'We're tired:' Doctors from KU Health discuss strain of pandemic uncertainty

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Posted at 10:38 AM, Aug 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-11 17:57:23-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Doctors used Wednesday morning's University of Kansas Health System daily coronavirus call to make an admission: staff are tired.

Doctors agreed that the constant uncertainty of not knowing what the next day of the pandemic will hold is draining.

"We're back to where it's in crisis mode," Dr. Lewis Satterwhite, a doctor in the Pulmonary and Critical Care Division of Internal Medicine, said. "I'm having multiple meetings every day with our nursing leadership about, well, if we get one patient in the next hour, where's that patient go? What if, what if we get seven overnight, where are we going to go? Which patients are we going to move? And just the grind, not only taking care of the patients... but trying to understand what's going to happen in the next hour, six hours, 12 hours, one week, can be exhausting. It's exhausting."

Satterwhite works in the medical ICU and explained that even though there are currently fewer COVID-19 cases in the area than there were in December or January, the number of critically ill patients in the hospital is higher.

"...there are a lot of obvious differences between the alpha variant and the delta variant as it impacts individual patients," he explained. "Patients manifest disease in different ways, but broadly speaking, it's almost the transmissibility is different."

On top of the high number of critically ill COVID-19 patients, doctors are still taking care of critically ill patients from other areas.

"I work in a medical ICU, but you know, we have colleagues that work in ICU across all forms of health care, and they're all busy," Satterwhite said. "we're busy with all of our cardiac cases, and our neurology cases, and all of our cancer cases and transplant cases, and everything and anything is busy, and really high acuity people are or that we're taking care of, are really very sick - and many, many of them."

The critical care doctor explained some of the influx in general critical care patients could be from people who deferred health care earlier in the pandemic.

"We can only defer care so much. We're very busy with all of health care outside of COVID and you add in a significant COVID burden on top of that, and that really stresses the system," Satterwhite said. "I think we're responding to it very nicely, but it stresses the system."

"I think we're all tired," Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steven Stites added.

And it's not just local hospital workers feeling the strain.

Dr. Catherine Satterwhite is a regional health administrator.

"I work with a lot of state and local public health leaders in addition to my federal partners, and I'm not gonna lie, and we're tired," she said. "We're tired, but we're also committed... So yes, it hurts, but we also, we remain committed."