Doctors Telling their Omicron Stories

This collection of fresh observations from Massachusetts health care workers is excerpted from this medium post by Dr. Robin Schoenthaler, dated January 10, 2022. For me, the ongoing harm to health care system is the most compelling argument for vaccine mandates.

It is horrific out there.

Emergency Room Physician: “It is horrendous. I can’t even get to the bottom of how horrendous it is here. The rooms, hallways, waiting room are all filled with COVID patients. Patients sit out in the waiting room for hours just waiting to be evaluated because there are not enough nurses. There are no beds in the hospital. Covid positive psych patients might actually stay the entire five quarantine days in the Emergency Department. Patients who are homeless have nowhere to go, no shelters, no hotels, no hospital beds. Some sit in the waiting room. Some go out into the cold. Some get lucky and stay in our hallways. We are a ship on an ocean of chaos and disaster with no lifeboats, no land in sight, no coast guard. That is how it feels.”

Emergency Room Doc (different ER): “My last shift in the ER we started with eight nurses instead of fourteen. Two nurses cried while they were working and one actually walked out and quit. We also had no secretary. So I had to answer the phone, draw my own bloods, transport patients. I have patients with no nurses for their entire visit, including one patient who had had a stroke. I found a patient who sat in their feces in the hallway for four hours. On top of that, I come in day after day and I’m surrounded by the same patients because the hospital is full to the brink and nobody is getting beds. We have 40 beds in our ER that are currently holding 50 patients waiting for medicine hospital beds and 20 patients waiting for psych beds. It’s a literal war zone. I cry after every shift. We are beyond drowning, we have drowned. The house of cards has collapsed.”

Hospitalist: “COVID admissions are through the roof. No ICU beds so only patients on ventilators or drips are being put in the unit. Patients still seem surprised by how sick they are. COVID+ family members asking why they aren’t allowed to visit. Then I open social media and see anti-vax and anti-mask posts in our local town groups. It’s emotionally exhausting.”

Hospitalist: “30–40% of my admissions have COVID and the unvaccinated can get very sick. I sent two patients to the ICU, one of whom was only 30. Many staff out sick, being told they have to return after 5 days and mask (you do not want to be in the hospital unless you absolutely have to since your doctor or nurse may be recovering from COVID while they care for you). Our whole hospital only got four doses of the monoclonal Sotrovimab this week and two are already used up; no idea when we’ll get more from the state. The National Guard has come here to help but the ER may have to close for lack of staff…..On the personal side, I just have to say it has been really hard. Like “question why you went into medicine” hard. Random outbursts of crying, hard. …I count myself lucky with supportive family and friends, amazing colleagues, I’ve started therapy, etc, but the repeated trauma is exhausting. Normally, I’m a calm, balanced, resilient person, but this has turned me into someone I don’t recognize.”

Hospitalist (from another hospital): “We had eight National Guardsmen come help out at the hospital. All now have Covid!”

Pediatric ER: “We usually have two nurse practitioners who follow up on Covid tests. It’s been taking 12 hours a day for them to call back all the patients. Now one is on vacation and the other one is sick. So now the docs are trying to do this on top of working in the ER. Every patient is “shocked” to hear they or their child has COVID.”

Neonatologist: “The sheer number of covid positive laboring women this week is insane — thankfully so far most are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.”

Family medicine: “I was on call over NYE weekend. Starting from 9am Friday it was call after call, 90% COVID related. Busiest call I’ve had in the seven years with my group. My husband joked that he’d build me a desk for the toilet so I could chart and pee.”

Psychiatry: “Our staff shortages are so terrible that we have had to start combining group homes meaning we have to move people with major developmental delays and things like schizophrenia from one house to another. It’s a nightmare. We are already paying staff extra & allowing asymptomatic COVID+ staff to work. On a personal level, I have developed hives & shingles from the stress.”

Community psychiatrist: “I came back from vacation (where I covered myself for refills and urgent messages) and covered for three nurse practitioners, two sick, one with Covid. Other support staff out sick too. Widespread staffing shortages before the pandemic, now just ridiculous. Raging mental health and opioid crises. Kids out of school 3 of 5 days.”

Cancer surgeon: “I am a cancer surgeon and today I had to tell a woman with liver metastases that I cannot operate on her this month to remove her tumors because the hospital is full. She sat in my office and sobbed.”

Cancer surgeon: “I’m vaxed/boosted, came down with Covid this week and now my kids have it. OR time is so restricted I had to spend the whole week trying to get coverage for the week’s cases. Cried this morning because my rapid is still positive and so I can’t go back and I’m now trying to find coverage for next week’s cases too. These are cancer patients! I can’t take care of them, I can’t take care of my kids, I can’t take care of me.”

