We in Southern Oregon saw how the pandemic raged in other areas of the country. We were waiting. It would hit here, eventually, we knew it. It came to our city slowly, and then we had a spike. Still, it was much milder than many other places, and we were grateful to be spared the worst of it.
People started getting vaccinated. It was like a baptism of sorts, and the vaccines felt like our savior. Many of us cried. We were so grateful for this technology, this proof of how effective science is. We saw the light of how we could end this pandemic. We could go back to work with less dread, less constant fear of becoming one of the thousands of health care workers who have died.
In the state of Oregon, we had a reopening goal of 70 percent of qualified adults getting their vaccines. We kept an eye on the numbers, watched them get higher and closer. Meanwhile locally, our numbers stagnated at 47 percent. No matter, the state reached its goal, and everything opened back up again. People are going all over the place without masks, without the vaccine. Playing make-believe that COVID doesn’t exist. It’s worse now than it was in the beginning; at least then, we had the shutdown to help protect people.
Then Delta came. We had watched it ravage India, but many felt overconfident because we have the vaccines here. Well, they only work if people take them. We watched our hospitalized cases jump from single digits to over 50 cases in less than a week. Then 100. Then 150. The entirety of our critical care units, all COVID patients.
These patients are vastly, over 90 percent, unvaccinated. They are terrified. They are gasping for air.
“I didn’t know,” they say. “I didn’t believe.”
They ask for the vaccine now, but it’s much too late for that for them. We hope they will survive, but we don’t know. COVID kills so many. At the very least, they are looking at weeks in the hospital and a lifetime forever changed, if they make it.
The thing is, our surge isn’t even at the worst point yet, and it won’t be for weeks. We know many of these patients have told their family and friends who didn’t also get sick to get vaccinated. That’s a start, but we know many more people will need to get the vaccine for us to withstand this pandemic. We wish we could bring the people who don’t believe, who hesitate, into the hospital, into the ICU, to show them the damage and destruction it wreaks indiscriminately. When you see it, you can never forget it.
You can harden yourself to it, though. After a time, you realize that people are going to die despite your best efforts. You do the best you can, but you have to separate it from the rest of your life, so it doesn’t break you.
We are all out of ideas for how to convince you to get vaccinated. We have tried giving you all the scientific information, debunking misinformation, telling you how bad COVID is, explaining how vulnerable the unvaccinated are, kids as well. You don’t believe us. You don’t believe the science, the evidence. What more are we to do? So we sit here and watch our hospitals fill up with the unvaccinated. We hope vaccine mandates will expand. We put on our scrubs, masks, and goggles, and we go to work every day.
Jenny Hartsock is a hospitalist.
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