LOS ANGELES – For dr. Anita Sircar, a specialist in infectious diseases, there are no interruptions and few days off.
An inconsistent rise in Covid-19 cases has overwhelmed hospitals and intensive care units in Southern California for most of December after public health officials warned for weeks that people should withhold the holidays outside the homes.
Yet millions of Americans desperate to reconnect with loved ones and restore a sense of normalcy ignored the warnings on Thanksgiving. As a result, cases of coronavirus have increased, and ICU capacity has decreased.
“It’s relentless,” Sircar said, speaking by telephone between patients and doctors’ meetings at the Providence Little Company or Mary Medical Center in Torrance.
Public health officials have recently expanded amended home orders for the regions worst affected by the boom, including Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, where ICU capacity has been at 0 percent for several weeks.
Hospitals have built up makeshift ICUs, and they sometimes move patients to gift shops or children’s wards to care for the sick and dying. At Providence, a tent was set up in the parking lot to accommodate overcrowded patients when the time came. And the time will come, said several medical professionals working on the front lines of the pandemic.
“We’re sitting on this wheel that just keeps turning,” Sircar said. “It’s a revolving door that does not stop.”
Across Southern California, hospitals and their employees are being forced to make difficult decisions as the Covid-19 boom drives the battered region.
California has recorded more than 2.2 million cases of coronavirus and 25,000 deaths. In Los Angeles County, home to 10 million people, public health officials recorded about 756,100 confirmed cases and more than 10,000 deaths.
In the state of Los Angeles, a person dies every 10 minutes from Covid-19, say public health officials. More than 7,400 people were admitted to hospital in Covid-19 on Wednesday. The data was released just hours after Gavin Newsom, the government, revealed that a potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus had been found in Southern California.
Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said in a statement, “Our health care workers are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients and this current path of training Covid-19 hospitalizations is not sustainable.”
Yet, medical professionals need to keep going, even if the rise of frontline workers is emotional and mental.
For ICU nurse Lindsey Burrell, who works at Providence Hospital with Sircar, it means she wants to balance family life with work life, sometimes meaning she disappears her pain and anxiety after watching patients die day after day. .
Burrell regularly turns on music in the car as she drives home, only to plan and prepare for the transition from nurse to wife and mother. Before entering her house, she sits in silence and tries to let go of everything she saw that day.
Three years ago, Burrell underwent open heart surgery and suffered a stroke shortly after the birth of her first child. Because of her windfall, Burrell strictly manages to pull off her protective gear before entering her home, and immediately throws everything she was wearing in the washing machine, showers hot and gargles with Listerine as extra precaution.
“We are suffering quietly,” she said. “I do not even know how to put into words what I see and what I feel. It is something you are not prepared for on any level.”
Burrell knew when she became an ICU nurse that she would see death and families suffering unexpected losses. But she never expected to see the ‘inhuman’ nature of Covid-19.
Many of her sickest patients were intubated and lay face down on their stomachs with one arm up and the other down to clear the airways. Tubes and intravenous drips stretch through their bodies while dialysis machines help filter blood. When a patient’s heart stops, a team of doctors and nurses pack up their protective equipment before entering the room. Sometimes Burrell has to call loved ones to ask if they want Zoom or FaceTime to say goodbye.
“Patients are terrified,” she said. “They are pleading for their lives. They know they are going to die. It is tearing us apart.”
Burrell could not shake the recent death of a beloved grocery store worker who shook many people in the beach community where she works. The man is weaned from a fan and looks awake, giving Burrell hope he can survive. One day shortly before Christmas, Burrell goes to his room and holds his hand. She begged him to keep fighting. He gives her a thumbs up.
“I could see the despair in his eyes,” she said.
To cope with the grief, Burrell relies on co-workers who understand what it is like to fight for people’s lives, only to hear of their deaths days later.
“We can not take much more,” she said.
Early in the pandemic, Sircar made the difficult decision to move out of the house she shared with her mother for fear that her mother would contract Covid-19 and not survive its devastation. Sircar has since lived in a rental unit near the hospital, one block from the Pacific Ocean. She has not reached the beach once since she moved.
“I don’t hang out outside of work,” she said. “It’s basically just apartment, hospital, apartment, hospital. After a while you forget that there is life out here.”
Sircar usually works 12-hour shifts and only takes four days off per month. Before the pandemic, she would see about 12 patients a day. Now it’s closer to 27, and many are dying.
“It hasn’t stopped since Thanksgiving,” she said. “The virus is not out of control. People are out of control.”
Of those on her current patient list, Sircar estimates that more than half attended major Thanksgiving events. A 31-year-old woman told Sircar that 30 people were at one meal she attended. Seventeen people later tested positive for Covid-19, and at least one fought to survive.
Sircar’s patient was discharged after a few days and said she was sorry she attended the Thanksgiving dinner.
Across the province, in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the emergency department at Adventist Health White Memorial Hospital is already competent but still accepts patients. Dr. Juan C. Barrio, director of the hospital’s internal accommodation program, said residents are so overwhelmed that doctors are being forced to add their patient lists.
“It’s completely unprecedented,” he said. “We have enough ventilators, but patients in the ICU come in sicker and more critically ill.”
Makeshift ICUs are rising throughout Adventist Health to accommodate the increase in patients, including the former heart care unit. Barrio described the scene inside as a “mess of PBT and activity”, while some patients were treated in the corridors in the emergencies.
On Tuesday, dr. Mark Ghaly, the Secretary of State for Health and Human Services, said some hospitals in Los Angeles are turning to ‘crisis care’ and trying to exacerbate a more dangerous coronavirus surge after Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Ghaly said the positive percentage of the Thanksgiving boom appears to be stabilizing, but it does not appear to be in Southern California.
“We have not yet heard that any hospital is at the point where they have to make a decision between two patients who both need a ventilator, and they only have one ventilator,” he said, adding that some hospitals do not have space to download. get ambulances or oxygen from patients.
Government officials informed hospitals this week that they need to prepare for the possibility of using ‘crisis care guidelines’, which make the treatment of rationing possible when staff, medicines and supplies are scarce.
Cedars-Sinai Health System, probably the most famous hospital in Los Angeles, issued a “crisis alert” on Wednesday asking its patients not to gather on New Year’s Eve.
“We know these recommendations are challenging, but it’s important to remember that you will take action over the next few days to protect you, your family and your loved ones – and those who are currently fighting for their lives in their hospital beds,” the hospital said. said. “Compliance is crucial if we are to prevent a public health emergency from getting worse.”