Iowa is a national leader in many things, positive and good. We are also one of the leading states in a dramatic rise in active Covid cases. The staggering daily increase in coronavirus cases in Iowa is jaw-dropping. In a November 13, 2020 article in The Atlantic, University of Iowa Dr. Eli Perencevich is quoted as saying that “the healthcare system in Iowa is going to collapse, no question.” Many of Iowa’s hospitals are near or at capacity in terms of beds and beyond capacity in terms of staff.
A week ago today, I was scheduled for a total hip replacement at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. I made it through the covid test and was relaxing in my hotel room in Iowa City in advance of the surgery the following morning when the NP in my surgical team called me. “I have some bad news,” she said. The only reason that they were going to call me is if my Covid test came back positive. “I am so sorry. We have to cancel your surgery tomorrow due to the surge of patients we are taking who have coronavirus. The hospital can’t take on any non-emergent patients because we do not have a bed for you.”
The rug had been pulled out from underneath me. She was so kind and understanding. I know that this is the last thing they wanted to do. Surgeries like mine are great educational opportunities for new surgeons to work alongside experienced ones. These procedures pay the bills to meet the extraordinary costs of caring for more complicated cases, such as treating patients with Covid.
The University of Iowa hospital is the largest hospital in the state and officially lists upwards of 700 beds. Of course, these are not filled with patients who only have Covid. Other medical conditions continue to affect people, after all.
Our situation in Iowa is getting national attention, from the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Hill. Iowa’s 87-year old senior Senator Charles Grassley has an active case of Covid. A few weeks ago, he said that his doctor told him he didn’t need to wear a mask. Our governor has been frequently seen without a mask in public, particularly on the campaign trail with Republican candidates in Iowa. As late as last last week, she claimed that the strong GOP victories in Iowa were confirmation that people approved of the approach that her administration was taking. It’s important to note that she was not up for election this year and I’m not sure that is an accurate statement.
On Monday, she came short of calling for an across-the-board mask mandate. She again urged Iowans to “do the right thing” as she has trusted us to do all along. Still, in my town, about half of the folks in the grocery store with me during my weekly shopping are without masks. It’s pretty evident that we’ve all overestimated our trust in each other.
I am fortunate that my job allows… no, requires me to work from home. I’m nearing 250 days at home, working from a desk and laptop in a corner of my bedroom. My adult children are here, one attending college via online courses and one recent college grad trying to get a foot in the door to start a career.
November is melancholy anyway. Longer shadows and shorter days. The darkness feels heavier and there is a sense right now that we are moving into a different phase of this nightmare. For all of those who have died, for all of those who are in hospitals and fighting this virus, for all the healthcare workers who are mentally and physically beyond exhausted, for the people who love them, and for the rest of us, my prayers for healing, comfort, and strength. And my despair for the needless suffering and sorrow. Please, mask up. Stay home when you can. Don’t let your guard down. We need everyone to work together to get to the other side of this.