Exhaustion, regret in the halls of hospitals as COVID-19 continues to threaten Michigan – Detroit Free Press

US now has one COVID-19 death for every 500 residents

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Registered nurse Anna Hollissaw COVID-19 vaccines as a lifeline.

As a way out of thewaves of sickness and death that have come time and time again over the last 18months.

As away to halt the virus that left her bed-ridden for weeks and kept her out of work for six months with heart complications and other lingering symptoms.

"We've struggled with our patients. We've struggledwith staffing at times," said Hollis, who's worked 26 years as a nurse. "A second surgewas bad enough, butthen a third one. ... I was just convinced it's not going to get there. It's not going to get there. But here we are."

The state is yet again teetering onthe edge ofanother swellincoronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths this time driven by the more contagious delta variant.

Although 56.7%of the state's residents ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, it's not enough, health officials say, to lift the state from the grips of the virus. Since the pandemic began,983,109Michiganders have had confirmed cases and20,597have died.

"I chalkit up to a younger generation that don't like being told what to do," Hollis said of the way the vaccination effort has dwindled in recent months despite the ongoing threat the virus poses."It's still out there and we have to protect ourselves and other people."

More: Your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, answered

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Hollis stood in the hallway at Beaumont Hospital in Trenton Monday, and said she wished she could bring people who are refusing vaccines and foregoing masks inside to see what she sees, to hold the cell phone for a patient trying to talk toloved ones via Facetime or Zoom who can't be at their bedside.

"I really wish I could bring people here to see that pain in someone's eyes when they can't see their family," said Hollis, the charge nurse on the intermediate-care floor, which has a mix of patients some with coronavirus and some hospitalized with other medical conditions.

"They have to rely on the nurse setting up the time to do it. It is time consuming very worth it and we work diligently at making it happen but it's so difficult. I wish everyone could see that. It would make people more mindful of what they do and how they can protect themselves."

Thenumber of people in the state sickened by the virus is growingagain 2,685Michiganders have gotten a new coronavirus diagnosis each dayin the last week, roughly double the number of new daily cases one month ago.

When those people get sick enough to need medical treatment,it puts more pressure on hospitals, which already are treating a heavier load of patientswho avoidedpreventive health care earlier in the pandemic and now are in crisis.

Those hospitals are grappling witha labor shortage, too.Henry Ford Health System announcedMonday it had to shut down 120 hospital beds because it didn't have enough workers. On Wednesday,Beaumont said italso had to close180 of itsbeds because of the staffing shortage.

Andall 10 of Beaumont'semergency departments were nearly full. Its leadersissued an urgentrequest: Seek medical care elsewhere such as urgent care centers orphysician's offices if you can.

"There are many people who still need to get vaccinated. So, our staff must care for those unvaccinated individuals who become extremely ill with the COVID delta variant, or other variants, and try to balance all the other patients coming in with medical emergencies,"said Beaumont CEO John Fox in a statement."Add in a staffing shortage, and you have a perfect storm."

Kevin Miller, 30, of Southfield didn't get a COVID-19 vaccine. He works out, eats well anddidn't think he was vulnerable to coronavirus.

"Just out of pure laziness," he said, he didn't seek out a shot. "I've been like out and about and living lifenormallysince COVID came,kind of ignorantly."

But then hiswife caught the virus, and he did, too.

She was fully vaccinated andrecovered quickly. ButMiller, a father of two with a new baby on the way,ended up in the emergency room earlier this month at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

He wore a T-shirt and sweatpants as he lay in a hospital bed Tuesday, watching a college soccer match,trying to pass the time.

More: 'Perfect storm' has Beaumont emergency rooms nearly full

More: Henry Ford Health System temporarily closes 120 inpatient beds because of staffing challenges

"I ran a fever of103for about eight days," he said. His body ached everywhere. He lost his sense of taste and smell, and then he became disoriented and couldn't carry on a conversation with his wife.

"She was talking about getting bigger baby clothes for our son because he's growing. And I turned around, looked at her and said, 'All windows in the houses havecurtains on them.' And she says, 'You need to go to the hospital.' I wasn't making any sense."

