An inside look at OHSU’s ICU ward amid delta spike


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Nurses at OHSU’s medical ICU ward are sharing their experiences to give a better sense of what it’s like there as they care for COVID-19 patients around the clock amid the ongoing delta variant surge.

It is one of the most difficult jobs ever right now as nurses are bedside 24 hours a day caring for some of the sickest people they have seen in their careers.

The OHSU nurses said all of their COVID patients are not vaccinated against the virus, meaning they could have avoided being in a life-or-death situation.

“What happens to you in the hospital when you get this sick with COVID-19 is really invasive, it is demoralizing, and you have to go through this alone without, you know, your support people by your side,” OHSU nurse Erin Boni said. “It’s preventable. This doesn’t have to happen to anybody anymore.”

“To be in that isolated room with your patient who is super sick that you’re doing everyone you can for, but it’s just … it’s a really tough scenario,” nurse Kristen Roach said.

“I don’t think that people have an inkling of the amount of suffering that you will experience being sick with COVID … and it’s extremely painful,” nurse Julie Kleese said. “Being critically ill is a very traumatizing experience. It is confusing, it’s scary, you’re alone with strangers who you don’t recognize their voices.”

The nurses said they want to tell people how hard it is and that despite giving intense care, they see so much pain and suffering a COVID patient endures. The patients are in their 20s and 30s with no underlying conditions.

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The nurses are often the only ones allowed to be with patients, holding their hands as they die.

The nurses also spoke of the emotional trauma they endure and struggle with as well, admitting after a year and a half of this pandemic, they feel anger and grief in their daily effort to try and help COVID patients survive on machines and drugs when it could all have been prevented with a vaccine.

“I would be lying if I said there isn’t anger for people who are vaccine deniers or, you know, believe conspiracy theories or, you know, have a lot of misguided information about this and then end up in our hospital suffering and dying and sometimes they will say ‘I was wrong, when can I get the vaccine?’ Sometimes they’ll deny it to their dying breath,” Kleese said.

“In this country, we have the privilege to get this vaccine, and globally people would do anything for this vaccine, and they don’t even get this chance,” nurse Sarah “Mo” Mohkami said.

They beg Oregonians to get vaccinated and mask up to avoid the sickness and death they see every day at work.

“I know the depth of grief that I would feel if I couldn’t be with my loved one if they died,” Kleese said through tears. “So I take the responsibility very seriously to love that person as if they were my own family member and provide them with a death that’s dignified and honorable as much as possible in the ICU.”

On Friday, Oregon health officials reported 2,187 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases and 19 new deaths.

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