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Heart-Rending Experiences of a Lafayette Doctor & Nurse

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When I arrived at Our Lady of Lourdes hospital Wednesday afternoon to take a tour of the hospital’s operations during COVID-19’s latest surge due to the Delta variant, I wondered what I would see. I wanted to see the surge for myself, and I did.

Elisabeth Arnold, Senior Director of Communications at Our Lady of Lourdes, met me in the front office, where I sanitized, put on a new mask, and a full-body gown for my trip upstairs. One of the first things Arnold shared with me was that while the mood is always somber among staff, it was particularly acute that morning as word had come that a nurse in her twenties, that many of the staff knew, had died at any area hospital this past weekend. These are the real realities of the people who care for those who are sickest with COVID-19. It’s not political. It’s not a debate. It’s not one person’s facts against another person’s facts; it’s a reality every day that they face dealing with COVID patients.

You can debate every aspect of COVID ad nauseam, but the reality for nurses and doctors in Acadiana is that they face the people who then become statistics in someone’s Exponent chart. But, it is very real for them; patients aren’t just statistics, they are real people, with full lives and family and friends who love them. If this story bothers you, then please go read something else because it’s not for you. I am not taking this story in a direction with a viewpoint; this is just the information gathered from ICU Director Dr. Frank Cormieur and nurse, Katie Jennings. There is a surge of Delta variant of COVID in Lafayette and Acadiana.

I was asked to not take pictures, and I agreed because I wasn’t going to put someone else’s misery on display. So, what did I experience? Plenty. You take what you will from this article, but DO NOT politicize this post. This post is about the men and women you hopefully will NEVER have to see.

When I was taken into the emergency room, the board listing patients was full. I asked what the last six on the end of the second column were. Arnold explained that was the people who have spent the most time in the emergency department. There was no room upstairs or in a regular room or ICU. The person who had been down there the longest had already spent sixty-two hours in the emergency room. Several areas downstairs that are not normally used were also full with patients.

Just like many other areas of the country, Our Lady of Lourdes is struggling to get nurses to keep up with the number of people who are seeking all kinds of emergency help from the hospital. They are currently pursuing contract nurses with a set salary for thirteen weeks of work and a bonus; just like other areas of the state and country dealing with a surge.

As we head upstairs to one of the COVID floors, Arnold explained the various ways in which the hospital has worked to minimize prolonged contact with COVID patients, but still provide them with the best care. Actually, coverage with PPE is evident from head to toe on anyone that is coming into contact with the patients.

Next, I got to meet Dr. Frank Courmier, the head of the ICU at Lourdes. He’s tall and slender with a boyish charm to his face, but very deep circles under his eyes. And those eyes, those are not the eyes of a boy. His eyes express wisdom, compassion, weariness, and sadness.

He works seven days a week now, and he is on call every other night in order to handle the many COVID patients they are treating, and the many that are on ventilators. He pointed out that no one in their ICU is on Medicare, meaning that everyone receiving treatment is sixty-five and under. Many of the patients do not have preexisting conditions. The Delta variant of COVID-19 is just different from what we’ve been experiencing. In addition to that, Dr. Courmier points out that one person’s experience with COVID can be very different from another person’s experience.

He was sitting on a couch, I was sitting in a chair, we were socially distanced, and I pointed to the couch, asking him, “You been sleeping on that couch?” He paused briefly, gave a sad smile, and said in an exhausted voice, “Yes”. He says he doesn’t care about that part of the job, but he does worry about his wife and his children who are nine and eleven. He says life has changed in so many ways. He says his son is very excited about his birthday coming up in January, not for an X-Box or anything like that. He says his child is excited because he can get the COVID vaccine. He says his children, just like all the rest, are not immune physically, spiritually, or emotionally. He says, “He shouldn’t be excited by the shot.”

When I asked Dr. Courmier about his wife, he called her “a hero”. Courmier says she now handles all aspects of life for him, all the chores, paying bills, anything you can imagine that he did, she is the person who is there to handle it now. Always a team, she now handles everything at home, so that he can focus on patients. He says that she allows him to be able to spend the majority of every waking hour being intently focused on his patients in ICU. His pain? He says there is no end in sight. There will be new variations, and right now those variants are being observed by scientists so no one can say for certain what comes next in the evolution of this virus. Courmier says his wife has shared her fear for his safety and health, and as a mother, she worries about her children who will be going back to school soon.

Dr. Courmier has maintained his composure through his entire interview with me, and even let me push for a few more questions when he needed to go. He’s tough. He’s seen it all. So, what made him tear up? Talking about his children and his wife. He seems deflated, somewhat, when he tells me how painful it is for his wife to read social media, or even hear people, question his character and integrity. Have we fallen so far as a society that we have lost all common decency? That’s a personal question for each one of us, and based on my beliefs, those are things we will have to answer for when the Maker calls us home. Until then, before people argue, berate, beleaguer, accuse or dismiss someone, maybe they should think about someone else’s feelings. I think we are allowing this thing to tear us apart, and we are showing up as people, that when we reflect on it later, maybe we don’t want to be? I include myself in that. Insults are so easy to hurl from a cellphone on a social media page.

The final thing I wanted to ask Dr. Courmier about is what routine he follows when he goes home. He says when he gets out of his garage at home, he wipes down everything, except for his clothes, with a bleach wipe. He takes it all out and puts it in a bucket. The next thing, he strips in the utility room and puts his clothes directly into the washing machine. He washes them immediately. I did that too when I went home.

One side of the third floor, all the way down, is full of people on ventilators. Courmier says it used to just be older patients who ended up on ventilators or those that were immunocompromised, but that’s not what’s happened now. He says there are some people in their 20’s and 30’s. That one side of the hall was people between 30 and 60. He says it’s heartbreaking and depressing as he says many people are parents, and their children are at home waiting for them to come home. He says that’s not what’s happening. He says often people are lingering. He says it’s surreal because many of these people will not make it home to their children. He says he feels helpless.

Courmier understands viruses. He researched viruses at MD Anderson. He worked on viruses that cause cancer at MD Anderson, trying to figure out how to cure those types of cancer. He says that’s one area dealing with social media that does frustrate him, or any media for that matter. He knows what can and can’t go into the nucleus of DNA. He worked on those things at MD Anderson. RNA can’t go into DNA, so when he hears people, who don’t have a scientific background, speak about it, it floors him. He says the mRNA vaccine for COVID kills the protein without ever going into DNA.

And for all the people asking about herd immunity; forget it. Courmier says for the first round of COVID that was circulating we needed 75-80% vaccination/cases. With that version of COVID, for every one person that was infected, they would infect four others. Now with the Delta variant, it’s an 8 to1 ratio, meaning for every person that is infected with Delta,…

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