Why More Covid-19 Patients Are Surviving the ICU
Intensive care has risen to the challenge of 2020. Here’s what has changed.
This story is part of “Six Months In,” a special weeklong Elemental series reflecting on where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, and what the future holds for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Matt Morgan, MD, an intensive care doctor at the University Hospital of Wales, in the United Kingdom, vividly remembers his first Covid-19 patient. It was a busy day at his hospital, and the patient was so ill upon arrival at the intensive care unit (ICU) that they needed life support almost immediately.
Back then, in late March, Morgan knew that Covid-19 had already caused havoc in Italy and begun spreading in the U.K. Morgan, who is also Wales’ lead for critical care research, had expected the disease would reach his hospital, but it was only when he and his team began treating patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 that they realized how serious Covid-19 can be.
“It’s fair to say in those early days we thought Covid was a lung disease,” he says. The virus is now known to cause problems in other organs, including the heart, kidneys, and brain. In some cases, patients who survive are left with long-lasting symptoms.
That first patient Morgan treated spent a long time in intensive care — but the attention they received there meant they survived.
Around the world, ICU physicians like Morgan have battled Covid-19 doggedly from day one, even as some ICUs have been stretched to or beyond capacity. Responding to the pandemic has meant adopting new procedures, such as isolating patients from their families and adapting to changing guidelines regarding the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Hospital staff have worked interminable hours. Some have died from Covid-19 themselves. And many have watched patients slip away while others have pulled through.