By Nick Oxford
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - The patient alarms ping constantly in the COVID-19 ward at a hospital in Oklahoma City, signaling to pulmonologist Dr. Syed Naqvi and the rest of the ICU team that yet another person needs help.
The sheer volume is exhausting, Naqvi said, but the emotional toll is even more draining, given that each time he puts a patient on a ventilator he knows there is little chance that person will recover.
"The disease is real. Unfortunately, the misery is real. We have and still see patients die every day," Naqvi said from an intensive care unit set aside for COVID-19 patients at the SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital.
At the same time as coronavirus vaccinations are being rolled out across the United States, the post-holiday spike in cases appears to be easing.
In Oklahoma, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized has fallen 34% in the last two weeks, with 1,375 admitted as of Thursday, according to a Reuters tally.
The state's rate of infected people to population of 9.6% is higher than the overall U.S. rate of 7.9%, but the fatality rate for those with the coronavirus is lower, at 0.8% compared with 1.7% nationally.
But the pandemic is never taken lightly in hospitals like St. Anthony, where Naqvi frequently sees patients die alone, their loved ones kept at a safe distance.
"I still remember one guy, his last message was to tell his son he loves him... Most of those stories stick with you," Naqvi said.
Naqvi wears two pairs of gloves and two face masks before entering the COVID-19 ICU, in addition to a cap and a gown over his scrubs.
Suited up, he makes the rounds treating patients like Brenda Rex, 77, who has been hospitalized twice over the past week after catching COVID-19 at her nursing home.
She admonished the skeptics who have refused to take the disease seriously.
"You'd better take it seriously because you're going to spread it," Rex said, speaking through a respirator supplying her with oxygen.
"And pay attention to those around you," she said. "If they're not doing what they should be doing... run the other way."
(Reporting by Nick Oxford; Additional reporting by Anurag Maan; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)