UW Health: Voices from the COVID-19 intensive care unit
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care workers at UW Health are sharing their experiences in the intensive care unit (ICU) at University Hospital in Madison.
University Hospital is a level one trauma center, a referral center for other hospitals, and often sees the sickest patients or patients that need a higher level of care.
Dr. Jon Ketzler, an associate professor of anesthesiology at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, has been working at UW Health since 1992. According to Dr. Ketzler, treating COVID-19 cases has been an especially strenuous time in his career.
“When a COVID-19 patient hits the ICU, they deteriorate so quickly and it is months before they leave the ICU, if they leave at all,” Ketzler said. “They are horribly debilitated from months of being hooked up to tubes and breathing machines and all the damage to their lungs from the disease.”
According to Dr. Ketzler, all of his current patients are not vaccinated, and half are younger than 40 years old.
“The last 20 some months have been horrible; it was August 2021 before I could talk about August 2020 without tearing up,” he said. “We have a way out and that’s for people to get vaccinated. The vaccine has been well studied and proven to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death.”
Danielle Zitlow, a nurse in the Trauma Life Support Center (TLC) at UW Health, said the ICU is the last resort for patients with COVID-19. Patients are often intubated upon arrival, and nurses usually help patients talk to their families for what could be the last time.
“Nursing is a calling, and we chose this profession for a reason, but these days can be really hard,” she said. “It is heartbreaking because it is preventable with a vaccine.”
Though testing and treatments have improved, TCL nurse Lisa Davis, who treated the first COVID-19 patient in Wisconsin, said frontline workers are drained.
“The word hero was used a lot at the beginning and it energized staff but now we are tired, exhausted and frustrated because this is preventable with a vaccine, yet we are still here treating COVID-19 patients,” she said. “If you know someone who treats COVID-19 patients, reach out to offer support and see how they are doing. We beg the public to get vaccinated if you have not done so already.”
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