'Begging': Covid nurse reveals chilling regret of life-support patients

·6-min read

ICU nurses in Melbourne have issued a heartbreaking plea for Victorians to get vaccination as the escalating Delta outbreak strains hospital resources.

Speaking at the state’s daily Covid briefing on Sunday, Michelle Spence, from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and Jacqui Harper, from the Northern Hospital, shared their harrowing experiences on the pandemic’s frontline to raise awareness about how dangerous and damaging the virus is.

A doctor treats a patient who is struggling to get oxygen with a bag valve mask.
Exhausted ICU nurses in Melbourne have spoken out about the challenges of working on the frontline of Victoria's worsening Covid situation. Source: Reuters

Patient’s ‘begging’ for vaccine

Ms Spence, who has been an ICU nurse for 24 years, warned the wildly infectious Delta strain “does not discriminate” as she tearfully revealed chilling vaccine regrets from Covid-19 patients.

“One of the saddest things I've seen over the last few weeks is people wanting the vaccination just before we put them on a life support machine,” she said.

“That is the absolute truth. I've seen it myself. They are begging for the vaccination. They are very young and once we get to that point to put them on life support, it is really too late.”

"This could be you."

Ms Spence recalled a 30-year-old unvaccinated patient she treated last week as she warned Covid can strike at any age. 

"No past history, being put on a ventilator. Not 150 kilos, just a 'you and I' in my opinion, he wasn't vaccinated. That was his card out of this," she explained. 

"He didn't get vaccinated and now is on life support at Royal Melbourne. It is not old people, not people with co-morbidities, not anything like that. It absolutely does not discriminate and I've seen it with my own eyes."

ICU nurser Michelle Spence detailing how Covid patients 'beg' for the vaccine as they are put on life support.
Michelle Spence, ICU nurse unit manager at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, has revealed how many Covid patients beg for the vaccine as they are put on life support. Source: Sky News

Delta deterioration ‘so sudden’

Ms Harper followed by detailing the frightening physical toll of the virus.

“Covid-19 is a terrible illness. The patients we see coming into our hospitals are seriously, seriously ill,” she began.

“The clinical deterioration is so sudden. One minute sitting in a chair, an hour later they could be saying their goodbyes.”

She echoed Ms Spence’s warning, explaining how many patients were unvaccinated and regretted not getting the jab.

"They find it difficult to breathe, some needing high levels of oxygen, ventilators and ICU support," Ms Harper said.

The nurse unit manager described the distressing reality of keeping patients separated from their families.

“It is difficult for our patients unable to see their loved ones. We have to hold the iPads for them. But we need to keep our patients safe and our staff safe and you, the community,” she said.

“We are coping, but this is very challenging work.”

Another Melbourne ICU nurse Jacqui Harper during Sunday's Covid update in Victoria.
Jacqui Harper, ICU nurse unit manager at Melbourne's Northern Hospital, described the harrowing reality the virus on the physical and mental health of her patients. Source: Sky News

‘Challenging’ few months as lockdown lift looms

About 500 Victorians are currently being treated for Covid-19 in hospital.

Of those, 98 are in intensive care, 57 are on a ventilator and only 5 per cent were vaccinated.

“In other words, if you are fully vaccinated, you are at but a fraction, a tiny percentage of the risk of being hospitalised and becoming gravely ill, your risk is dramatically reduced,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.

“It is the single most important thing you can do to make sure that you don't finish up in hospital or someone that you love finishes up in hospital.”

The premier’s desperate vaccine appeal comes as the government prepares to ease the state’s lockdown when the double-dose vaccination rate reaches 70 per cent.

It’s expected the state will hit this target in late October, with almost 52 per cent of Victoria’s adult population now fully vaccinated.

“We are so close. We are so, so close, we can see to the other side of this now,” Mr Andrews told reporters.

“That will be for many, in many respects, the best time for our state, but it will be the hardest and most challenging time for our health system, the hardest and most challenging time for our nurses, ambos, doctors, the whole team.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews addresses the media during a press conference in Melbourne, Friday, October 1, 2021. Source: AAP
Victoria has recorded 1220 local Covid cases on Sunday morning. Source: AAP

Desperate vaccination appeal  

Mr Andrews said it was vital to keep vaccination rates high as restrictions are lifted.

"It is all about trying to make sure that our nurses don't have more patients than they otherwise would have, that an already very difficult job doesn't become impossible," he said.

Ms Spence admitted ICU units were already stretched and had resorted to training new nurses in as little as four days.

“We know the next few months will be really, really tough. We are working hard to have beds available, but we cannot do this alone,” she said.

“I know you're frustrated, I know you're scared, I know you're over it, we are all over it, but it's time, time to make a difference.

"We are absolutely begging you to go out and do the one thing you can do for yourself, the one thing you can do for your family and loved ones and the one thing you can do for your health care system is to get vaccinated."

Ms Harper added: "All three of these vaccines are safe and effective and your best protection against this virus. It protects you from coming into a COVID ward or needing ICU. Please, get vaccinated."

Another big spike in Vic cases

It comes after Victoria notched up another worrying spike in cases, with 1220 new local infections and three deaths recorded on Sunday. 

Saturday saw the state's highest daily peak since the pandemic began with 1488 infections.

Melbourne is a day away from claiming the unwanted title of world's most locked down city, surpassing the record set by the Argentinian city Buenos Aires. 

"There is pain, there is loss, there is however hope. And a real optimism. And clarity," Mr Andrews said. 

"We are going to get past this. We're going to end this lockdown and open up. And all that we will enjoy then will be as a result of what we have given to get to that point."

Mr Andrews said he was proud of the sacrifices Melburnians had made as he called for one final push. 

"It's only a few more weeks. We've just got to be vaccinated. That is the key not just to meet our targets but to have less people in hospital," he said.

He also hit back at those who had been critical of his response to the pandemic. 

"But if you are unhappy, what is your alternative? What would you do? Would you open every thing up tomorrow? Would you pretend that it was over because you desperately wanted to be? It isn't over yet. It will be soon," Mr Andrews said.

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