An ER Doctor in Arkansas Told Us What Its Like to Work in Unvaccinated America

From Esquire, by Charles P. Pierce:

According to the CDC, Arkansas’s rate of new cases is up by 35 percent from last week, and 34.8 percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated. Missouri’s new cases also are up 35 percent from last week and nearly 40 percent are fully vaccinated. If there is an epicenter of this latest outbreak, and if it’s not in this part of the country, it’s close. I’ve been texting back and forth with Dr. Ken Starnes over the last couple of weeks as the new wave of the pandemic builds, and I think I’m going to let him tell you himself what it’s like on the ground there.

“The last day I worked wasn’t too bad. Had several people come in with symptoms or just to be tested. Mostly younger than 40. Of course zero vaccinations, and when I asked why, I don’t get the “cause the internet, cause screw the libs, I think it’s dangerous” excuses. I don’t get any excuses at all. They just shrug their shoulders and say they didn’t need it. It’s just part of their psyche now. Sun rises in the east, Jesus will return to judge the quick and the dead, you just don’t get vaccinated.

The ones that were negative, when I ask them if they are going to get vaccinated they look at me like I have three heads.

The positive ones sometimes have some regrets, one in particular started crying after we talked about intubation, CPR, and ECMO. The ones I send home often get mad when I tell them there’s not anything I can do for them.

I’ve resisted the temptation to put on their discharge instructions: “You didn’t listen to me about how not to get this, why would you listen now. Ask the internet when to return to the ED.”

When I was in college I did telemarketing for a while. In those jobs they give you a sheet of things to say to overcome objections when people don’t want to buy from you. But how do you overcome an objection when they don’t give you one? They just look at you [and] shrug [their] shoulders. I tried giving them the science. I tried mild anger and looking at everybody over my glasses like their disappointed father. They are just not gonna do it and nothing I say is going to change that so it makes me wonder whether I even need to keep trying.

I’ve gotten updates from lots of people in Missouri and Arkansas. Things are absolutely at their capacity. They’re talking about field hospitals again in Springfield and we are very close to running out of capacity for ECMO in Arkansas and Missouri. Last week a paramedic posted a whiteboard showing that every ICU in Arkansas was on divert. That means they are not accepting any transfers and critically ill patients will stay in the emergency department for the foreseeable future. None of which is safe for anybody.

Arkansas in particular is seeing as many cases as they were in February. Missouri is about at that level in the south, and the St. Louis and Kansas City areas are starting to get there as well. So we’re back to the same situation that we were in back in the winter, where there’s no excess capacity.

I guess the biggest thing that I’ve noticed is when this first started there was a sense of going into battle. We were training and we were equipping ourselves. It felt like it must’ve felt for soldiers in World War II, training for the day, but there was a battle up ahead and as long as we did the right thing and stuck together then it was something that we would win and get past. Now it almost feels like it must’ve felt like on the other side at the end of World War II. That the enemy is coming and we’re almost certainly going to lose. And even worse than that, everybody on the outside seems to be willfully ignorant of what’s going on. We will never go back to masks or shutdowns or anything like that. Everything is opening up so there’s no sense that things are going to get any better at anytime, sooner or later.

I guess the biggest thing for me personally is being out of that area for a week in another part of the country that started to feel like home to me is the idea that I’ve lived in Missouri and Arkansas almost my entire life and it’s time for me to leave. As soon as I possibly can. Those are my people. My family has been in Arkansas longer than there has been an Arkansas but I don’t recognize the people there anymore. The prion disease as you put it has fully taken control, and it seems like there’s no concern for what’s happening. So maybe it’s time to go somewhere people are at least a little more sane. I also don’t think that I can work in the emergency department too much longer if I have to continually see this, and as far as I’m concerned, I will continually see this.”

From Charlie: Goddammit, none of this had to happen. And it certainly doesn’t have to continue to happen. If you’re making a buck out there off telling people tales about the perils of the vaccines, or if you’re an idiot meat puppet from Fox News bothering the White House with stupid questions, just shut up and sit all your asses down. Get used to the fact that you’re going to hell, every damn one of you.
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