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ICU Director recalls the ‘war zone’ at Bayonne Medical Center at the pandemic’s peak

Dr. Mikhail Litinski detailed the "surreal" experience

Dr. Mikhail Litinski, ICU Director at BMC

With New Jersey stuck in Phase 2 of reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic, local hospitals such as Bayonne Medical Center (BMC) have recovered from the initial surge and are preparing for the future.

Dr. Mikhail Litinski is the Director of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at BMC.

In an interview with the Bayonne Community News, Litinski described the “war zone” at the hospital’s ICU during the peak of the pandemic.

A turn for the worse 

Litinski said that BMC was “hit pretty hard” in terms of the number of virus patients hospitalized.

He said it was a surreal experience coming to work every day and witnessing the sheer number of COVID-19 patients lying in the ICU, as well as in the ER and other areas outside the ICU.

ICU beds were completely filled with virus patients. According to Litinski, the situation had become “ICU without borders,” as other areas of the hospital were converted to accommodate COVID-19 patients in need of intensive care.

He said it was even more surreal to see so many virus patients on ventilators, noting how quickly some patients take a turn for the worse.

“People may not be acutely sick prior, and they were coming down with respiratory failure within a day or so,” Litinski said. “Some people, once intubated, passed away really fast.”

Saving the most serious

For some of the most critical cases, Litinski said the hospital used Extracorporal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) therapy.

Many COVID-19 patients die of respiratory failure despite the use of ventilators to provide oxygen and positive pressure. ECMO therapy is for patients with respiratory failure and low oxygen levels even with a ventilator.

ECMO serves as an “external lung” by bypassing the failing lungs.

The machine pumps, oxygenates, and removes waste from a patient’s blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest, before propelling blood back into the patient’s body. Oxygen is supplied to oxygen-starved organs, which will help prevent multiple vital organs from early failure.

The treatment is used only when absolutely necessary. The primary treatment methods remain Remdesivir, convalescent plasma therapy, and IL-6 inhibitors.

Staff succumbs

Litinski said the emotional toll became even heavier as some of his coworkers were admitted to the ICU.

“When you see so many of your colleagues come down, so severely affected, it’s also substantially taxing on your mind,” Litinski said, but patient care is the number-one priority.

It was all hands on deck as Litinski worked with other ICU doctors and the ER to organize supply distribution within the ICU and other ICU areas set up in the hospital.

Bracing for a second surge

Now, as the hospital fluctuates between one and no COVID-19 patients, BMC is bracing for a second surge.

“Even when there were the first signs of COVID-19 slowing down in New Jersey and at Bayonne Medical Center, we were already concerned if a second wave was going to hit or not,” Litinski said.

To that end, the hospital has instituted better testing capabilities for staff and patients. In March and April, tests were scarce. Now the hospital can test people and get results in about a half hour.

The hospital has a months-long stockpile of personal protection equipment (PPE). Masks and PPE have been provided to staff and patients, including an additional mask when patients are discharged.

Litinski advises patients with non-COVID-19 illnesses who need medical attention to seek help now, considering the safety precautions to prevent the spread of the virus and the lack of COVID-19 patients at the hospital. He said that a lot of people got sick or died at home from non-COVID-19-related issues during quarantine lack of treatment and fear of the virus.

Bayonne residents can be tested at BMC after making an appointment with their physicians.

Testing is also available at the RiteAid in uptown, and CityMD on Route 440. For more information, go to riteaid.com or citymd.com.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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