When he arrived at Beaumont,Miller said he was vomiting blood. His oxygen levels were depleted. He was given the anti-viral drug remdesivir along with the steroid dexamethasone.

"I honestly thought I was going to die," he said. "I couldn't breathe. I couldn't function.

"This isnothing like the flu. I don't know why they categorize this as flu-Iike symptoms. These are not flu-like symptoms. These are likealien-type symptoms, like something has crawled inside of you and is trying to take over."

Talking to his 10-year-old son, Roman,about his illnesswas crushing.

"All he understands is people that get COVID die," he said. "When I told him I had COVID, he totally lost it, was crying, stuff like that, and it broke my heart."

Miller said he's feeling much stronger now, though he still has a lingering coughand supplemental oxygen at his bedside for when he feels short of breath. He's lost about 40 pounds during the ordeal.

Hehopes he willrecover quicklyenough to be back home in time to celebrate Roman's 11th birthday next week.

"I'm only 30, andthis hit me," Miller said. "It shouldn't have hit me this hard."

More: MDHHS: Students exposed to COVID-19 can stay in school with testing, masks

More: You told us about hard-to-find school COVID-19 dashboards. We found them.

Miller said heplans toget vaccinated as soon as his doctors green-light it, and urged others to do the same.

"Get it," he said. "Think about your mother. Think about your grandmother, your brothers and sisters, your children. They all matter. ... And we have an obligation ... to protect ourselves and the people around us.

"It's selfish for somebody to say that I'm not going to do this because ofsome ridiculous reason like they did their internet research or something like that, you know? And then they endup getting it like I did, and it's too late."

It was too late for one of his closest friends from childhood, too. FelipeSettles was just 35 when he died earlier this year from the virus, unvaccinated.

"It took him. ... One day, I woke up and he was gone," Miller said.

"People don't really understand it until it hits home. And then by then, it's too late."

Though lots of people want to resume life as normal, ditch masks and crowd football stadiums and concert hallsas they did before, the pandemic is not over,said Dr. Jonathan Kaper,Beaumont Trentons chief medical officer and patient safety officer.

"Earlier in the summer, I think people were declaring victory over COVID. But to me, it seems like we're declaring victory at halftime, and you know, there's still a lot of work to be done and potentially a lot of changes ahead of us," he said.

Much of what lies ahead is unknown.

"People are thinking this is like the Spanish flu, and it'll be here for two years, and then we'll move past it," said Kaper, who also is an anesthesiologist."But no one really knows. ... Are there more mutations that we're going to have to deal with? Is COVID ever going to go away? Or is it going to be something that we deal with on a yearly basis like the flu?

"There's six or eight states that are really surging; their ICUs (intensive-care units) are full.But most of the states aren't experiencing that. ... You ask yourself the question: Well, why are those states surging and, for instance, we're not? We have seen increased numbers in our hospitals as of late, but not the types of surges that we've seen in the past, at least not until this point."

Every time the case rates and hospitalizations spike,the situation is a little different, Kaper said. Thedelta variant, which now accounts for more than 99% of coronavirus infections in Michigan, is highly contagious, and seems to be able to infect more people who are fully vaccinated than other earlier strains.

Still, taking the vaccine remains the best protection from hospitalization and death from the virus.

"Someone who is vaccinated, their chance of dying from COVID is 11 times less than someone who hasn't been vaccinated," he said. "And that's a big deal when you're talking about hospitalizations, when you're talking about the work you have to do as a doctor."

Coronavirus patients have to be handled carefully because of the risk of spreading the disease, and they often come to the hospital when they're already very ill and need a high level of care.

A task that takes 15 minutes for a patient who doesn't have COVID-19 "might take an hour and 15 minutes with a COVID patient," Kaper said. "And if you have an ICU full of COVIDpatients, just think about the demand on that staff.

"In health care, we only have so deep of a bench. There's only so many ICU nurses, respiratory therapists, nurses aides, and ER nurses who can take care of these patients. And I wish that was recognized a little bit more by the public because it does put a huge burden on these front-line employees.

"When you look at the length of the time we've been ... dealing with COVID, and the number of surges, it's very stressful, very difficult for them physically, emotionally. And I think that's something I wish the public, especially those who aren't vaccinated, recognized."

