'The ICU is completely filled:' COVID surge taking a toll on frontline workers

Joel Brown Image
Friday, August 6, 2021
Frustration and regret from the COVID front line at Triangle hospitals
"Some people have expressed, 'My gosh, I can't believe I didn't take this seriously.' People have shown regret.'"

The summertime surge of COVID-19 cases is taking a heavy toll on Triangle hospitals: emergency rooms and intensive care units are once again jammed with patients battling severe COVID-19. The local doctors on the front line of the new surge are feeling the frustration of what's turned into a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And they're hearing regret from some patients who now wish they had gotten the vaccine.

"The ICU is completely filled," said Dr. Christina Vigeland, a pulmonary and critical care physician at UNC Hospitals, describing the new surge of COVID consuming the hospital. "There's 30 beds in the intensive care unit and the beds are all filled."

Dr. Vigeland thought the worst was over. In early summer, UNC was down to just a few COVID cases. Now, the numbers are surging again. But this time, it's not mainly the elderly. The patients are 50-years-old and younger. So many cases and the hospital running out of room to treat them.

"This is definitely the most difficult medical crisis I've ever seen or ever thought I would see," Vigeland said. "The patients that we're seeing are all unvaccinated."

It's a similarly frustrating story in Durham. Duke Regional Hospital's Emergency Medicine Director Brian Burrows described the current flood of COVID patients comes in addition to all the non-COVID patients who've delayed treatment because of the pandemic -- now arriving and sicker and staying longer.

"Our waiting rooms are overflowed. For people who have true emergencies: broken arms, heart attacks -- we can't get to them because we are full," said Dr. Burrows.

He's also heard the regret: a COVID patient wishing they'd only gotten the vaccine sooner.

"Some people have expressed, 'My gosh, I can't believe I didn't take this seriously,'" Burrows said. "People have shown regret. But I do my best not to pour salt on that wound. They know the reality of what's going on."

The reality at both hospitals is 99% of people who need treatment for COVID are not vaccinated.

"COVID has shown it can affect anybody," Vigeland said. "So the best thing you can do for yourself, for your loved ones, is to get vaccinated."

"Please do your duty to get vaccinated," Burrows added.