St. Luke’s nurse shares firsthand account dealing with sickest COVID patients in Intensive Care Unit

Published: Dec. 22, 2020 at 6:47 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A worker at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids is sharing her story of working with some of the sickest Iowans due to COVID-19, in order to help people better understand the effects of the virus.

Beth Parilo has been a registered nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at St. Luke’s in Cedar Rapids for the past 10 years.

“We’ve never experienced this before, any of us,” Parilo said.

A typical day now is dealing with the sickest COVID-19 patients, those coming to them from another floor or hospital already on a ventilator or needing to be put on one.

“Other units maybe see patients are not as sick, and they see their patients get a little better, even going home on some oxygen or not any oxygen,” Parilo said.

In the ICU, that’s rare. An average stay is about 40 days, and many don’t survive.

”Rarely do we see them get off a ventilator anymore. That part is very difficult,” Parilo said. “They’re coming from Fort Madison, Burlington, Waterloo, Dubuque, Davenport, and Marshalltown. That part is also scary because you know those hospitals are getting to capacity to where they need to transfer them.”

However, the experience has brought the ICU team even closer, leaning on each other to keep morale up. Parilo said once this is over she predicts a big need for counseling.

“I’ve seen more deaths in 3 months than I have in ten years and that’s hard. And then at home still trying to be a good mom and wife, and all those things,” Parilo said.

Christy Aquino, a mental health therapist at St. Luke’s, agrees.

“Health care workers are people that are doers, and they are here to care for people and sometimes they aren’t the best at caring for ourselves,” Aquino said. “It’s important they take that time also to spend with family to connect with people outside of the hospital and their work environment.”

Parilo said the pandemic hasn’t changed her devotion to her chosen career. Through the exhaustion and the loss, seeing her colleagues working together for their patients helps.

“Our respiratory therapist know the people from upstairs, then when they get down here they still know everything about them. We see them kind of on the tail end. We didn’t get to talk to them that much or any even, maybe a day or so. But the amount of compassion I’ve seen in people I will never forget that,” Parilo said.

Parilo wants people to take this seriously, and know everyone is doing the best they can.

“You don’t want to be the cause of somebody needing a COVID ICU bed. That’s not something you can live with,” Parilo said. “We just want people to get better. We want to win and we want this to be over as soon as possible.”

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