‘Each phase of the disease was different’

Platte Valley doctors, nurses look back on COVID-19

Belen Ward
bward@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/3/21

Jonathan Seib is a Charge Nurse and Clinical Coordinator for the Intermediate Care and Medical Surgery unit at Platte Valley Medical Center for about three years. Seib was a news reporter before but …

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‘Each phase of the disease was different’

Platte Valley doctors, nurses look back on COVID-19

Posted

Jonathan Seib is a Charge Nurse and Clinical Coordinator for the Intermediate Care and Medical Surgery unit at Platte Valley Medical Center for about three years. Seib was a news reporter before but always had an interest in the medical profession.

“I had two goals, the first goal I became a reporter and writer for five years,” said Seib.

Then one day Seib decided to reinvent himself and became a nurse.

“I felt like I wanted to directly help people,” Seib said. “I was at a point in my life, with the support of my family, I wanted to go back to school full time, so I decided to go back to school for my other passion the medical field, and become a nurse.”

The virus hit in multiple phases and it was overwhelming for Seib and his team.

In the first phase, the staff worked with Wendy Colon in the Incident Command Center on processes. The team started prepping for what was coming and planning contingencies as more and more patients were being admitted.

“Each phase was different and you would change treatments, rooms, and finding physical beds. It was intimidating, I never had to plan for something like this before,” said Seib.

As patients continued to come in, the frontline workers still considered COVID a mystery virus. The staff was receiving reports from the hospitals in New York, China and other countries overseas on treatments that could work.

“We were trying a lot of different things and treating it like the flu at first,” Seib said. “It was not the best way to go and we were doing our best. Our unit was taking COVID-19 patients plus added challenges. The nurses, myself included, were also training to take ICU patients. If there were too many sick patients we took the entire Intermediate Care population from ICU to free up ICU.”

Seib and his team had to make quick decisions, educating peers on how to care for the COVID-19 patients which had become an entirely new population in the unit.

“It was very overwhelming at first and honestly, it’s been the hardest thing I’ve had to do. It is still a confusing virus because it hits some people so hard,” said Seib.

The team and Seib watched patients for days wondering if they were going to tip one way or the other - for better or worse. The nurses leaned on each other for support.

“It was hard every step of the way watching these patients and waiting. Ultimately, sometimes it pans out. A lot of times it didn’t, and the patients didn’t make it. It was extremely difficult for all of us and taking a toll on our team, our charge nurses and myself personally,” said Seib.

Family safety

Seib’s family lives with his Mom and Stepdad, both in the high-risk group. Seib had conversations with his family on the best way of keeping a distance away from each other in their small house. His routine when he got home was to change his clothes in the garage every night and shower. He would not let his wife in the bathroom when she would come up to ask about his day.

“I was just nervous all the time, especially because we didn’t understand a lot about the virus,” Seib said. “We didn’t know how long it lived on surfaces. We also backed up all my clothes, leaving them for a couple of days, and then washing them,” said Seib.

He came to rely on others, from his co-workers to his family.

“We learned about helping each other as a team and watching out for each other. There were a lot of people giving and opening up their hearts and sometimes their wallets. It’s finding the little ways to say thank you and be grateful. I hope the lesson that we can take away from this, is we learn to take care of each other,” said Seib.

The impact of the pandemic hits the Emergency Department

Dr. Scott Hackman has been an emergency physician for more than four years at Platte Valley Medical Center through the Brighton Community Emergency Physicians Group. Hackman grew up in the rural health systems moving around a lot with his family in the Midwest Kansas, and Nebraska area. His Dad was a hospital administrator.

“I learned from him that there’s a definite need in the rural areas for healthcare. So initially, I thought I’d go into family practice,” said Hackman.

But towards the end of Hackman’s training, he learned that he liked emergency medicine better.

“I fall in love with it as a career choice, as well as a lot of opportunity with patients in a variety of situations. It was an evolution, though, it wasn’t like a light went off,” said Hackman.

When the virus hit, Hackman and his colleagues were just starting to learn about the virus and were not sure just how it was evolving.

“It was rather shocking. Then it became very apparent in the latter stages of March into April of 2020, it’s going to be a very big problem,” said Hackman.

Patients were coming in with massive amounts of oxygen requirements that he’d not seen in his career. Many didn’t have huge underlying health problems to explain how they had become so ill.

