Saturday, October 16, 2021

Serving the community and caring for people

by Stella Hutchins
| September 26, 2021 12:00 AM

My 62-year-old father is sitting in his hospital bed with new, complete paralysis of the left side of his body and face as a result of complications from Covid-19. He said, “Take a picture of me to give to anti-vaxxers. Covid is really bad, you don’t want it.”

Over the past 21 years, my parents have spent winters in the Caribbean volunteering at a local hospital. My father happened to be there in 2019 when the pandemic started and has been there ever since. He got vaccinated as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the only vaccine available to him had lower efficacy (63%), compared to those available in America (greater than 90%).

About one month ago he developed Covid symptoms (headache, fevers, body aches, cough, shortness of breath) that were relentless. After quarantine he bought a one way ticket home to Kalispell and made a doctor’s appointment for a few days later. Four days after arriving home my mom found him rolling around on the floor unable to get up. He was diagnosed with a large stroke, blood clots in his lungs and one of his legs. He was ultimately flown to Sacred Heart in Spokane, where we are waiting to see what the future holds. As a carpenter, he was a very active and independent person. Now, we do not know if he will survive or if he will ever walk again.

Covid-19 infection has many degrees of severity and complications. In general, risk factors for more severe disease include unvaccinated status, age and medical problems. Unfortunately, we can’t consider ourself 100% safe from experiencing the possible severe consequences of Covid just because we aren’t “high risk.” While some “low risk” people develop cold/flu symptoms, others develop Covid pneumonia with or without hypoxia (low oxygen levels). This can lead to lung scarring and permanent damage that will have effects for the remainder of one’s life.

Covid also causes many non-respiratory complications, such as that experienced by my father: a hypercoagulable (increased clotting) state. When this happens, blood clots can form in many places, including but not limited to the lungs (pulmonary emboli), extremities (deep vein thrombosis), heart (heart attack), and brain (stroke).

You’re probably thinking, “Well this guy got Covid and he was vaccinated so why would I get vaccinated?” Data shows that vaccination reduces the risk of developing severe symptoms, complications, hospitalization, as well as transmission. He likely got infected with Covid because of the lower vaccine efficacy and low vaccination rate in the island community (~16% fully vaccinated). He was a huge advocate for vaccination and easily could have been exposed while helping his friends on the island get access to the vaccine.

I was born and raised in this valley. I left after high school and spent 11 years of my life dedicated to medical education (four years of premed, four years of medical school, three years of family medicine residency). I completed my training and started my career one year ago caring for patients who are hospitalized. I have finally achieved my childhood goal of becoming a physician, serving this community and caring for people when they are sick and vulnerable. I can tell you the last year in healthcare has been a living hell.

Burnout, fatigue, lack of empathy, and anger have become daily struggles for many health-care providers. It is so frustrating that despite all the time and effort we have dedicated to learning about the practice of medicine and analyzing data, the majority of the local population (approximately 60% unvaccinated) do not trust us to help them prevent Covid. Instead, people get their health-care misinformation from the news, politicians, the internet, etc. Yet, when they end up with Covid they come running to the hospital saying “save me.”

If you want someone to extract your tooth you go to the dentist. If you have an electrical problem in your house you call an electrician. If you’re going to fly across the country you get on a plane with a licensed pilot.

We went into health care to help the community. We genuinely want people to stay healthy and safe. The data for the Covid vaccine (see Nick Lawyer’s letter to the editor on Sept. 20) is far better than the medications used to treat Covid. Vaccines are safe and reduce transmission and severity of disease. Why don’t you believe us?

Health care across the country and world is in a state of crisis. Many hospitals are understaffed and overcapacity. The vast majority of patients hospitalized with Covid are unvaccinated. As heath care providers we are doing our best in the pandemic to keep you and your loved ones alive. We ask that you do your part in this pandemic to help prevent Covid infection and hospitalizations through the following:

• Vaccination

• Social distancing

• Wearing a mask

If you choose not to do these things and end up with Covid, realize that you are willingly and knowingly exposing everyone in healthcare and their families to the virus. You are willingly and knowingly exposing your family, friends and strangers. You are essentially walking around blindfolded with a loaded gun pulling the trigger as you go about your day. Sometimes you will miss, sometimes you will graze someone’s arm, other times you will cause longterm complications and disability, and sometimes you will lead to someone’s death.

Dr. Stella Hutchins is a physician at Logan Health. She lives in Happy Valley.