Life in an ER during COVID’s second wave

Published: Nov. 5, 2020 at 10:55 PM CST
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - “There aren’t too many days when we aren’t very busy down in the ER,” says OSF ER Medical Director Dr. Dan Butterbach.

And busy was the only way to describe my recent mid-afternoon, mid-week visit to OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center’s Emergency Department

ER Supervisor Karmela Londo adds, “We have 20 some rooms in the department. All of them are full right now. Plus some extra rooms that we opened up to facilitate those waiting room patients.”

Londo has been a nurse for 31 years, the past 20 in OSF’s emergency department. When asked what made her become an emergency nurse, Londo said “It started when I had a code on the floor so I loved that adrenaline.”

Sometimes that adrenaline is the only thing that helps Londo deal with the strain due to the influx of more positive COVID strains. “I think we’re getting kind of tired,” said Londo. “Making sure that we are staying healthy ourselves, that’s very important and the morale. It’s a beating some days and just reassuring them that this is temporary.”

“Doctors and nurses need to watch their mental health and are at times feeling stressed out,” said Dr. Butterbach. He feels this second wave has made for a much busier emergency department than the first wave in March. “What we saw this spring was a phenomenon I’ve never seen in my 25 years of emergency medicine. Where people who were having heart attacks and strokes were not coming to emergency departments. Even appendicitis patients would stay at home”

That fear of catching COVID, which once kept patients away, for the most part has disappeared. And, although it makes things more active in the ER, Dr. Butterbach welcomes that change.

“I would implore people of Rockford, people across the country, to come to the emergency department if you’re sick. What we have to do is protect our most vulnerable and I think we are doing that and I think we have a unique perspective on that.”

A perspective of not only a doctor who’s treated the sickest COVID patients, but also as a son who had to deal with the loss of a family member due to the disease.

“My father had COVID and passed away about a month ago from COVID and it was difficult to have him in the hospital and not be able to see him.”

When asked if that gives him a better understanding when people come in and have some concerns, Butterbach says, “It really does. I feel like I’m able to communicate and empathize with patients.”

“If you can video or face time them it makes a huge difference and those families and those patients love it. Because it could be the last time they get to see their loved one and that’s heart breaking.”

“Sometimes we just have to arrive them in a hallway until we can open up a bed,” said Londo. And that was the case during my visit. When a patient was brought in by ambulance but was without a room for more than an hour.

“We have to think outside of the box a lot of the time in the emergency room,” said londo, referring it as controlled chaos “A lot of times in-patients will say ‘I don’t have the room. I don’t have staff.’ We don’t have that opportunity in the emergency department. We have to figure it out. We don’t shut our doors we don’t stop taking those ambulance patients we’re still going to manage it. So however we do it, we do it.”

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