest health care provider in Louisiana, with 40 medical facilities across the state. More than 1,000 people — nearly 40% of the state’s currently hospitalized coronavirus patients — are being treated at Ochsner’s facilities. Roughly 200 of those are at the main campus in Jefferson, where three floors in the hospital’s West Tower have been built out as care units for coronavirus patients.

Resources have been strained to the limit across the state with hospitals starting to turn away people with other life-threatening emergencies such as heart attacks or strokes. Elective surgeries and other nonurgent care have been suspended.

Davis said there’s no greater need for her help than in Ochsner’s thinly stretched nursing department. She noted that her many recent duties have included fetching medication for nurses and pushing patients in wheelchairs.

“If it took pressure off a nurse, if it gave her time to do what she needed to do, that’s what we did,” she said. “Sunday was supposed to be my day off with my kids, but we need help here, and one day I want to be able to tell those two little boys I did the thing that was needed at the time it was needed.”

NURSES HELPING NURSES

In Ochsner Medical Center’s intensive care unit, nurses Joan Blizzard and Arthur Bienvenu try to care for each other along with their coronavirus patients.

They tie each other’s gowns, prep medicines and machines together with barely a word, shuffle in and out of patients’ rooms, their eyes the only part of their faces visible through their protective gear.

For the past year and a half, Bienvenu said, working 50 to 60 hours a week caring for patients and being surrounded by fellow staff has helped him cope with the loss of his father to the virus last year.

He said he shares his father’s story with other grieving families, including how his dad was on a ventilator for more than 20 days in the spring and how his family had to make the difficult decision to take him off it.

“The outcome wouldn’t be what he wanted,” Bienvenu said. “He wouldn’t want to live with the trach and PEG (feeding tube) and the severity of the situation, so we decided to transition to comfort from progressive measures, and the little bit of dignity and respect my dad had left, we preserved that.”

Bienvenu said working with other families experiencing loss has helped give him purpose during the most tragic time of his life.

“People would ask me, ‘Why are you still coming in?'” he said. “Because these people need us, you know? We have to put a stop to this. Everybody has a different path through this. I’m blessed to be around the people I’m around. That’s the only way I’m here.”

Critical care nurse Mary Lubrano has watched her colleagues running up and down the intensive care unit hallway at Ochsner Medical Center while she lies in a hospital bed with the virus. She has been hospitalized for two weeks and counting, her breathing labored as she suffers from low oxygen.

“That was me,” she said of the other nurses, her voice choking with emotion. “And I wanted to be able to help them.”

Lubrano works in the critical care unit at St. Bernard Parish Hospital, an Ochsner-run facility near her home in Chalmette, where she was initially hospitalized before being transferred to the Jefferson campus.

She said she still checks her emails as often as possible to see how her fellow nurses in Chalmette are holding up.

“They are busting their butts there, and they are full of COVID patients, and it’s the same nurses on the schedule every day. They just go and go,” she said. “As a nurse, it’s all about giving back, so I can’t wait to get back out there.”

IT’S WORSE THIS TIME

The magnitude of this most recent coronavirus surge — largely spurred by the highly contagious delta variant — is profound, Blizzard said.

“People are getting sick so quickly this time,” she said. “They will be talking to you, and within hours, we’re having multiple people at the bedside” performing emergency procedures. “It is so scary.”

If they survive, many will live with years of impairment, she said.

Bienvenu wants people to understand the severity of the current situation.

“It hits all of us different,” he said. “Yes, one individual can have coughs or sneezes, but another individual can be on a ventilator.”

WISHING THEY HAD BEEN VACCINATED

Jerome Batiste, a 26-year-old New Orleans resident, said he so rarely got sick he didn’t think he needed the coronavirus vaccine. He assumed he had a strong immune system, having gone the entire pandemic without getting infected, he said.

As he sat by a window in a recovery room in one of Ochsner’s COVID units, taking in some sunshine from the bench near his hospital bed, he said he’s not only wishing he’d gotten the vaccine but wants everyone he knows to get it, “and I’ll go if they need somebody to go with them.”

Batiste isn’t sure where he contracted the virus but said he had been on a family trip to Disney World and had also visited friends in the weeks before falling ill.

“It just happened,” he said. “It just came out of the blue. I started coughing a lot.”

He said he took over-the-counter cough medicine, hoping it would pass, but “it just got worse and worse, and I started throwing up a lot, and I couldn’t keep anything down.”

