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“Patients are begging for help because they can’t breathe.” Tacoma respiratory therapist sees grim toll of COVID-19.

Respiratory therapist Liz Lewis wishes unvaccinated people could step into her shoes. Even for a day.

“If only I could take them into the ICU for a day,” Lewis said. “They could see what happens in a COVID ICU. It’s gut-wrenching.” 

Lewis paints a grim picture of patients struggling with COVID-19 at St. Joseph Medical Center. Tubes running this way and that. Machines buzzing. Humans—our neighbors—in unimaginable pain. 

“Patients are begging for help because they can’t breathe,” she said. “Or begging for me to help them die because they’re too exhausted.” 

Lewis’ telling of a COVID-19 ICU unit reminds us the pandemic is far from over. Patients still crowd hospitals 20 months after we confirmed the first COVID-19 case in Pierce County. We are quickly approaching 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pierce County. And we’re close to more than 1,000 confirmed deaths from the virus. 

“I have many patients who have come in and by the time they reach the ICU they ask for the vaccine,” Lewis said. “At that point it’s too late.”

Some can escape the realities of COVID-19 continuing around us. But many like Lewis live it daily. 

“I live COVID-19 for 12-plus hours a day,” Lewis said. “I see how detrimental it is. I see people dying without their families.”