Health care workers, he said, are tired.

"For those who aren't vaccinated, ... show the respect to those people who've stepped up, especially in a very unknown situation at first and put themselves and their families at risk," Kaper said.

"When it comes to the pandemic, we can put it behind us sooner if ... we can get the rest of the population vaccinated."

Oxygen pumped into Thomas Blackburn's nose through a plastic tube as he lay in abedat Beaumont Hospital in Trenton, where he was among 26patients hospitalized Monday with the virus.

Blackburn, a retired police officer,was being treated with IV dexamethasone and remdesivir, and stopped to cough a few times during his conversation with a Free Press reporter.

"Thiswould have been 10 times worse on me had I not gotten vaccinated," said Blackburn, 61, of Gibraltar, who had his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine in early February. "Every doctor I've had in here has said that. ... My message to everybody is get vaccinated.... That's your lifesaver."

More: Michigan coronavirus cases: Tracking the pandemic

The vaccines work to preventsevere disease and death among most people, though health officials say somebreakthrough cases are to be expected especially when spread in the community is high, as it is now in Michigan.

Of the 176 millionpeople who are now fully vaccinated in the U.S., about 14,000 have developed breakthrough COVID-19 infections that made themsick enough to be hospitalized or die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Michigan, fewer than 1% of all fully vaccinated people in the state have developed breakthrough cases of the virus, state health department data shows.

Those most vulnerable to breakthrough infections are people with compromised immune systems and older people who might not get as much protection from the vaccines as younger, healthier people.

Blackburn, who has diabetes, wasUp North in late August when he was exposed to the virus.It managed to make him sick.

"He was a smoker for so many years," his wife, Carol Blackburn,said in a phone interview with the Free Press. "I always thought if he got COVID, hewouldn't live."

He felt achy and had a fever and chills. Next came shortness of breath. His wife also contracted the virus, though her symptoms were milder.

While the couple quarantined together in the first week of September, a friend dropped a care package on their doorstep. In it was a pulse oximeter they could clip to his finger to check his blood-oxygen levels.

That's when Carol Blackburnrealized her husband of 42 years needed help. She called his doctor, who advised them to go to the hospital.

"Every joint in my body aches everywhere," said Blackburn, a father of three and grandfather of eight."It's really rough. It's been quite an experience."

He looked out the window of his hospital room, and could see his daughter's church across the street.

"They're all praying for me over there," Blackburn said, smiling.

Just getting out of bed to use the bathroom can make his blood-oxygen levels drop,said his nurse, Scott Blackburn, who is not related.

Thomas Blackburnmay need to continue to needsupplemental oxygen after he goes home from the hospital as well, his nurse said.

"We've had a lot of people discharged with home oxygen needs," Scott Blackburn said.

Some are able to eventually wean off the oxygen. Others have had to return to the hospital because their symptoms returned or got worse.

Since the pandemic began, Scott Blackburnsaid he's been struck by the inconsistency of it all. He's cared for patients in their 90s who recovered well, and young patients who didn't.

"It's just very peculiar, you know? We don't know who's going to be the person that's going to have an issue," he said.

"You just don't know."

Scott Blackburn said hewas among the first Beaumontemployees to take the Pfizer vaccine when it won emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December. Now heworries about whether his immunity is waning and whether he needs another dose.

"Heck yeah, I'll get the booster," he said.

From his bed, Thomas Blackburn nodded in agreement. He's convinced of one thing: If he hadn't taken thevaccine, he wouldn'tbe alive today.

"If you do get the shot, at least you've gota chance."

Text your ZIP code to 438829.Youll receive an immediate response with a list of vaccination sites in your area, a number you can call if you need more help, and information on how you might get a free ride to the location using Uber or Lyft.

Search for vaccine locations by ZIP code.https://www.vaccines.gov/search/.

The Detroit Free Press is conductinga surveyas part of this project on vaccine hesitancy. This survey will take less than 2 minutes to complete. It is anonymous unless you choose otherwise; sharing your email address is optional.

Contact Kristen Shamus: kshamus@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.

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Exhaustion, regret in the halls of hospitals as COVID-19 continues to threaten Michigan - Detroit Free Press

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