‘When is it going to stop?’ — Augusta physician, nurses shed light on working in COVID-19 ICU

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) — When the COVID-19 pandemic began, healthcare workers in Augusta did not expect it would stretch to into August 2021.

“This is worse,” Dr. Varsha Kulkarni, a pulmonary diseases and critical care physician at Augusta Lung Associates, explains. “This is unlike what we saw the last time.”

“This is our fourth wave,” Hannah Claussen, a registered nurse working in the medical ICU at Augusta University Medical Center, adds. “This has, by far, been the worst, quickest and most unexpected.”

These healthcare workers have been on the frontlines for a year and a half now. They tell NewsChannel 6 they are physically and mentally drained.

“We’re burned out,” Amanda Alexander, a registered nurse working in the medical ICU at Augusta University Medical Center, says. “We’re exhausted. We go home crying.”

“I’m frustrated, upset and angry,” Kulkarni adds. “It’s frustrating because it’s people our age, people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, who are coming in sick.”

Alexander and Claussen say Augusta University Medical Center appeared to fill up with patients “overnight.” They did not expect ICUs to reach capacity again, nor did they expect to set up phone calls so their patients could say goodbye to their families again.

“We think about patients when we go home,” Alexander says. “I think about those Facetimes and phone calls that I’m making to families. Could I have done something differently? We go home knowing we did everything we could. But, it still wears on you day in and day out.”

283 patients were admitted for COVID-19 at Augusta four area hospitals Wednesday with 73 being treated in the ICU.

“Everyday we’re adding 10 to 15 new patients to the hospital,” Kulkarni says. “That shouldn’t have been the case. It’s all preventable, and that’s the sad part. It’s a preventable disease. I had a patient yesterday who’s 50 and told me, ‘I’m going to die a slow, painful death.’ I said, ‘Yes you are.’ That is the hard part.”

Vaccination rates remain low in the CSRA. 33 percent were fully vaccinated in Richmond County as of Wednesday, while 38 were vaccinated in Columbia County. These healthcare workers worry it will take more people getting severely infected for the remainder of the community to get vaccinated.

“When is it going to stop? Claussen asks. “I think that’s the scariest part for me. What’s the answer? I think we know the answer. The answer is vaccinations.”

Alexander, Claussen and Kulkarni say they have had several patients regret not getting vaccinated when they had the chance. They hope others do not have the same regrets.

“I have not met one person who has regretted getting the vaccine,” Alexander explains. “I have met multiple who have regretted not getting the vaccine.”

“The message needs to be — the vaccine protects you,” Kulkarni adds. “It protects you from dying. That’s why everyone needs to be vaccinated.”


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