'Excruciating:' UNC doctor, nurse describe treating COVID-19 patients on the brink of death

Tuesday, November 24, 2020
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"Once you start feeling that feeling that you cannot breathe, man there is nothing more real than that."

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Doctors and nurses at UNC Hospital are seeing an increase in patients suffering from pneumonia and other complications from COVID-19.

"Once you start feeling that feeling that you cannot breathe, man there is nothing more real than that," said Dr. Shannon Carson, Chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care medicine for UNC Health. Carson said older patients with underlying conditions are not the only types of people he's treating lately.

"We get a lot of young patients, too. Patients in their 30s and 40s and 50s who are otherwise very productive," Carson said. "You know even if they make it. Their lives will be changed for a long time. They will have many months to try and recover, and some of them don't make it. And that's excruciating."


"In those situations, our nurses really try to work hard to make sure they don't die alone," said Loc Culp, a nurse manager for UNC's Intensive Care Unit. She said a nurse will stay with a patient as they die, especially if a family member can't make it to see them in-person or electronically.

The ICU is not yet at capacity with the uptick in people in the hospital.

But Culp said her staff is still canceling its holiday plans.

"In the last few days, this weekend has been pretty busy. We got a lot of patients from all over the state," Culp said.

Hospitalizations around Wake, Franklin, Johnston, Harnett and Lee counties are up 69 percent in the past two weeks according to state health officials.

Hospitalizations in Cumberland, Hoke, Sampson, Chatham and Alamance Counties are up 62 percent.

North Carolina Central University released a study Tuesday. It showed that 77 percent of North Carolinians surveyed plan to spend Thanksgiving with people from outside their home. The researchers interviewed more than 1,300 people from 97 of the state's 100 counties.

Doctors and nurses say that statistic is troubling.

"It's frustrating," said Culp. "It makes me extremely sad. I just worry about my own team. Because my team now has to step up and work harder"

Carson had some sobering advice.

"Don't make a one day of warm family gathering turn into a Christmas in the intensive care unit," Carson said. "It's just not worth it."

It's a sharp warning for people to wear a mask, social distance and wash their hands, as health leaders brace for a new wave of outbreaks.