‘Lonely and scared’: U of U medical professionals share stories of an overwhelmed ICU

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – On another record-breaking day of new COVID-19 cases, officials announced that Intensive Care Unit beds at the University of Utah Hospital are 99 percent full.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall called what’s happening there an “invisible” emergency because we simply don’t see the suffering, stress, and sadness that’s happening within the facility’s walls.

“Two weeks ago, there was a patient with a heart attack who couldn’t get medical care in the state of Utah,” U of U Professor and Palliative Care Physician Dr. Kencee Graves said.

It was a small glimpse inside an ICU at its breaking point.

“We have exceeded our ICU capacity and we are in our surge capacity,” U of U Pulmonologist Dr. Nate Hatton said. “Which obviously puts significant strain on our healthcare system.”

Their words and their expressions painted a grim portrait of overworked doctors, nurses, and technicians trying to care for patients who are struggling with the virus and isolation.

“My patients have told me they’re lonely and scared,” Nurse Katrina Emery said. “Lonely because many times we don’t speak the same language, scared because they can’t breathe and scared that they may never experience life outside of the hospital walls…Can you imagine being in a hospital for 90 days without the touch or hug of your family? Can you imagine what it must feel like to be surrounded by strangers who look like aliens because they’re covered with layers of PPE?”

Apparently, some people can’t – the ones who refuse to wears masks in public.

“The virus is real, I believe that. But I believe it’s no worse than the flu,” a man named Trent recently told ABC4 News.

The medical professionals on the frontline disagree.

“I saw the nurses who have been doing additional shifts for five months to open an additional ICU,” Dr. Graves said. “I said ‘How are you guys doing’ and they said ‘We are exhausted. We can’t keep doing this forever. We cannot keep taking care of patients beyond what we have been’.”

“All I ask is that you do what you can…” Nurse Emery said through tears. “To protect yourself, protect me, and protect our communities.”

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