JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The latest wave of COVID-19 cases has led to a surge in hospitalizations, compounding what has already been a taxing year for health care workers.
Caitlin Thompson, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at UF Health Jacksonville’s North campus, spoke with News4Jax on Wednesday about what it has been like working in the ward.
“I feel like we are in a war, and that war is not ending anytime soon yet because people aren’t getting vaccinated yet,” she said.
As of Wednesday, UF Health Jacksonville had roughly 134 COVID-19 patients, 41 of whom were in the ICU. That’s up from 60 COVID-19 patients, 23 of whom were in the ICU, on July 12.
“I don’t think there are enough words to describe what the past two weeks or actually the last year and a half has been like,” she said. “We are tired. We are exhausted as a staff, as a health care facility. Our patients are younger. They are sicker. It’s been wild to say the least.”
Her colleague -- nurse practitioner Annette Wall, who provides special services for those in the ICU -- agreed.
“The average ages seem to be younger. These patients seem to be in our intensive care unit a bit longer,” Wall said. “These people are in the prime of their life. These are hearty, healthy people. I have folks that are saying, ‘I just didn’t think I would get that sick because I’m healthy.’ You are until you catch COVID.”
James Owen echoed that belief. As of Wednesday, the 41-year-old Navy veteran had been in the ICU at the North campus for nearly a week and was still fighting to get better. From his hospital bed, he told News4Jax how he ended up there.
“We had a Fourth of July party. On the 5th, I got sick,” he said. “At first I thought I could take care of it myself at the house. I was sadly mistaken and it landed me here.”
He said his wife is also ill but not hospitalized.
“I am doing much better now,” Owen said. “It’s been a rough road, but we are getting there.”
Owen said he’s grateful to the staff who he believes have gone out of their way to help him.
“Thanks again to the team of nurses and medical staff,” Owen said.
He said he wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19, and he shared a message for others who haven’t gotten the shot.
“For yourself, for your loved ones, get vaccinated. I’m used to being the strong protector and it definitely broke me down. I am very humbled. This virus is nothing to joke about,” he said. “After what I’ve been through, I’m definitely going to get it as soon as I’m cleared.”
Thompson, who has been working with Owen, also encouraged people to get vaccinated.
“My message: Do your education and learn and ultimately get vaccinated,” she said. “Vaccination is key and trying to decrease this crazy pandemic and this surge that we are seeing.”
Thompson said that right now, COVID-19 patients who make it out of the ICU still experience lingering impacts.
“If they do make it out, it’s with long-term effects of the disease or some people having to go home on oxygen,” Thompson said. “People having to go on to long-term care facilities just to get their strength back, and those that do go home in the future could see other long-term effects.”
Registered nurse Carson Griego, who works on a special COVID-19 ward, said some of his young friends have not been vaccinated and he tells them the story of one patient who, unfortunately, died.
“He said, ‘I wish I got vaccinated. I wish I had took this all seriously,’” Griego said.
Staff members said those who are not vaccinated are the ones now becoming very ill and they hope that showing what’s happening at the hospital will bring about some change and lead to more people getting vaccinated.
“I certainly think there is a disconnect with people here on the outside and what we see on the inside,” said Chad Neilsen, UF Health Jacksonville director of accreditation and infection prevention. “So we’re trying to step up and use our microphone and say we are the ones seeing this going on real-time, please get vaccinated.”