Inside the ICU at OSF: Most COVID patients unvaccinated, staff burnt out

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Every morning at 7 a.m., Dr. Baghat Aulakh starts making rounds in the ICU with his team at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria.

As of Sept. 22, OSF reported 131 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19, of which 24 were in the ICU.

“It’s a big daunting task to take care of these folks knowing that at any moment they could get worse,” said Dr. Aulakh, pulmonary critical care physician and director of medical ICU at OSF.

He said dealing with COVID-19 for the past year and a half has been a roller coaster. His staff is burnt out, and it’s hard to keep morale up.

“This has been a big challenge compared to last year. We saw the unknown, it was terrible last year, and then we saw a brief moment of a glimmer of hope, that things were maybe subsiding, and then all of a sudden, it just exploded again, so here we are. It feels like a gut punch,” he said.

May be an image of text that says 'COVID-19 Hospitalizations TOTAL OSF HEALTHCARE HOSPITALIZATIONS ON SEPTEMBER 22, 2021* OSF HEALTHCARE ጥጥጥጥጥጥጥጥጥ ጥጥጥጥጥጥጥጥጥጥጥ 131 HOSPITALIZED 24 FULLY VACCINATED** 107 UNVACCINATED 24 IN THE ICU 4 FULLY VACCINATED** 20 UNVACCINATED 9 ON VENTILATORS OFULLY VACCINATED** UNVACCINATED *Data from 14 out 15 OSF hospitals reporting in Epic, an electronic medical record system. * Two weeks after the one dose fo Johnson or after the second dose of Pfizer Moderna.'

Dr. Aulakh said most of the people in the ICU with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, and more than half of them are not doing well. He said patients typically come into the ICU on a “fair” amount of oxygen, then quickly deteriorate. In comparison, he said the few breakthrough cases that come through “turn out pretty quickly.”

“This ends up being basically the pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he said. “Oftentimes, they don’t improve right away, and often times they will go onto a ventilator just because of how sick they are… It’s hard, it really is, seeing patients fall apart, and they’re probably not a ton of things we can do.”

Stan Apke was admitted to the ICU on Sept. 18 after two weeks of symptoms. He said the entire experience has been a nightmare.

“This really kicked my butt, a lot more than I could see coming. It was miserable,” he said.

Apke said he didn’t get vaccinated because it had been too politicized, but plans to do so when he gets better.

“I plan, even though I still have questions, I plan to be vaccinated now because that’s something I don’t want to go through again, it was bad,” Apke said. “It is something that needs to be taken seriously, it really tore me up, and I’m glad to be on the backside here towards the finish line.”

Dr. Aulakh is pleading for others to do the same.

“Why not, if given the opportunity to protect yourself, protect your family, protect society… Please do it,” he said.

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