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St. Louis Urgent Care Clinics Face an Urgent Problem 

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Skipping the vaccine is like playing the biggest game of chicken," says Jill, a charge nurse who works at an ICU in rural Illinois.

At her unit, just a short drive from downtown St. Louis, nurses are overwhelmed, overworked and "don't have any fucks left to give about people's opinion" of the vaccine, she says.

When we talked recently, Jill's ICU had nine patients, which meant they should have had five nurses looking after them, but there were only two nurses available per shift. (We're only using Jill's first name, because she isn't authorized to speak to media.) Sometimes the ICU will borrow a nurse from another floor of the hospital to help out.

The nurses don't dare take a day off, though. Or quit. Jill says they're already "running their asses off" to take care of the patients, and that losing another nurse would further endanger their efforts. She doesn't have required overtime at her hospital but says since nursing is a "team sport" that everybody does their best not to leave their coworkers in the lurch. She describes each shift as a "thirteen-hour nightmare, over and over and over."

Staff at Total Access Urgent Care centers in the St. Louis metro have had to scramble to take care of the rush of patients. - THEO WELLING
  • Staff at Total Access Urgent Care centers in the St. Louis metro have had to scramble to take care of the rush of patients.

"Most of the people I know who have gone through all of this pandemic, we all have such PTSD from these surges that half of our unit is on some anti-anxiety meds. Like, I don't sleep anymore," she says. "It's just ruining people's lives."

"I just feel haunted by all of the people that I have watched suffocate to death. Alone. In an ICU. I know they're not really alone because we're there, but I don't want to die with a bunch of strangers who were just wiping my ass. I just feel like we just carry them with us everywhere all the time. I remember every one of them."

Traumatized and pushed to her limit, when Jill speaks about her job, her emotions are right at the surface. For her and for many other health-care workers in her position, sadness, anger and panic over COVID-19 are all intertwined.

"When you think about these young people in their 40s who have a tracheotomy who are now going into long-term care, all because you wouldn't get a vaccine because you saw it on Facebook," she says, "it's a confusing set of emotions. Because it's like, 'You fucking deserve it,' and then on the other side you're like, 'That is so fucking terrible.'

"For me it's so aggravating when you need to transfer patients who are non-COVID and you can't find a bed because they're all full of COVID idiots. Can you imagine losing a close friend or family member because they couldn't get to the care they needed because the hospital was full? People are still having heart attacks. People are still overdosing. People are still having things that they need an ICU bed for even though COVID is going on."

They don't distribute vaccines at Jill's hospital, so she can't try to convince patients to get one during their stay, but she does have conversations about the vaccine with the few COVID-19 patients who are able to talk to her because they're not on a ventilator.

Even though some of them have barely lived through the worst of the virus, many still won't even consider getting the vaccine. But they'll all take experimental treatments once they're in the hospital.

"I could tell someone we tried this treatment on two monkeys and they both died. But they are so frantic to not feel like they're drowning that they would take it," Jill says. "But they won't take a vaccine. It doesn't even make any sense. Because literally they want it all. They want the remdesivir, they want the dexamethasone, they want the convalescent plasma, they want the antibodies from people who have had COVID — they want it all. They have to sign all of these waivers, but they will sign them all. So will their family. And they will still not do the one thing that will make it so they don't get this sick.

"The people who are unvaccinated are like sitting ducks."

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