So, what’s it like for patients who are seriously ill from Covid-19 at Central Washington Hospital?

Rufus Woods

Rufus Woods

To find out, I spoke recently with Weston Prouty, an intensive care nurse in the COVID ward and he described a lonely journey of fighting for breath for those dying and emotionally wrenching for their families and the caregivers risking their lives to help them.

From our conversation, I begin to imagine the sense of suffocation patients must feel as the virus attacks their respiratory system.

Caregivers like Prouty see a relatively consistent pattern. Patients tend to have less serious symptoms like shortness of breath, muscle aches and fever for perhaps a week before taking a turn for the worse and ending up at the hospital where nurses and doctors do their utmost to keep them from having to be put on ventilators.

If their oxygen level drops too low, they’ll end up on a ventilator. The pressure of the ventilator tube to inflate the lungs makes the lungs stiff, so COVID patients have to be sedated and in some cases paralyzed.

Individuals about to be intubated will have an opportunity to talk to loved ones over the phone or via video call, because family members aren’t allowed to visit COVID patients in the ICU. It’s a chance to say goodbye, because there’s a chance they won’t recover. Those that die, do so without family and friends surrounding them.

Weston Prouty

Weston Prouty

Central Washington Hospital nurse

Patients react differently to the grim step of having to be hooked up to a ventilator, Prouty told me. Some express regret for not getting vaccinated. Others cling to the belief that COVID is not real because they’ve bought into the disinformation being spread on the internet and by some politicians and pundits.

Those that are intubated typically spend time on their backs and then get turned onto their stomachs to facilitate breathing. It takes eight staffers to safely move these patients. It’s an ordeal for the caregivers.

Caring and helping other humans is what motivated Prouty to become a nurse. “The most clinically competent, caring people that I’ve ever known were nurses,” he told me. He received emergency medical technician training and then moved to Seattle where he was a volunteer EMT for King County Public Health Reserve Corps. He also worked as a certified nursing assistant in the operating room and burn/pediatric floor and then as a registered nurse on the Orthopedic Trauma floor at Harborview, before moving to the Wenatchee valley.

He finds it disheartening when people who are voluntarily unvaccinated end up in the ICU because their illnesses are 100 percent preventable.

The access to free, effective and safe vaccines is what makes this third wave of COVID cases, driven by the delta variant, different from previous waves. Hundreds of millions of doses have been administered with relatively few vaccine-related complications.

Prouty said it is truly unfortunate how social distancing measures like masking and vaccines have been so politicized in this country, leading people to reject the vaccine.

Having this life-saving resource available, as Prouty mentioned, is something that people in many parts of the world are literally dying for. And yet in this country, a significant number of people refuse to take the vaccine and are willing to gamble that the virus won’t seriously affect them.

This current wave of patients is taking a huge toll on nurses. “I think a lot of (nurses) are experiencing a lot of anxiety and possibly some PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) because we know what to expect this time,” he added. If caregivers say they aren’t affected, they’re not being honest, he said.

Prouty pointed out that studies are showing that longer-term COVID impacts include an increased risk of erectile dysfunction, strokes and heart attacks in those that are infected. Personally, I’d prefer to live without those increased risks.

The emotional and physical toll of this virus has led some nurses to leave the profession “because of the long days spent sweating into personal protective equipment taking care of patient after patient who end up dying,” Prouty said.

Prouty remains focused on doing his best for patients who show up in the ICU. Despite the frustrations and the inconvenience of wearing stifling personal protective equipment all day, he remains committed to serving others.

What keeps him inspired to keep fighting the good fight is his family and the people he works with. “I’m really impressed by the team at Central Washington Hospital… we’re really blessed to have a great team here and have the resources that we have,” he told me.

We all have a stake in the health and well-being of health care professionals like Prouty. I’m grateful for the sacrifices they are making for all of us. I hope more people will get vaccinated and take some of the pressure off of Prouty and his fellow caregivers.

We are all in this together, like it or not.

Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at rwoods@wenatcheeworld.com or (509) 665-1162.