As of Friday, Louisiana had one of the highest numbers of COVID 19 cases in the country, with the majority in New Orleans, where there is one case per thousand residents. This could be because New Orleans has just wrapped its Mardi Gras celebration, which is a national magnet attracting millions of patrons to Bourbon street to frolick, drink, dance and eat. This image of partying and having fun socializing is a far cry from the ghost towns across America today.
News outlet ProPublica spoke to a respiratory therapist in New Orleans who works in a medium sized hospital. He noted that prior to the crisis, his day to day procedures were somewhat mundane: asthma patients, the occasional ventilator, but he was mostly managing these conditions in older folks for whom these conditions are common. He explains that the patient makeup on ventilators now is a far cry from what it was a month ago. Today, patients in their thirties to fifties inhabit the ventilators, and many have not had any prior health concerns prior to contracting the virus. COVID-19 is unlike anything we have seen before. It is quick, stealthy, and can happen to anyone.
One of the largest problems that the virus has introduced is just sheer volume. At the beginning of the pandemic, many hospitals failed to recognize the severity of what was to come and invest in proper medical supplies and machinery. Today, this is proving to be a significant challenge as the spread of the virus far outpaces the speed that hospitals are able to acquire more equipment and supplies.
In this medical practitioner’s words,
“Reading about it in the news, I knew it was going to be bad, but we deal with the flu every year… This is knocking out what should be perfectly fit, healthy people”
COVID-19 has completely taken over this New Orleans hospital, as it has many others throughout the country.
There is typically an observation unit where vitals are checked every four hours, with particular attention to heart rate, as trouble breathing is an immediate emergency sign. At any moment, the patient can go into respiratory failure, or Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).
ARDS happens when the lungs fill with fluid, and has an incredibly high mortality rate that hovers around 40%. Once this happens, the patient immediately has to be put on a ventilator. With COVID-19, this process happens much more quickly, even overnight. In a scary realization, medical professionals relate this experience to someone experiencing a near drowning experience or that of someone who has just inhaled gas.
This is not the regular flu that hospitals had prepared for.
“Holy shit. Watching this relatively young guy, gasping for air, pink frothy secretions coming out of the tube and out of his mouth.. We had to restrain him. With all the coronavirus patients, we’ve had to restrain them”.
Coronavirus has quickly turned from something we joked about contracting to a virus that can threaten each and every one of us. It is no longer a novelty, and it is not going to get better unless we all take individual responsibility and do our part.
Our medical professionals are working around the clock, supplies are rationed, and masks are in short supply but have necessary demand. Your risk of mortality inches up every day you are on the ventilator; there is a fine line to walk here between survival and recovery.