This isn’t going to start off rosy or optimistic, but please bear with me.
Back in March when the plan to “flatten the curve” was popping up in every media outlet and on every platform in the country to spell out exactly what the rationale was for closing things down, there was always discussion of the “worst-case scenario” — when the number of people who needed to be hospitalized had eclipsed the space available for them.
Well, if we aren’t there already, we’re dangerously close to the edge.
Between last Friday and this Tuesday, the ICU capacity in San Joaquin County exceeded 100 percent, meaning that there were more ICU patients than there were licensed beds for them.
That’s not good.
While there is “surge capacity” at hospitals — beds that can be converted into an ICU bed with the necessary equipment and staffing levels — the fact that the county had exceeded that number at the beginning of July was disturbing to say the least.
This was supposed to be the time of year where we had a break from this virus because everybody expected that it was going to dissipate before it came roaring back in the fall for flu season.
This was supposed to be the lull.
Instead, the ICU capacity in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and even Fresno counties are maxed out. Healthcare workers I’ve spoken with said they’ve never seen anything like it during the summer and they’re terrified thinking about what it may look like in a few months.
Now, it deserves to be said that the death rate from COVID-19 appears to be moving in the right direction — which is important. While the cases are skyrocketing, not as many people are dying from the virus at this current juncture.
However, don’t let that lull you into a sense of false security.
If things continue the way that they are currently going, then the surge capacity in the county could be eaten up as well. Between when the county released numbers from the Friday before Fourth and July to today to this past Tuesday, there was a hospitalization increase of 49 percent. Those numbers have gone up another 5 percent in just the last two days.
And if that happens, there won’t be anywhere local for people to receive the care they need if they get very sick, or very hurt.
Notice that I didn’t say if their symptoms from COVID-19 take a turn for the worst. In this worst-case scenario, there won’t be the level of care necessary for people suffering from anything that requires ICU-level care — heart attacks, strokes, intestinal bleeds, massive infections, etc. They would have to be transferred elsewhere to receive the care that they need.
For those unlucky enough to be in that position with COVID-19, while the numbers are more optimistic that they’ll survive the ordeal, that’s not the be-all and end-all of the situation.
Last year in the spring, my mother fell ill and required hospitalization. Within hours of her being admitted to the hospital she was intubated as precaution and placed on a ventilator. For those of you who aren’t familiar with what this process entails, it’s when they insert a tube into your airway to keep it open and connect it to a machine that breathes for you to take that burden off of your body.
Having a tube down your trachea isn’t, I assume, the most comfortable feeling in the world, so in order to ensure that patients don’t fully feel that discomfort they are heavily sedated — essentially placed into a coma until the condition improves to the point that the tube can be removed.
But the ordeal isn’t over.
There is something that is called “ICU delirium” where the body is so exhausted from the ordeal that it has been put through, that the brain kind of goes off on its own for a while. It involves disassociation. It involves hallucinations. It involves your loved ones not knowing who they are, who you are, where they area, or what is real and what is not real. My mother had this for days, convinced that things were happening that weren’t actually happening. It took a long time for the cognitive effects of this to wear off, and it was heartbreaking to watch.
And to this day she still needs a breathing treatment nearly every day as a result of this.
So, while you might not die from COVID-19 if you require hospitalization or mechanical ventilation, it’s no picnic even if you come out on the other side.
I asked you to bear with me at the start of this, so here’s the upside to these grim developments — we can actually do something about the situation that we find ourselves in.
While debates are going to rage on social media about whether we should reopen schools or whether we should wear masks, we can all do individual things to improve this current situation so that people don’t end up in the position that my mother was in.
Yes, we should wear masks — not because the protect us, but because they protect other people. I absolutely assure you that the discomfort that you feel with a mask on pales in comparison when compared to the discomfort you’ll feel with a tube down your windpipe.
It’s not even close.
And yes, we should be mindful about where we go, what we do, and whom we interact with.
This is not a fun time for anybody. We should all be enjoying the bountiful fruits of the Central Valley summer, and instead we have limited options and the threat of a global pandemic hanging over our heads and coloring everything that we are able to do.
But if we all do our individual parts, it may very well end up saving lives and getting that curve back down to where it needs to be.
The good news in all of this is that the ball is in our court. We can actually do something about it.
Or, we can be stubborn and hard-headed and live every day convinced that it isn’t going to happen to us.
I never thought that we were going to get to the point that we find ourselves in right now, but I also know that every bottom has a basement and it scares me to think about what that basement may look like.
We can’t do anything about where we are right now, but there are lots of things we can do to shape the future that we will find ourselves in next week, next month, or even next year.
The choice is ours.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.