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Cook Children's Doctors Share Impact of Pandemic on Non-COVID-19 Patients

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While health officials express cautious optimism that COVID-19 hospitalizations are plateauing among adults, they say the situation is growing dire in our pediatric hospitals.

Amid the surge, Cook Children’s Medical Center announced this week that it’s halting elective surgeries and even sometimes diverting patients away.

It’s a situation that’s left doctors exhausted and forced to make tough decisions.

“It’s not pretty right now in the hospital. Cook Children’s is doing everything they can to accommodate all the children in our community, but at what cost?” said general pediatrician Dr. Diane Arnaout.

On Friday, the hospital released a blog post written by Arnaout after interviewing about a dozen of her colleagues who all had stories to share about the strain on the system.

That included a neurologist.

“He said, ‘I’m not able to do the surgeries for epilepsy that I need to do to keep these kids from having seizures.’ And potentially in the month they need to have this surgery done, they could have a seizure that ends their life. And that’s really frustrating,” said Arnaout.

An endocrinologist told her they’re met with a lot of walls when trying to admit new diabetic patients in need of ICU care.

A gastroenterologist said they’re having to second guess whether to do a feeding tube placement for some patients.  

Meanwhile, the system’s ENTs are weighing the worst-case scenario before opting for airway surgery, taking into account a lack of available PICU space.

"It's unfair and sort of devastating sometimes when a family who has planned to have a decannulation, which is when a breathing tube is taken out of a child. You know, they've planned for it for the last six months and here comes the day. We're sorry. We don't have the room for you. We don't have the resources right now,” she said.

It’s an emotionally draining situation for a healthcare system already stretched thin.

“It's devastating and it's heartbreaking to be a doctor right now, because when you want to help, sometimes there are things happening in our hospital system where we just can't get that help sometimes. Though Cook is doing everything they can right now to just make do and make sure every child who needs care is getting it,” said Arnaout.

For now, she said she and her colleagues are taking it one day at a time as they hold onto hope that the community will do its part by distancing, masking, and most importantly, getting vaccinated.

“It is amazing what small changes in our actions can do for our community as a whole,” said said.

Arnaout is also encouraging parents to go ahead and get their kids vaccinated for the flu, which they’ve already seen a few cases of.

You can read her full article and interviews with her colleagues in Cook Children’s Checkup Newsroom.

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