A year ago, Rush University Medical Center’s chief medical officer, Dr. Paul Casey, remembers seeing images of hospitals in Italy and New York that were so overcrowded, coronavirus patients had to lay on the floor.
He had to prepare in case the same happened in Chicago.
“I just remember being awake 24/7 and thinking about how are we doing to get the medical center ready for the tsunami that’s on its way,” Casey said on Thursday, nearly a year after WTTW News first interviewed Casey about the measures Rush was taking to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic.
Rush’s first coronavirus patient was a young man who had returned from traveling in Italy; he made a relatively quick recovery.
Since then, the hospital reports tending to 3,689 patients who had to be hospitalized for COVID-19, but were later discharged; another 20,112 patients tested positive for COVID-19 but weren’t sick enough to be admitted.
“There’s so many incredible stories of people that truly would not have been on this planet any more, only thanks to our care teams,” Casey said.
Some of the patients spent six months on lung support, then recovered — something that, early in the pandemic, the medical community wasn’t particularly optimistic could happen.
“I think each of those stories really sticks with me, just how transformative this year has been and how many lives have been changed,” he said. “Certainly a lot of lives lost, but a lot of lives saved due to the care teams, it’s really remarkable.”
Rush is now a leader of a national study – INSPIRE (an acronym for Innovative Support for Patients with SARS COV-2 Infections Registry) in collaboration with Yale and universities in California, Texas and Washington, that focused on COVID-19 patients who are caught in the middle of illness and recovery: the long-haulers.
Typically when someone gets over a virus, they’re no longer ill; but nearly one in three “recovered” COVID-19 patients continue to have no sense of smell or taste, get easily fatigued, or feel foggy in the head.
Rush emergency department physician Dr. Michael Gottlieb says that’s become known as “fuzzy COVID” because individuals heads are so cloudy they may have trouble thinking.
Gottlieb’s the emergency room lead for INSPIRE, which backs describes as an urgent effort to answer pressing questions about COVID-19.
“This is incredibly novel. One of the really amazing things is we have these electronic medical records that can provide us with data,” Gottlieb said. “We’re able to access pharmacies, insurance company data and really whatever the patient allows us to access – it’s patient driven.”
Participants are also asked to answer surveys once every three months, for an 18-month period.
Asking basic demographic data can help to reveal social determinants of health — determinants that the pandemic has proven to be important, even vital.
“Where do you live? What are your access to resources? And also some of the effects we’re seeing,” Gottlieb said. “How are you thinking? How is your energy level? How is your ability to breathe and exercise compared to before?” he said.
Rush is still recruiting participants, who will be paid a stipend, and unlike studies that entail in-person hospital visits, this is all done online.
Gottlieb said researchers want to understand what long-haul COVID-19 patients are experiencing on a daily basis, “to help us deduce several things. First, to start to predict when this may happen. Identify those cases, so we can start to better understand it, and hopefully to guide treatment.”
An individual must sign up within 42 days of testing positive for the coronavirus.
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