Rheumatology: “My immunosuppressed patients have been so careful but I had half a dozen patients turn positive in the last few days and I was only able to secure monoclonal antibodies for those on a certain med. Everyone else is out of luck.”

Internist: “We just got urgent instructions today to reduce in person visits and switch to telemed because of a staffing shortage. Our patients who get infusions are also getting bumped.”

Hematologist: “We have a bunch of patients who need blood transfusions every three weeks and we had to cancel some last week because there was no blood and we had to cancel some this week because there is no staff. The shock and horror — from us, from them — is just unbearable.”

Family Medicine Physician: “We typically have four medical assistants. Two have Covid, two others didn’t come in. We usually have four people at the front desk. Three have quit because they get yelled at too much. I have patients arguing with all of us about their positive results saying, “Why are you testing me for Covid, I just need antibiotics,” and “I can’t have Covid.””

Family Medicine: “Our triage nurse and two out of three secretaries were out. Tons of Covid patients. Every day I was in the office late returning calls. My husband tested positive and isolated so I had to do everything for the kids who have been remote this week. This weekend I’m working on 50+notes.”

Family Medicine: “40+ positives a day in our practice, can’t stay on top of all the phone calls. I have said over and over: there are no monoclonals, no antivirals, no treatments available, it’s unfortunate you didn’t get the vaccine, buy an oximeter and … good luck.”

Family Medicine: “Call after call, message after message of people with symptoms, exposure or both. All wanting to know how they can get tested (wait a week for an appointment through us or try your chances refreshing over and over online for an appointment, waiting in 6 hour lines, or going to an overwhelmed urgent care facility — several of which are closed due to staffing shortages) and how they can get monoclonal antibodies (sorry, none available except for the absolutely highest risk immunocompromised patients). I have nothing to offer anybody other than tylenol and instructing them on when to go to the ED.”

Family Medicine: “I felt so badly this week-end for my COPDers who were calling to get monoclonal antibodies, and I had to say it was unlikely they would get them.”

Family Medicine: “So many people are out I’m now working seven days a week… Exhausted…And the patients who refuse to wear their masks! They say, ”There is no way, I don’t have covid” but the next day: positive. They don’t seem to care if they make me sick.”

Family Medicine: “This week every day I had people newly positive. Everyone. Young (40 and under), older, kids, pregnant women. Half of our labor floor was COVID positive. There are new treatments but they aren’t actually available. So I’m left to tell people that there is nothing I can offer except symptomatic treatment. Over and over and over again.”

Family Medicine: “Was on call over NYE: it was an absolute horror story. On Friday I think of all the patients I saw, all but two had covid. I had to send four kids under two to the ER and one we had to send one out with ALS (advanced life support) for ICU care. Came in the afternoon after the storm: every sick patient I saw had Covid while my staff was out with kids at home with Covid. I started answering my pages and phone calls with, “Hi, this is Dr. Covid, I mean…” Not only physically exhausted, and my autoimmune diseases flaring from the stress…. I miss my family. My husband got a breakthrough covid infection — he found out when he tested on Christmas Eve to be safe before visiting family. Positive: another Zoom Christmas. … Despite all of the above, I’m happy to do this. Just… so… tired…”

Family Medicine: “I did a well-check on a toddler last week. Her father told me flat out that no one in his family would ever be getting a covid vaccine because “I am not afraid of covid, I am not afraid of my kids getting covid…” and the hardest to hear of all “I don’t care about anyone else.” It took every fiber of my being to remain professional. So on top of the physical exhaustion, there’s that moral/ethical exhaustion for the gut punch when you’re already down…”

Internal Medicine: Friday we had to convert everything to Telehealth (or cancel them if their insurance wouldn’t allow) because each day of the week I lost a staff member who got sick with Covid. On Monday I had four staff, Tuesday there were three, Wed and Thursday we had two people and Friday I was the last one standing. Three people in my house have Covid. What on earth is going to happen tomorrow?

It is going to stay very bad in terms of staff and cases for the next few weeks.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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11 Comments

  1. For the past decade, hospitals have been consolidating and looking to run “lean + mean”. This leaves no excess capacity for any type of emergency. Right now that means Covid. Another year it could mean a very bad flu. Add to that reduced staff from doctor + nurse burn-out (and from firing people even those with natural immunity over the vaccines/boosters), and we have a disaster. The economic model for hospitals disincentivizes excess capacity. The headlines during H1N1 about hospital overflow should have caused a rethink.

