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On the verge of crisis: Cape Girardeau COVID-19 unit workers share concerns as case numbers soar

They hope everyone takes safety precautions seriously before making plans for holiday gatherings
Updated: Nov. 25, 2020 at 4:27 AM CST
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - A lot has changed in eight months.

In the beginning, the healthcare workers in local COVID units were trying to navigate the challenges of the unknown.

Now, they are facing a real crisis within the walls of our local hospitals.

“The last several weeks we are starting to see an exponential increase within the community,” said Dr. Gretchen Price, Hospitalist at Saint Francis Healthcare System.

For several days in a row, Cape Girardeau County has seen a hundred or more new active cases

“So, now we have 30-year-olds, 40-year-olds coming up [on the COVID floor] who are ending up on the ventilator,” said Price. “They are very sick, some of which probably won’t leave the hospital.”

Dr. Gretchen Price has also spent a lot of hours at the hospital.

“I really anticipate I’m not spending Christmas with my family,” said Dr. Price.

Her husband is a doctor, who also works in the COVID unit at Saint Francis.

They have five children, ages 19, 16, 6, 5 and 1.

“My baby turned one the day before I came to work [when the pandemic began]. I celebrated her first birthday with her smash cake in her high chair with my parents standing at the door outside so they wouldn’t be near us,” said Dr. Price. “I put her to bed that night not knowing when I would see her again.”

They have sacrificed a lot, working the frontlines of this pandemic.

“At some point Mommy and Daddy will come to the hospital and stay at the hospital again to try and help keep people alive,” said Dr. Price.

According to the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center, the county’s hospitalization rate recently shot up by more than 257 percent.

At Saint Francis, they have increased their COVID unit to 67 beds with plans to add even more.

“I don’t know how logistically we can continue at the rate we’re going and actually keep up with taking care of people,” said Dr. Price.

Back in March, Steven Hogan and Katrina Calhoun volunteered to work on the COVID floor.

“Because that’s what we do,” said Steven Hogan. “We respond to crisis. I wouldn’t feel right sitting on the sidelines.”

Steven Hogan is an RN and Katrina Calhoun is a registered respiratory therapist.

Both helped treat the first patient in the COVID back in March, and haven’t stopped since.

“One shift you spend 12 to 14 hours with one or two patients and you speak to their families on the phone and you listen to them going through the most difficult time in their entire life, wondering every day if their family member is going to survive or not,” said Steven Hogan.

By the time the patient needs a ventilator, the situation is grim

“They are so hypoxic, the lack of oxygen,” said Katrina Calhoun. “It’s like they are drowning,” said Steven Hogan. “Yes, like they’re drowning, they don’t even know their name,” said Calhoun.

And, they may never get better.

“So, I do it everyday,” said Dr. Price with tears in her eyes. “More days than not right now. It’s real hard to bring a family in after you’ve done all those things and not have them survive. I did it this morning already.”

Dr. Price is exhausted not only from work, but from the lack of understanding of the reality she sees on a daily basis.

“All the things people heard early on that were happening in New York, or Seattle and various places around the country...that was very distant and unreal and we don’t have those kind of problems here,” said Dr. Price. ”Well, we have those problems here now.”

It’s not just Saint Francis, Southeast Health in Cape Girardeau is also seeing a rapid increase.

It’s the same story in St. Louis and surrounding areas.

There may come a time where there are simply not enough beds, and not enough staff to care for the COVID patients who come through the doors.

“We get several phone calls a day asking if we can accept people from others facilities because they are sitting in the ER and there’s not a bed to admit them to,” said Steven Hogan. “There’s only so much resources and only so many beds.”

They are also worried about getting to the point where they have to make the decision on who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t.

“The fact that we are even talking about that in America blows my mind,” said Dr. Price.

When they aren’t making their rounds caring for COVID patients, these healthcare professionals are working on their off time reading as much research and new information that they can get their hands on.

While they have learned a lot about treatments and care, there are still so many challenges and unanswered questions about the virus.

It doesn’t discriminate.

It’s not just something that impacts older people, and it doesn’t just target people in poor health.

“My biggest thing is why is this patient doing so bad and this one is doing so good,” said Katrina Calhoun as she thought about her patients. “What are we doing different. It may not be anything. It may just be that this virus is handing it to this patient more than the other.”

So, these healthcare workers take it one day at a time.

They celebrate the victories, like the patients who leave the hospital and go home to recover with their families.

“That makes every sacrifice, every rough day, every time I cried in my N95, that makes it all worthwhile,” said Dr. Price.

All while they worry about tomorrow.

“If we don’t slow this down we are going to be overwhelmed,” said Dr. Price. “We will become New York or Texas or any of the places that have become overwhelmed with patients to the point they aren’t able to care for their people.”

They hope you will wear your mask, stay socially distanced from others, and continue to avoid large gatherings.

“Simple sacrifices now will lead to big payoffs in the end,” said Steven Hogan.

“I know no one wants to talk about lockdowns or anything like that again, but if we could just do that ourselves and be a little more mindful we could really make a big difference in the number of cases in the area,” said Dr. Price.

They are taking it day by day at this point, doing what they can to save lives and ask that we all do our part to keep everyone safe.

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