Since he was admitted to the hospital last week, he’s been given vitamins, steroids, breathing treatments and shots to prevent blood clots. He’s also developed a rare condition in which his body’s muscle tissue has begun to break down, requiring a kidney flush to prevent further illness.

Batiste said he’s telling family and friends to not get “comfortable” when it comes to the virus and to protect themselves with the shot.

“I just didn’t take it as serious as most young people should,” he said, a port with tubes for his medicine sticking out of his right forearm. “You’re never too safe to go and get vaccinated.”

Mary Lubrano, the critical care nurse now ill with COVID-19, said she had never been hospitalized until this year. She said she had intended to get vaccinated, but a breast cancer diagnosis in February, followed by surgery and radiation to eradicate it, caused her to put off the shot.

She said she was also nervous about jeopardizing her health after a relative suffered a stroke shortly after receiving the vaccine. She knows most people have mild side effects, if any, but she was still hesitant. The vaccines have been proven to be safe in studies and in use in more than half the U.S. population and are far less risky than the virus itself.

“I had my follow-up, getting brave to do my vaccine, and I got COVID instead,” said Lubrano, who called it the scariest time in her life. “You take breathing for granted. … When you sit down and can’t get air in your lungs … that is so fearful, and I don’t want anyone to ever have to feel that way.”

Lubrano said her husband fell ill first and was hospitalized while she quarantined at home. He has since been released and is recovering at home, still on oxygen, she said.

Since her hospitalization, Lubrano’s entire family — her daughters, sisters and their spouses — have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“I made it my mission to make sure nobody has to suffer this way,” she said, an oxygen tube attached to her nose. “Everyone needs to be vaccinated. We’ll never beat this any other way.”

Davis, the neurologist who has been forced to take on added duties during the most recent coronavirus surge, says she can’t stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated. She recalls how a year ago — before vaccines were available — she watched helplessly as friends and neighbors died.

“They were people that didn’t have a chance,” she said. “There was nothing we could do to stop this for them. You’ve got a chance now. You have something that gives you the opportunity to have a fate that isn’t like theirs. Please don’t squander it.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Capital murder defendant and former U.S. Border Patrol Juan David Ortiz looks around the cou...
Associated Press

Jurors hear ex-Border Patrol agent’s confession in killings

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Jurors in the capital murder trial of a former U.S. Border Patrol agent have heard a taped interview in which he confesses to the 2018 killings of four sex workers in South Texas. If convicted of capital murder, Juan David Ortiz, 39, faces life in prison without parole because prosecutors are […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Police: 180 dogs and cats removed from home by hazmat team

BRICK, N.J. (AP) — Some 180 dogs and cats were removed from a New Jersey home by a hazmat team after officials reported the animals were being kept in “horrible and inhumane conditions,” authorities say. Brick Township police said officers entered the home Friday night and found stacks of animal crates containing dogs and cats, […]
2 days ago
FILE - In this photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by th...
Associated Press

Iran morality police status unclear after ‘closure’ comment

CAIRO (AP) — An Iranian lawmaker said Sunday that Iran’s government is “paying attention to the people’s real demands,” state media reported, a day after a top official suggested that the country’s morality police whose conduct helped trigger months of protests has been shut down. The role of the morality police, which enforces veiling laws, […]
2 days ago
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the J Street National Conference at the Omni Shoreham H...
Associated Press

Blinken vows US support for Israel despite unease over gov’t

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the U.S. will not shrink from its unwavering support for Israel despite stark differences with Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu and concerns the Biden administration may have about potential members of his incoming right-wing government. Speaking to a left-leaning group that some on the right accuse […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Farmer: Georgia dog injured saving sheep from coyote attack

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia sheepdog is recovering at home two days after killing a pack of coyotes that attacked his owner’s flock of sheep, farmer John Wierwiller said. Casper, a 20-month old Great Pyrenees from Decatur, fought off a pack of coyotes who were threatening Wierwiller’s sheep farm, he said. The fight lasted […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Report: Woman attacks 6 deputies at New Orleans airport

Officials say a woman bit, kicked and spat on six sheriff’s deputies while refusing to exit a plane at an airport in Louisiana early Thanksgiving Day, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported Saturday. Authorities said the 25-year-old woman attacked Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, according to local news reports. […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Overwhelmed by COVID-19: A day inside a Louisiana hospital