‘It’s senseless’: An inside look at UTMB’s COVID ICU unit in League City

LEAGUE CITY, Texas – Wednesday was another busy day inside the COVID unit at UTMB’s League City hospital.

Unfortunately, the staff said they’ve gotten used to considering days like this ordinary. There were patients coding, visitors crying, staff physically and emotionally drained. The difference this day, there’s a TV crew there to shoot it, and the staff seems thankful for that; they’re thankful the public will finally see inside the ICU and why they’re pleading to stop the spread of coronavirus.

While standing at the nurse’s station, KPRC 2 listens to one phone call about consulting a patient on DNR (do not resuscitate). This is a daily discussion and it wasn’t this common before the pandemic, they say. As of recently, the patients they’re talking about are younger, healthier, but still dying.

“People are 30s, 40s and they have young children and it’s senseless,” Leslie Avery, UTMB registered nurse, said.

Avery is currently on a floor with 17 COVID patients. She said each patient needs multiple nurses. However, more often nowadays the staff is requesting to be placed on other floors, away from COVID.

“Because one minute you’re talking to somebody and then the next they’re on a breathing machine and about to die,” Avery explained. “It’s just emotionally wrenching for all of us to have to, to go through this and just watch them die.”

UTMB pulmonary and Critical Care Dr. Luigi Terminella said he can’t ignore the compassion he has for each of his patients, he truly cares for them, but that makes a lot of what he’s endured feel unbearable.

“There’s been at least three sets of couples, husbands and wives and two sets of children, specifically son and mother,” Dr. Terminella recounts.

As of last week, for the first time during the pandemic, there’s some visitors allowed to see COVID patients.

Monika Mackey is here visiting her grandfather. Her grandmother died here two weeks ago.

“It’s hard for him to want to fight, knowing that she’s gone already,” Mackey cried.

Nobody here is vaccinated, according to UTMB.

Dr. Terminella said some patients have been here for a month, but in general, if they get to the ICU floor, they’re dying faster than they go home.

While KPRC 2 was talking to Terminalla, a patient codes. That means the medical staff drops what they’re doing to resuscitate the patient, if that’s their wish.

“Is the family downstairs?” one nurse calls out.

She explained they’re going to try to save his life. One social worker is repeating how urgent it is to find the patient’s family member.

The family made it in time to be by his side. Having family in the room relieves some of the burden that nurses have been enduring, having to be both the caregiver and the comforter when family isn’t there.

UTMB is currently one of the only hospitals allowing visitors inside the COVID unit. At many hospitals, the patient dies alone or with a family watching through a tablet.

“Everybody should pat on the back the nurses because they never get thanked,” Dr. Terminella said. “It’s hard but you know, you do what you do and you stand your ground and you struggle through. I guess the hard part is you know there’s a vaccine that will make a difference and people don’t jump on it.”

He said Hospitalizations from COVID are preventable with a vaccine.