“We didn’t quite know how to handle it other than just by increasing their oxygen requirements, Hackman said. “Initially, we are intubating a lot of these patients early on. Then we kind of evolved and figured out a little better strategy.”.

The doctors were challenged because there not any studies to follow and had to use whatever information that was coming out of New York, with its high volume of patients early on compared to the rest of the country.

“The critical care doctors our hospital, and pulmonologist were all trying to get out as much information to the rest of the country as they could,” Hackman said. “We figured out there was a better strategy than just ventilating. We used a better strategy called flow nasal canula, a heated high flow which is a lot of oxygen coming through but allows the lungs to remain elastic. It’s’ a little less stress on the lungs than a ventilator.”

The ER doctors found other ways to treat their patients. Three months into the pandemic they tried another type of treatment called a Bipap - a mask that forces air in using higher pressure versus the more invasive ventilator management.

“We kind of went back and forth a little bit as a group, our ER group met with the sound doctors to hear their stories on the floor, because they are the hospital critical care people managing the patients and telling us kind of what we can do in the Emergency Department to help the survival rates in ICU for these people,” said Hackman.

After trying different treatments, Hackman and his team determined the right strategy was to stick with the heated high flow for patients requiring large amounts of oxygen.

“Some of those patients eventually had to be intubated, but a large majority did not. They just had very long hospital stays eventually discharged either to home or like a skilled nursing facility,” said Hackman.

Hackman said many of those patients still are not back to their baseline.

Second stage of the pandemic.

“We are still seeing the acute patients coming in occasionally and not as often. What we are seeing largely now is secondary effects from the pandemic from when a patient was admitted a while back, but still is having difficulties, we’re starting to determine the gravity of what this virus has done to people,” said Hackman.

Hackman took care of Brighton Police Chief Paul Southard when he was admitted to the hospital for three weeks with COVID on a ventilator. Southard recovered and was released but Hackman said it had a profound effect on the hospital, the community, and the police.

“I think his case was the initial shockwave that went through the department and for me, it impacts every aspect of our life,” Hackman said. “The gravity hadn’t hit me until I saw how his case evolved, he recovered and it was a success.”

Not every case went as well.

“We’ve had a few patients that did not succumb in the Emergency Department, but they did not survive in the hospital. Try to explain it to people, and they kind of get it, but it’s hard,” he added.

Hackman recently had one patient pass away before he could get the vaccine.

“I do feel since the vaccine has been readily available that this is becoming a preventable illness. The high-risk population, most of the deaths that I saw were over 65-years-old,” said Hackman. “I did have a few sicker patients, but not a lot of death under that age group. That group now I think, has largely been vaccinated, and I’m not seeing those high-risk cases anymore. So that’s, good, said Hackman.

Hackman lives alone so he isolated himself to keep himself and others safe.

“Now it’s just second nature. I can’t imagine walking into a room with a patient without wearing a mask, it the new normal, at least in the hospital for quite some time,” said Hackman.

Great support matters

Hackman has friends he trained with working at other hospitals that not only have high cases but had PPE storages.

“We always had adequate PPE and I felt safe, we only had one (Emergency Department) physician who got COVID out of all those hundreds COVID patients which were amazing and he did fine,” said Hackman.

“It’s a testament to how careful we were and built protocols very early on to protect ourselves,” Hackman said.

Future

Dr. William McNitt, the Emergency Physician at Platte Valley Medical Center is hoping for the future that people continue getting vaccinated. He and his peers are looking forward to not being so worried when people are being admitted for appendicitis, heart attack, or unrelated issues, because they are getting a COVID swab so the staff will know who has it or not.

“People could get back out and start enjoying life, kids can go back to school safely and just get back to normalcy,” said McNitt.

“The community supported this hospital in such away. I have a lot of work over the next 18 months. The beauty of this hospital is the same as the beauty of the community of Brighton. We all pulled together and found ways to do it with the Incident Command Center,” said Colon.

Caitlyn Major, Platte Valley Medical Center Communications Manager released a statement, “as our associates begin to process their collective experience over the past year and continue to navigate COVID-19, Platte Valley SCL Health recognizes the importance of providing resources to foster resilience and well-being. A variety of mental health services and support groups are offered to associates, free of charge, and leadership is currently evaluating new programs to help combat compassion fatigue.”

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