Opinion | I’m an E.R. Doctor in Michigan, Where Unvaccinated People Are Filling Hospital Beds

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By Rob Davidson

Dr. Davidson is an emergency physician in a rural area of West Michigan, which is experiencing a Covid surge.

Recently a patient in his 70s came seeking care at the small rural hospital in West Michigan where I’ve worked as an emergency physician for two decades. He had tested positive for the coronavirus earlier in the week, was running a high fever and struggled to breathe. When asked if he’d been vaccinated, he snapped back, “I don’t approve of the vaccine.”

A few days later, a young patient sick with Covid-19 was admitted with dangerously low blood oxygen levels. His spouse and infant child came in to say goodbye just before he was sedated and intubated. “I don’t think I’ll see you again,” he said. He died before the end of the week. He was unvaccinated.

As of last Monday, nine hospitals in Michigan were 100 percent full, and at least 20 others were at or above 90 percent capacity. Statewide, nearly one in four hospital patients has a confirmed or suspected case of Covid-19. In the last few weeks, my hospital has been consistently at or near capacity and nearly every day the vast majority of those patients are sick with Covid-19. Nearly all have been unvaccinated.

In a small hospital, our patients are our neighbors, friends and old high school classmates. The profound sadness of failing to save a life hits us every time. Familiarity deepens our sadness, but more and more we feel frustrated and angry. Losing a patient is never easy. Losing one so senselessly, when the death could have been avoided with a free, safe and effective vaccine, is devastating.

I often feel full of trauma, guilt and despair. I’m mad at the Fox News personalities and the Republican politicians who downplay vaccination. I’m frustrated with people who aren’t doing more to protect themselves and their loved ones. Sometimes, I’m just mad with a kind of seething aimless anger. But even on the hardest days I box my emotions and get back to the work of caring for patients because I made a commitment to heal people, not hold grudges.

On some shifts, the stress in the air is palpable. My colleagues and I know the patients are piling up, but there just are not enough nurses to properly triage everyone. A patient experiencing heart failure waits in an emergency room because inpatient rooms upstairs are all occupied. Patients who need surgery can’t be transferred because nearly every hospital within a two-hour drive is near or at capacity, too.

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