When Gerardo Gómez, infected with covid-19, saw that his pneumonia was getting worse, he went to a Phoenix hospital, where, on a makeshift stretcher in a corridor and connected to an oxygen tank, he waited for days until be able to go to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
Gomez’s situation is similar to that of many others in Arizona, a state that has seen a surge in cases of the virus and has put hospitals in this southern state on the brink of collapse, with record-breaking bed occupancy figures.
For the second time during the pandemic, Arizona tops the list of places with the highest average weekly infections. According to 91-divoc.com, a site that uses data from John Hopkins University, the state currently has the highest per capita rate of infections of any region in the world.
As of Sunday, 93% of all coronavirus beds and 92% of all inpatient beds in Arizona were occupied.
The criteria for choosing people who require a bed in intensive care have changed, Erika Hernández, a cardiopulmonary specialist who works in Phoenix hospitals, told EFE that priority is given to the most serious patients.
“There are too many people in hospitals and there are patients that we have to leave for days in the emergency room waiting for a room or a bed,” he revealed.
“BEDS PACKED IN THE CORRIDORS”
This is the situation experienced by the Mexican Gómez, 43, who remembers that before going to the emergency room of the Banner Hospital, he was transferred to an anteroom, which they call “purple zone” and where they place all the patients with coronavirus waiting for a bed in the ICU.
“You see so many vulnerable people, coughing, covering their faces, with irritated eyes, some immediately put the oxygen tank on them, as was my case. I spent three days in that anteroom waiting for a bed. You can see the stretchers piled up in the corridors, because there are no beds and they cannot move you to the floor, ”he told Efe.
Because his oxygenation was decreasing, he achieved a quarter in intensive care, but during his wait he noticed that the flow of affected people in the “purple zone” was increasing.
“About ten people arrived per hour, and they were waiting for a bed in that room where there are only chairs, only the intense cough of the sick is heard,” he said.
“When they put me in a bed I was very bad, I was delirious, they put me on an antiviral to see if I would respond because my oxygen was very low. They wanted to intubate me, but I resisted, ”he recalled.
“Doctors rely on breathing to assign you a bed. An oxygenation below 80 is an emergency. I remember an old man arrived and they immediately brought him up, he looked very bad, “he added.
HOSPITALS ON THE EDGE
In Arizona, inpatient beds, intensive care beds and ventilators used by COVID-19 patients are close to full occupancy.
On Sunday, when health authorities reported 17,200 new cases registered in the last 24 hours, a record number since the start of the pandemic, there were 131 beds in ICUs and 667 for regular patients across the state.
Last week, Phoenix hospitals had to start temporarily halting emergency and hospital transfers due to the overwhelming number of patients they register.
Rogelio Mejía, a doctor who treats patients with coronavirus in a hospital in Arizona, told Efe that the criteria for transfers to the emergency room is at the discretion of the staff who work there. “It is obvious that if you have lower oxygen levels they happen to you first,” he stressed.
Gomez, who managed to leave last week after more than ten days in intensive care, warned: “If you go to an emergency there is no guarantee that you will receive immediate attention.”
“Hospitals are saturated and many patients are returned to their homes to continue their treatment at home,” he added.