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Omaha ICU nurse: Treating COVID-19 patients ‘tough to watch’

DCHD announced 533 new cases
Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 6:28 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - On Tuesday, the Douglas County Health Department announced 533 new cases of COVID-19 in the community, compared to the 427 there were on this day last year.

As numbers continue to climb in our local hospitals, nurses and doctors are sounding the alarm and reminding us that severe illness and death are preventable.

Garrett Connor, an ICU nurse at Nebraska Medicine, began his career about a year ago after graduating from the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s nursing program.

“When I was learning and trying to, you know, kind of get my footing in this profession, it was a very busy time, there was a lot to learn, not only the normal nursing things we do every do for all patients but also the kind of unique treatments and care plans we do for our COVID patients.”

Connor says if you would have told him a year ago that the hospitals would be as full as they are now, he might not have believed you.

“I wouldn’t have guessed it to be as busy as it is now,” he says. “I thought maybe it would look a lot like flu maybe does, with a handful of patients coming in here and there and maybe some waves but I didn’t expect it to be continuing to surge like it is now.”

In his year of working, almost every day he has dealt with COVID-19 patients who are critically sick.

“A lot of them are scared and anxious it’s not something a lot of people experience, fighting for their breath, so to watch it is tough.”

The vast majority of those patients are unvaccinated.

“I think it boils down to, it’s still medicine, the vaccine’s effective, we see it here every day, we don’t really see critically ill vaccinated patients unless they have some sort of immuno-compromised predisposing factor.”

Some patients, he says, realize the seriousness of their sickness from COVID-19 after it’s too late.

“There’s a point, a progression that when they get sick enough and they’re critically ill that there’s a realization of ‘maybe I was wrong and this is really happening to me,’ and it’s sad to watch for us because there’s so many steps of prevention we can implement but its too late once they’re that critically ill.”

He adds that there are still patients who don’t believe COVID is what they’re sick with.

On Tuesday, the health department announced there are 57 patients with COVID-19 on ventilators, the highest number the county has seen since the start of the pandemic. The closest Douglas County has gotten to this number was on Dec. 7, 2020, when there were 56.

“That is concerning to me that the increasing numbers show that we’ve kind of taken our eye off the things we know we can to do kind of prevent infection so it kind of, I think it shows our fatigue with this pandemic,” says Dr. Sharon Stoolman, a General Pediatrician and Hospitalist with Omaha Children’s Hospital. She’s also an associate professor of pediatrics at UNMC.

Of the 274 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the county, 10 of them are kids - also the highest number since the start of the pandemic.

Stoolman helps treat them.

“For me, it’s been the older kids with significant acute COVID, so from about eight or nine until the teens, and they are short of breath,” she says. “What’s really challenging for them is as a healthy young person, they’ve never been short of breath like this, to walk to the bathroom that shouldn’t be a big deal for them.”

She says the effects of COVID on kids have been long-lasting, too.

“Even when they’re leaving the hospital they’re not full strength, they’re still out of breath and my colleagues on the outpatient side are dealing with those athletes that are really frustrated they can’t get their performance back up after recovering from it, so even with recovery, [while] we’re not seeing that mortality that adults are seeing, we’re seeing lives really impacted by having a significant lung infection that has scaring and changes.”

While the hospitalization rate for kids impacted by COVID is significantly lower, they face another threat that Stoolman says Children’s is seeing more of: MIS-C.

“That multi-system inflammatory syndrome which has, it’s pretty scary when they come in, they are high fever and their blood pressures are low, and so it’s like a septic shock picture and so those kids are, we’re walking on pins and needles because they come in and have a high heart rate and then all the sudden their blood pressures are low and we’re giving lots of fluid and moving them to the ICU, so it’s very scary for families to go through in that first 24-48 hours.”

But, she says, there’s still reason to have hope for the youth in Douglas County.

“We’re still seeing a steady number of people reaching out to make vaccine appointments and that’s really encouraging,” she says.

“There were of course that rush of people who were waiting so you knew they were the vaccine excited, kind of like the beginning for adults, and then there was the second wave of people who needed to see for about a month or so how did people fare with that vaccine so I love that we’re seeing that steady and consistent number of people bringing their kids in for the vaccine.”

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