Aging Well

Aging Well

What to expect if you need to go to the hospital

Posted December 7, 2020 8:25 a.m. EST
Updated December 7, 2020 4:19 p.m. EST

Hospitals are nearing or at capacity

I spent the better part of a recent day waiting in an emergency room with a friend, who had been there since the day before. It took nearly 30 hours from when he checked in to the ER to be admitted to a hospital room. The name of the hospital is irrelevant. What is relevant is that this is the situation in a fair number of hospitals across the state with the rise in hospital admissions due to COVID.

According to the NCDHHS, the number of hospitalizationsdue to COVID increased by over 1,000 in the last month. Specifically, on Nov. 6, North Carolina had 1,189 hospitalizations. One month later, on Dec. 6, that number increased to 2,240.

For the first time, the number of new cases/day in North Carolina exceeded 6,000 on both Saturday and Sunday. In a press conference on Dec. 1, Dr. Mandy Cohen shared statistics showing that more people in North Carolina have died from COVID this year than in the previous ten years from the flu. Specifically, she stated that "just under 1,500 people died from the flu in the past 10 years, (while) COVID has killed more than three times that number.” (5,560 as of Dec. 7).

In terms of hospitalizations, Mark Holmes, director of UNC’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, estimated large hospitals like UNC and Duke operate at 85% capacity on average throughout the year without COVID. Staff at the hospital I was waiting in explained the long wait was due to being at full capacity.

As the wife of a hospitalist working long hours and with much heavier case loads, I hear first-hand that the surge in COVID admissions, coupled with staff shortages due to critical staff being out on quarantine with COVID, creates a perfect storm.

What is the message here? If you are concerned you may need to go to the hospital, call your primary care physician first to see if they concur or if an outpatient visit might enable you to convalesce at home. If you must go, take whatever you may need in the event that you have to wait a long time before being seen. Additionally:

  1. Bring a mask and hand sanitizer, and sit as far from others in the waiting room as possible.
  2. Pack a bag with your medications, a cell phone and cell phone charger.
  3. Wear clothing that will keep you warm.
  4. Pack any needed medications, incontinence supplies, snacks, etc. Prepare for the worst in terms of wait times and then be grateful if you get in more efficiently.
  5. Pack snacks and water to minimize having to go to the cafeteria and other spaces in the hospital which may have heavier traffic. Remember that up to 40% of people with COVID are asymptomatic and may not be aware they are infected.
  6. Think about who would be the best person to wait with you. In most hospitals, unless you are in a hospice situation, patients are only allowed one designated visitor per day to minimize COVID exposure.
  7. If you are admitted to the hospital with COVID, you cannot have any visitors (with the exception of an end-of-life situation).

Finally, as challenging as the situation is as a patient under these circumstances, be very patient with the nurses, nurse assistants, med techs, physicians and other medical staff. They are true heroes, balancing more care needs at work than ever before, while simultaneously facing a high risk of exposure themselves. Many also have their own family's needs to tend to after a long day or night at work.

Encourage everyone you know to take Gov. Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen's warnings and guidance seriously. You don't want to be the one who has to come to this knowledge through the doorway of personal experience.

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