Rusted reds and fading yellows mark the entrance to Mt. Sinai Hospital on Chicago’s Near West Side, but as autumn’s colors are changing a new surge of Coronavirus—small yet significant---is being felt in one of the city’s safety net centers.
We’ve been here before, both in the pandemic at and at this hospital. This is our eleventh---and final---story on the impact the pandemic has placed on the sick and those who attend them.
We’ve watched mostly through the eyes of Raquel Prendkowski, the Assistant Chief Nursing Officer for the Sinai Health System.
“It's just a blur now, I’m not quite sure where we are at,” she says as the first snow fall of the season intrudes.
Among her duties is to oversee Emergency Preparedness, something that will be very important in the coming weeks.
Where we are is acutely clear, experts believe: the early stages of the next surge of the pandemic. We’ve seen this all before at the imposing building at the corner of Ogden and California.
We were here back in March, when intake trailers were set up, dealing with the unknown. In April---cold, cold April where 14-hour days were the norm, as were life and death decisions.
By May, symptoms of stress were prevalent among caregivers. They needed help, too.
By July, some relief as cases slowed and a touch of normalcy settled in.
“And now, you're beginning to see this next surge hit this hospital, right,” Prendkowski is asked.
“We're already starting to see it,” she replies.
At the end of August, the average weekly COVID census in the Sinai system was 10. By the third week in October it rose to 26.
“People are letting their guard down,” Prendkowski says. “It’s been so long we keep waiting for it to just magically go away.”
The virus hasn’t gone away, costing even more lives, and costing more, just in general.
Goggles that were $2, Prendkowski says, are now $6 or $8.
Inside the hospital, nurses and doctors, staff and administrators battle on. Outside, hot coffee and a donut---donated by Superior Ambulance Services---provide a sweet distraction.
Ahead is Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas, and likely more COVID cases.
It really gets me when a staff member comes up and says it's coming again. I can't, I can’t do it again,” says Prendkowski. “They can and they do,” she emphasizes.
Like so many others, she has struggled with how to live during this moment in time. For a while in the Spring, her husband and two children relocated, just to be safe, but they are back now.
What’s right? What’s wrong? No one is immune from questions that sometimes have no conclusive answer.
In the end, the best advice is the same given at the beginning.
“Keep the masks on, keep with the social distancing, keep with the best practices of the CDC, because we have to get through this,” she says.
A mantra spoken many times by many people, but when will it be over?
“I don’t know,” she says, “I hope soon.”
She is not alone in that hope.