LA CROSSE, Wisc. (WLAX) — Western Wisconsin hospitals are once again filling up with severe COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant. Officials at Gunderson Health Systems said 80 to 90% of its COVID-19 patients are not vaccinated.
One patient is now encouraging others to get the vaccine after nearly dying from the virus.
“I was more dead than alive when I came in,” 63-year-old Mark Miller said. “I don’t think they thought I was going to live. I really don’t think they did.”
Back in April, the hospital system celebrated the closing of its COVID-19 unit.
“We thought we had beat it for the most part,” Adam Plowman, RN, said. “Very low patient numbers, we had the vaccine; it was effective.”
In July, Gunderson Health Systems was forced to reopen the unit.
“Seeing people dying again is a challenging thing,” Plowman said.
The health system now has all 20 COVID-19 unit beds occupied. Many of the more critical care patients are coming in with one request: to get a vaccine.
“Many times they say to us, ‘can I get the vaccine, can I get the vaccine,’ and now it’s too late,” Plowman said. “Another common one is, ‘I never thought it would hit me this hard.'”
Miller was one of the those patients thinking it would never be him.
“I was that guy who would try and find information to dispute the seriousness of COVID,” Miller said. “I went from being an active, vibrant individual there wasn’t anything that I really couldn’t do, to now if I walk 20 feet I will have to stop and rest.”
Miller started developing a runny nose in July. What started out as one symptom quickly turned into something much more severe. Miller said the illness made it difficult to breathe, and resulted in a 16-day hospital stay.
“What if I would have died?” Miller asked “What kind of impact would it have had on my family? Seriously because I said, ‘I don’t want to get a vaccination. I’m not worried about it.’ That’s selfish as hell. It’s extremely selfish.”
Plowman is one of the many nurses who switched gears from their regular unit to help those suffering from the virus.
“There’s a lot of sick patients right now,” Plowman said. “And I know that we are short-staffed and nurses are getting to the point of being exhausted, they are tired at work. So, knowing that these patients are counting on us, it’s super important to remember that. That’s what gives me more fuel each day.”
Miller’s hospitalization and release still impacts his loved ones. His daughter travels to his home every two days to check on food supply. His father helps him get where he needs to go.
“I feel for the patients who are discharged and excited to go home, but they come to the realization that it’s not going to be back to normal for them,” Plowman said of former patients like Miller.
While Miller is no longer isolated in a hospital room, he may need to be on oxygen for the rest of his life. And just getting ready each morning can take him upwards of three hours.
“It would be like wash an arm and wait five minutes because my oxygen levels would drop,” he said.
COVID-19 hasn’t just changed Miller physically. It’s also transformed his mindset when it comes to the vaccine.
“I will get vaccinated there is no doubt about it,” he said. “It would almost be like a betrayal if I didn’t get vaccinated with what Bailey taught me. A betrayal of almost like a trust because they cared for me and they know the story.” F