Inside look: Cape Coral Hospital’s ICU explains the experience treating COVID-19 patients
Lee Health says coronavirus cases are down in its hospitals Wednesday, but, following the past Labor Day weekend, they could go back up. Doctors say, if there is a Labor Day surge, we’ll see the impacts by the end of this week.
Hospitals are still experiencing double-digit death numbers.
We went behind a Southwest Florida hospital’s closed doors to see and hear how empty and alone it really feels.
When the doors opened to Cape Coral Hospital’s second floor ICU, we expected people, noise and a lot of activity, but there was none of that.
The hallways were mostly empty and mostly quiet, just some chatter among doctors and nurses and beeps from some machines.
Every COVID-19 patient in the ICU was unconscious, and every COVID-19 patient was alone.
“With most patients on the ventilator, a lot of times, it is, you know, fairly quiet,” said Dr. Jordan Taillon, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist.
Taillon is the individual who must tell people their only chance to beat COVID-19 is to go on a ventilator, and the chances are not good.
“A lot of people ask that question, ‘Am I going to die?’” Taillon explained. “Before we put them on the ventilator. And you know, you have to be completely honest with them. And really all you can say is we’re going to do the best to get you off.”
Once patients are on, it goes quiet again.
At 10 a.m., rounds begin. A team of about 10 doctors and nurses make their way from room to room, and sound starts to pick up a little more.
“A lot of times, there’s kind of that busy hum,” Taillon said. “That busy noise.”
We followed ICU nurse supervisor Theresa King during her rounds.
“We go over lab work; we go over X-rays; we go over vent settings,” Theresa King said. “I had a patient pass a few days ago. The wife came in and said goodbye. Emotionally, she wasn’t able to stay with him. So I sat with him, and we played Kenny G and Jimmy Buffet songs until he passed. Because that’s what we do. And it’s difficult.”
King has watched many people die, so has social worker Jenny Drew.
“I’ve noticed a lot of the wives, in particular, they don’t know how the bills are paid. They don’t know how to access their bank accounts. So we have FaceTime to teach the wives how to get into a phone and access bank accounts. So they are able to pay their bills or hurry up to get a power of attorney paperwork, come here, while they can still find it while they’re still on BiPAP.”
“Even though we’re just a voice on the other side of the phone, they know us by name,” King explained. “Because the sincerity in our voices carried enough, even though they could walk right by us now, and I wouldn’t know who they are.”
Those calls can be tough, but nothing is tougher for these health professionals than when that sound becomes complete silence.
“When you turn the 10 IV pumps off and you turn the ventilator off, it’s just kind of quiet and sad, because it’s finally over,” King said. “And it’s just absolutely defeating.”’
King might feel defeat during these moments, but she has faith.
“I’m catholic,” King said. “I believe that I will see people again.”
King prays one day she’ll hear the sound of her patient’s voices again and hear the sound of their favorite songs again.
“We’ll be able to play a song together and talk about it, and he can explain why he chose Jimmy Buffet as his favorite musician,” King said.
Better yet, King prays no one else will ever see the mostly empty, mostly quiet hallways in Cape Coral Hospital’s second floor ICU.
“Because this is the one place you don’t want to be. Once you cross these doors, it’s very difficult to come back out,” King said.
King told us every time a parent dies, she goes home, gets into bed with her children and holds them tight because that is an honor so many of her patients will never have again.
We also noticed at the ICU we did not see a single family. We learned they are permitted to sign a waiver to go into the hospital when someone is very near end of life. But we also learned many do not.
When families do visit and they watch their person die, those sounds are the worst sounds.