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Fighting a Deadly Virus in a New Age

I thought that the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic was over when I took my first Nurse Manager position in a small ICU in March of 2021.  I could never have imagined that the next wave of the virus would be so much worse. The Delta variant began to come on the scene in Hawai‘i during the late summer of 2021, just when we were feeling like we had made it through the worst of the pandemic. Covid ICU admissions grew every day, quickly overwhelming the staff, available resources, and our fragile spirits.


When the first wave of Covid hit our state in early 2020, rules were changed daily, processes were constantly being refined, new recommendations were adopted, and personal protective equipment (PPE) was in short supply. It felt as if we were not operating within consistent logical processes, instead we were in some sort of gray area where boundaries were constantly shifting.


Delta brought new and more frightening challenges. Taking what we had learned from the first wave of Covid, staff jumped into action as ICU admissions rose to double our capacity. An auxiliary ICU had to be created in another unit which split up the ICU staff AND took them out of their comfort zone. Monitors and cameras had to be placed, PPE procedures refined, and staff safety had to be ensured. Above all, we were left with an overwhelming  feeling of vulnerability since we didn’t know what we were dealing with. 


This Delta variant of Covid seemed to strike with a vengeance, making patients sicker for longer, which resulted in dismal outcomes. At the greatest risk were those who were unvaccinated and had significant comorbidities like diabetes, obesity or respiratory disease. Although placing patients on a ventilator would allow them to rest and heal, it sometimes led to difficulties with weaning them off. Some patients had symptoms that lingered on after being taken off a ventilator, and ultimately still succumbed to the virus.


 COVID-19 vaccines had been available to high-risk and elderly patients since March 2021, but most of our patients admitted to the Covid ICU were unvaccinated. It was difficult for healthcare providers like myself to understand why such a large number of people chose not to protect themselves against Covid. To me, the vaccine was a God-send and would save countless numbers of lives. Yet, after speaking with patients and their families, it became clear that misinformation would walk hand in hand with the progression of the pandemic.


The public’s mistrust of the healthcare system combined with society’s lack of understanding about how to prevent and treat Covid allowed the virus to flourish and take too many lives. Let the lesson of Covid be to seek out reliable sources of information based on scientific evidence, not political parties. Always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer regularly, and remember that wearing a mask will keep you safe from getting sick; it is not a political statement.


Article written by Amy Hebenstreit, MBA, BS, RN, CCRN

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