At Chicago’s Mount Sinai Hospital, the dual pandemic of the novel coronavirus and the city’s gun violence problems are causing officials to constantly look for more space to treat a deluge of critically ill patients.
According to hospital officials, approximately 90 percent of the facility’s intensive care unit beds are being used by coronavirus patients, but the unit is still operating at 150 percent capacity because of a surge in shooting victims in desperate need of medical help.
“We are over our numbers that we had in trauma last year, and our gunshot victims are being admitted at a 35 percent higher rate than last year,” Raquel Prendkowski, assistant chief nursing officer at the hospital, said.
On a recent day, there were 36 trauma admissions in just eight hours.
“They’re coming in with gunshot wounds to the chest, beatings to the head, stabbings, just one right after another,” Prendkowski said.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, dual pandemics were in competition for ventilators in the ICU of the hospital.
“We’ve been bursting at the seams since the beginning of COVID-19, and we’ve been making it work,” Prendkowski said. “Now it’s every day we’re looking for a different area to have ICU patients in.”
Of course the strain of dealing with so many critically ill patients is draining physically for frontline workers, but it’s taxing for them mentally as well.
In order to find balance, Prendkowski tries to find joy in little things, like teaching spin classes or riding on her Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Coronavirus has changed a lot of things for a lot of people, and even simple things like going out to eat come with a lot of extra precautions and new rules.
“We just kind of sat there and they said ‘well, I have to go to the bathroom,’” she recalled. “We were sitting there trying to figure out what the new rules are.”
Four months into the pandemic, she says that her friends are having trouble coping with what has clearly become a long-term change to their lives.
“People are to a breaking point where they say ‘okay, if I’m going to get it, I’m going to get it,’” she said. “They say ‘I can’t live my life like this anymore.’ But then they also don’t see the flip side of how deadly it can be.”
Even still, Prendkowski is urging Illinois residents to be careful and to keep their guards up, warning that the virus can wreak a terrible toll on those who don’t take it seriously.