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'It's absolutely hard to watch': A look inside a COVID ICU Unit



NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Hospitals across Tennessee are at a breaking point as doctors work non-stop to try to keep up with the influx of patients.

A year ago, the COVID ICU Unit at Ascension Saint Thomas West was pushed to the brink. This week, doctors said it feels like deja vu.

“The severity, and the rate that they get worse, it’s absolutely hard to watch,” said Brett Campbell, an ICU Physician at Ascension Saint Thomas West.

The hospital granted WKRN access inside the ICU Unit, however, only certain video was allowed to be shoen to protect the privacy of the patients.

Ascension St. Thomas Hospital staff

Six weeks ago the hospital reported there was one patient on ECMO, considered the life-support of last resort, and on Tuesday there were ten. Doctors say the vast majority of patients are unvaccinated. For some, the goal is to be placed on an ECMO machine and not a ventilator.

ECMO machines works by inserting a plastic tube into a large vein, often through the neck or chest. The tube allows for the patient’s blood to flow out and be filled with oxygen, before going back into the body.

“It’s one thing to see people in their 80s with multiple comorbidities succumb to the illness, it’s another thing to talk to the wife of somebody who’s younger than me, and tell her she’s going to be a widow,” said Dr. Campbell.

Healthcare workers are exhausted and straining to keep up with the surge of COVID patients. Many of the units have been transformed to house patients.

“We’re very short-staffed and it’s because of the pool of the COVID patients. I mean some of the halls are never opened except for COVID,” said Angela Gicewicz, an RN in the Critical Care Unit.

Joe Gammon started out like many other COVID-19 patients, believing the virus wouldn’t hit him that hard. On Tuesday, he admitted he was wrong.

“I was incoherent and not even able to function, to the point where she gave me an ultimatum. You’re either going to go by ambulance or I’m going to drive you to the hospital, I’m concerned for your health,” Gammon said, remembering the last conversation he had with his wife before going to the hospital.

Gammon says after that, most things are a blur. The father of six children is a semi-truck driver from Lascassas. He says he was preparing for foot surgery when his oldest daughter started to feel sick. She tested positive for COVID-19. Gammon’s wife then became sick. Taking care of his entire family, then things got blurry, “I apparently got really ill.”

On Tuesday, Joe Gammon was taken off the ECMO machine, after battling COVID-19 for the past 2 months. (WKRN)

Like many others, that’s where Gammon’s journey began. His wife took him to a Murfreesboro hospital back in July, and his condition worsened. Gammon was transferred to Ascension St. Thomas West, where “they saved my life, they really did.”

Gammon considers himself lucky to be alive. After a month of being in a coma, and continued hospital care, on Tuesday he was taken off the ECMO machine.

“When the going got tough, I tried to fight through it as much as I could, because I know that somewhere out there, there is somebody else that needs this bed desperately,” said Gammon.

Gammon says he had the chance to get the vaccine early but decided against it. He explained that he was a conservative talk show listener, and while he believed the vaccine was helpful, he thought there was a shortage of doses. Now, he is urging others to speak with their own physicians to hear information straight from those on the front lines.

“I literally died, and they brought me back several times,” said Gammon. “Not getting the vaccine could cost you your life. I’ve actually lost several family members since I’ve been in here from COVID and it’s a bitter and hard pill to swallow.”

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