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They went to Florida, 'brought back memories and COVID-19.' Now family members are dying

Life inside a COVID-19 intensive care unit
Posted at 5:30 PM, Jul 22, 2020
and last updated 2021-01-29 22:51:02-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Inside Middle Tennessee's COVID-19 intensive care units, doctors and nurses are witnessing the grim reality of the increasing number of patients now being hospitalized.

One of those hospitals: Nashville's TriStar Skyline Medical Center.

"We have almost an entire floor filled with COVID patients," said Dr. Murray Arons, a pulmonary critical care physician who chairs the hospital's critical care medicine department.

"We have an entire intensive care unit set aside for COVID patients, which remains full."

Arons said the fact that not everyone who gets COVID-19 ends up in the hospital actually makes the virus all the more insidious.

"What makes this disease so deadly is that huge numbers of people can get it, not be that sick and act as spreaders throughout the community and vectors to transmit this disease to a large portion of vulnerable patients," the doctor explained.

And those patients, the relatives of those who feel invincible, are the ones who sometimes end up in ICU, fighting for their lives.

"We had several admissions over the weekend of people who had family members who went to Florida for a beach vacation and, you know, brought back memories and COVID-19 and gave it to some of their family members," Arons said.

"Some of them will die."

Nurse Carrie Bean said the situations they are facing is the worst so far in the pandemic.

"We are having more patients in the hospital, but they are also a lot sicker than what we’ve seen. So their length of stay is longer. It’s more intense," she said.

The 17-year veteran said that, if some of the deniers could experience what she sees here in the COVID ICU, they might not be so quick to cast doubt about the reality of the crisis.

"We have a lot of patients who are in their 20s, 30s," Bean said.

"This virus definitely doesn’t discriminate. It’s not just for the elderly. We’ve even seen patients who have no real health history, no complications, come in and get sick with the virus as well."

One of the most difficult parts of the job, she said, is watching patients suffer alone, sometimes dying alone.

"As a nurse, it’s hard to see people so isolated, when people come in and they’re sick and family cannot be with them like they normally would be there to support them," Bean said.

"It’s hard to see patients going through these tough times alone."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked,"Have you ever seen anything like this?"

"No, I have not," she responded. "Not even close. Not the flu seasons, no, nothing."

Arons remembered one recent patient.

"I had one fellow who started out as someone, before he got sick, who really didn’t believe in this, thought the whole thing was a hoax -- relatively young strong man in his early 50s -- thought this wasn’t real – and he almost died," the physician said.

Arons said treatments like the drug remdiesivir and convalescent plasma therapy are helping save more lives, but there are limits.

"In a large portion who get critically ill, it tends to be an inexorable, endless progression towards death in many of these patients – even when they get all these treatments up front fairly early," he said.

"It is the worst infectious process I’ve seen in my 25 years of practicing medicine."

While Arons and his colleagues fight to save lives ravaged by the coronavirus, he wishes more of the community would join the battle.

"At some point, it just starts to feel like it’s insanity," Arons said.

"Our best defense is prevention and simple things like wearing masks to just help each other out and act sensibly. We just can’t seem to get a large percent of the population to do these things."