The respiratory therapist is in one of 19 small rooms ringing Roseland Community Hospital’s busy emergency department, each occupied by a COVID case, each room’s air negative-pressurized to keep droplets of infection from wafting back into the ER. Joseph is trying to draw blood from the man’s right wrist to get a reading of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
But the 79-year old twists and writhes.
“He was fighting with me,” said Joseph, coming out, peeling off a yellow plastic protective gown. “When you get COVID, you cannot function. The carbon dioxide makes you lethargic and confused.”
“Cannot function,” “lethargic” and “confused” are apt terms to describe our national response to COVID, a roiling, contradictory crisis: medical disaster intermixed with scientific triumph. The selfless, exhausted labors of skilled doctors and nurses here, butting up against selfish, stubborn public resistance and ignorance there. A roller coaster disaster of peaks and valleys, with no end in sight as our nation finishes its second year fighting COVID-19.
The first case in the United States of what the World Health Organization dubbed 2019-nCoV, for “2019 novel coronavirus” was diagnosed Jan. 20, 2020.
“It’s getting worse,” said Joseph, comparing the start of 2022 to last year’s peak. “Because we have more COVID now.”
Roseland Community Hospital is a reminder that not every hospital is a sprawling, flush medical center like Northwestern or Rush. At 125 beds, it is neither big nor wealthy. The Far South Side hospital’s facilities have been described as “no better than those in Third World countries” without argument from hospital administrators.
And while there has been improvement since then, put it this way: There is no self-playing grand piano in its lobby off West 111th Street — in fact, there’s no lobby at all; that was curtained off last year and given over to COVID testing and vaccine injection. Recently, the line to be tested stretched out the door, around the corner, down the block, all the way to Wentworth Avenue.
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