BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — For days now, Governor Cuomo has said the worst of the COVID-19 crisis is behind us. But in Western New York, the reality is the war against this invisible enemy is far from over.
To give you a better idea of what is happening around us, we're taking you behind the curtain and into the controlled chaos of the ICU at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital.
Kaleida Health allowed us to document the staff and their efforts to help patients who have been diagnosed with coronavirus.
Inside the ICU on a Wednesday morning, the phone rings. "Intensive Care, this is Lindsey."
Lindsey Acevedo is the charge nurse on the floor. She calls herself the air traffic controller, trying to coordinate care for patients.
"Generally, the patients who come here are the sickest in the hospital," Acevedo said.
Sick is an understatement right now.
In a moment of urgency, several frontline workers ripped off their protective masks and quickly moved from one room to another. Both rooms have COVID patients.
In the other room, an alarm is ringing and a red light flashes, calling attention to the patient's vital signs.
"You have to rush in the room and do whatever you can," Acevedo said.
But when these nurses get in there, with a new gown and gloves, the patient is stabilized in seconds.
"In here, you don't know when a patient is going to get worse," Acevedo said. "Their condition changes so rapidly and having to put on the PPE, you want to do it as fast as you can so that makes you nervous. Everything that you do has a level of intensity."
In the meantime, Registered Nurse Julie Grimm is working on a COVID patient, who was just admitted through the Emergency Department. She's in the room these nurses rushed from initially.
"She's critically ill," Grimm said.
Nurses move the woman from a gurney she was wheeled in on, to a hospital bed in a room on the far side of the ICU.
"Even though the Emergency Department has done a great job at keeping her in a decent place, in order to transfer her here, there's still going to be a lot of work to be done," Grimm said.
This is not a drill. This is real life. All of this before noon; seven hours before their shift ends.
These are the people on the battlefield in this fight against COVID-19.
During morning rounds, they stop outside each patient's room and discuss their case and care. Doors are shut tight. There is tape over the windows, calling extra attention to COVID cases and the necessary protective equipment needed to go inside.
Nurses are layered in armor. They have an N-95 mask and put a surgical mask over that, when entering a room with a COVID patient. They wear a a face shield, a gown and two pairs of gloves. They only wear this equipment when going into a COVID patient's room.
Otherwise, they wear just a surgical mask.
"Do you feel you have enough [PPE]," we asked Acevedo. "Right now, yes. Right now I do. We can kind of feel things are getting a little bit tighter," she said.
15 of 19 patients on this floor are COVID positive. There are another 16 COVID positive patients on another floor.
We're told there is an uptick in COVID hospitalizations at Suburban, including some from nursing homes.
"We're seeing the gamut. It doesn't matter. We may have a higher number of older patients or patients with pre-existing health conditions, but we're seeing everything," Grimm said.
Many of these patients are sleeping, if you will, sedated by medication so a machine can breathe for them. It's keeping them alive. That's the job of the coveted ventilator.
"The patients that we see, they need so much. They need so much support from a ventilator that we've never seen," Acevedo said.
Governor Cuomo has said the longer patients stay on ventilators, the less likely it is they come off. That's something they're seeing at Suburban.
"These are much different deaths," Acevedo said. "They don't get to have a proper funeral. It's hard. It is. It's definitely hard."
Aevedo says, her focus is the patient, but this fight is both personal and poignant.
"You don't ever want people to die. As a nurse, you always want to save them. As doctors, you want to save them. And there's just sometimes we can't, and we can't explain why we can't. And that's hard because we're people of science. We want answers," Acevedo said. " Sometimes you just have to leave it to your faith that that's what was meant to be."
But many other patients are recovering thanks to these medical workers. They've been fighting this war for well over a month.
Acevedo says she wonders if she's good enough when she walks into work each day.
"Am I going to do enough for these patients," Acevedo questions of herself. "Are they going to feel comfortable with me -- not having their families here? Are they going to be okay? Am I doing all the right things I need to be doing?"
She says they are doing the right thing. Their patients are getting better.
Through all of this though, there is an unbreakable bond between nurses.
"We've all just really come together in this time, so I think that exemplifies not being prepared but still kind of being prepared because we lean on each other," Grimm said.
There is so much support from the outside. But from the outside in, it's obvious we have to work together to win this battle.
"The reality is people are getting very sick," Acevedo said.
"Stay home, wash your hands, leave the essential health care workers and the other essential workers to be the ones that have to leave their house," Grimm said.
While the number of confirmed cases continues to climb in Erie County, these medical professionals rising to the occasion. But what we do now will impact the future, stopping the spread of coronavirus and saving lives.