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GENEVA – Up until a few weeks ago, Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital nurse Matt Biage worked on an oncology floor.
But when the hospital began filling up with COVID-19 patients, his unit began taking them, and Biage now spends his shifts caring for those infected with the viral respiratory illness.
"It's not something I normally do," he said of working with COVID patients. "We have a designated COVID wing, and we've since had more than that unit was at capacity for, so [the patients] have spilled over to other units in the hospital. We're not a capacity yet, but we're close."
While Biage said that the majority of his patients are elderly or have comorbidities, he recently had a patient in their late 30s. He described the situation as "tragic" because he's seen previously healthy people "decimated" by the virus.
"It's indiscriminate and can affect anybody," he explained. "I feel disheartened that something as simple as wearing a face mask, or not going out... that people wouldn’t do this for the community. I think it’s COVID fatigue, people wanting to return to normal. And we're seeing that more now because it’s been such a long battle."
Even the hospital's previously-unused overflow units are now fully staffed and in use, Biage said. And while there is a light at the end of the tunnel with the arrival of a vaccine, he believes things will get worse before they get better.
"We're at the tip of the iceberg," he said. "We had a higher percentage of patients with COVID than [Northwestern Medicine] Central DuPage Hospital. So yes, I feel overwhelmed with COVID patients. It's emotionally exhausting because you're not only their caretaker, but they can't have visitors, so you're also a stand-in for family and friends. They have the option to FaceTime, but that's not the same. The human connection is much better than a video call."
Mary Summins, RN and clinical director of an inpatient unit at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital, said that her floor has began taking COVID patients, often many with heart conditions. They see very sick patients, and Summins said she's "puzzled" why some people aren't taking the virus seriously.
"Until it actually happens to you, people don’t always see the value of wearing masks. But when people know somebody who has [COVID], they get on the bandwagon," she said. "It's important to take politics out of it and realize the human aspect. We need to take care of our fellow man."
One thing that helps the staff at Delnor cope with seeing such ill patients is a good sense of teamwork and camaraderie. Summins said she's very proud of how well her staff works together to help the patients.
"I have people picking up extra hours, re-arranging their schedules and just working to make sure patients are taken care of," she said. "I have a lot of people doing what they need to do. Burnout has always been a concern in healthcare, but we try to alleviate that by trying to keep a sense of humor in a dark time. We’re in a very serious setting- but we are kind to each other. Our team makes sure our patients are happy and well-taken care of. They are undoubtedly heroes."
Like so many healthcare workers, Biage and Summins are begging people to take this virus seriously and to listen to the experts.
"COVID is very real. It’s not about politics," Summins said. "I don’t want to see anyone lose someone to this because they didn’t play by the rules and brought it home. People need to stay home as we approach the holidays."
"People who don't work on the frontlines don't see how bad this really is," Biage said. "This virus is not the flu or a cold. Follow the CDC guidelines- wash your hands, wear a mask and keep your distance from people."