“I usually tell people, that patients that come to the ICU, they’re the worst COVID," said ICU Nurse Kyle Gordon-Bidwell.
As a nurse in the intensive care unit, Gordon-Bidwell's job is a balance of delivering care and dealing with the realities of those who need it.
“Unfortunately, most of our patients pass away. They don’t make it out," Gordon-Bidwell said.
As contentious a topic as COVID has become, when someone enters the ICU, the truth is direct.
“We’ll do everything we can to save you, because it is what it is right. You have COVID. We’ll do our best to save you," said Michele Hurd, who is the head of the nurses in the ICU at MidMichigan Medical Center in Midland, Michigan.
Like many ICUs nationwide, the majority of COVID patients who enter Hurd’s unit are unvaccinated.
“It’s hard to understand why some are not vaccinated, and so when I’m with my nurses, it’s nonjudgmental. The person is here for our care," Hurd said.
Doctors at this hospital say 9 out of 10 COVID patients in the ICU are unvaccinated.
“This is the worst part. When you see somebody who is 40 years old, 50 years old, and he just does not believe in the vaccine, and he gets sick in the ICU, when he says, ‘The minute I leave the ICU, I will get vaccinated,’ and that is very sad because sometimes they don’t," explained Dr. John Blamoun, the head of the ICU at MidMichigan Medical Center in Midland.
Dr. Blamoun says at his hospital, the number of patients isn’t as much of a problem as the impact this pandemic has had on those who care for them. Like many hospitals, workers have left MidMichigan and there is now a shortage.
“When I go home at night, I’m exhausted sometimes it takes a couple of days to recover from my shift," said emergency room nurse Grace Scott.
The delta variant has brought a strain on emotions and resources that many here thought would be over by now.
"When I saw how effective vaccination was, I saw things start to open up, I was really taken aback that we have a significant minority of the population that won’t get vaccinated and it's, it’s putting us all at risk," said MidMichigan Dr. Danny Greig, who works in the emergency room.
As patients continue to pack ERs and ICUs, many hospital systems, including this one, face an internal struggle. Around 37% of employees with MidMichigan Health, which runs multiple hospitals in central and northern Michigan are not fully vaccinated.
While Dr. Blaumon regularly sees what this virus does to those who haven’t received the vaccine, he says mandates aren’t the answer.
“I believe that people should not be forced to get vaccinated. Should not make people’s life difficult to get vaccinated," Dr. Blamoun said.
He hopes the liberty to choose empowers personal responsibility.
“We should be united in one message, which is we are all in this together and we should be vaccinated for the good of everyone," Dr. Blamoun said.
Decisions, he says, that will save lives and bring relief to those fighting on the frontlines.