  2. Boosters “can be done once, or maybe twice, but it’s not something that we can think should be repeated constantly,” Marco Cavaleri, the EMA head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy, said at a press briefing on Tuesday. “We need to think about how we can transition from the current pandemic setting to a more endemic setting.”
    Repeat Booster Shots Spur Europe Warning on Immune-System Risks (bloomberglaw.com)

  3. It’s insanity to mandate these experimental injections, with death, disability and injuries being reported to the CDC’s own VAERS piling up in numbers we have never seen for any vaccine ever.

    VAERS Summary for COVID-19 Vaccines through 12/31/2021 – VAERS Analysis
    VAERS Summary for COVID-19 Vaccines through 12/31/2021
    Vaccination Related Risks of COVID19 Vs. Flu. These set of figures compare the COVID19 vaccine to the traditional Flu vaccines. ‘Risk of Death’ percentages depend on the ‘# of Vaccinations’ data, which is only approximate, and was pulled from the CDC’s report on Flu vaccination coverage for the 2019-2020 season, and from Our World in Data for the COVID19 vaccinations.
    vaersanalysis.info

  4. Thank you for amplifying the voices of heathcare workers dealing with the fallout of this virus and of people’s decisions not to vaccinate. The volume of care being demanded by those who could have taken more steps to avoid it is mindboggling. And the way that caring for them takes away from caring for non-COVID needs (like cancer services) is crazy-making.

    As an aside, although this opens a can of worms, I will say that I’m impressed by our neighbors to the north ~ BBC story today: “Quebec to impose health tax on unvaccinated Canadians” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-59960689

  5. I completely agree with Leslie. Right now, the majority of people with symptoms bad enough to warrant hospitalization/emergency treatment are the unvaccinated, who expect to be cared for, sympathetically, despite their own disregard for basic public health compliance (like mask-wearing) and the safety/health status of those around them (including the health workers providing care). A crowded ER (they all are) routinely sees unvaccinated COVID-positive people refusing to wear masks properly, sitting near an immunocompromised patient without any concern for that person’s wellbeing. These same people are incredibly abusive to hospital staff, who have depleted their empathy at this point. Please do something about this crisis.

    1. I am totally sympathetic to the Health Care Personnel: doctors, nurses, and all the staff who make hospitals work. I am totally unsympathetic to the unvaccinated (unless due to a legitimate health reason). The latter pose a public danger yet endure no consequences beyond the selfish need for treatment when testing positive for the coronavirus. Although Sen. Will Brownsberger believes that the unvaccinated cannot be turned away from receiving medical or hospital services, on that point I totally disagree. In such a public health crisis where 2 avenues of protection have been studied and deemed essential to stemming the runaway virus and to blocking its opportunity for mutation – mask-wearing and vaccination – those refusing to adhere to such simple self-help measures are criminal. Triage is already practiced where an overflow of need surpasses availability. Surely, the unvaccinated should be sent home and left to care for themselves. They had no compunction about not caring for the rest of us.

  6. Wow! Thank you for giving me some insight into others’ moccasins. I feel like I only hear a fraction of that in commercial news outlets. Even NPR (if you can call that non-commercial) doesn’t dare risk turning off their audience with deep analysis, or true debate.

    Commercials are out of step with the Omicron chapter, (or in step?) I saw a Vick’s cold medicine commercial last night. The miserable red nosed character took Vick’s before bed and went to work maskless in the morn.

    Commercials are the state of the art in persuasion. Is there a responsibility put a disclaimer on your ads like, “controlling your symptoms with our product will not prevent you from sickening others.” It may help- a little.

    I heard on the radio last night a guest turn the pre-flight instruction, “put on your oxygen mask first before assisting others,” into a metaphor for pandemic child care. I guess maintaining optimality in a consumption based economy during this pandemic is the country’s O2 mask.

    Who can recommend a book that may give perspective on the whole ball of wax? Post-industrial. Post ethical. Post Socratic. The legacy of nuclear families. Decline of organized …&c.. &c..
    Not to forget all of the positives. The awakening to apartheid. The internet. AI.

    Why is Socratic debate excluded from public discourse? Is the American attention span too short that by the time you identify the opposing argument you risk losing some of your flock? With regard to the protocoup and hatemarches are we waiting for victory by attrition of old dying attitudes, or must we embrace all “gods” children?

    I wonder what Malcolm X would say. Stephen J. Gould. Where can I find contemporary context? Are ignorance and credulity simply magnified by unfettered communication? Is this a post-industrial malaise?

    DYSFUNCTIONAL IS FUNCTIONAL.

    SELFISHNESS IS GIVING.

    IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

  7. Can we fix America’s bad health. Can’t we mandate good diets, and exercise, which no one wants to talk about but would also lower ones risk to severe covid. Let’s mandate good health

  8. Regulate “Madison Avenue,” and good health will follow. Read David A. Kessler’s, _The End of Overeating. Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite._

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