By Gabe Gutierrez and Carolina Gonzalez
“It’s shocking to me how fast it’s accelerated in the last few weeks,” Dr. Kris Spanjian said, adding the hospital was very close to capacity. “We can probably find beds, but it’s going to be at the expense of non-Covid patients.”
BILLINGS, Mont. — It happened so fast, Joey Traywick missed it.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time” he said. “I know how much time I have.”
But not this time. Traywick, a 48-year-old registered nurse, had misjudged how acute his patient’s illness was. By the time he returned to her room, she was gone.
She had died alone.
“And I thought, ‘I’m never going to let that happen again,’” Traywick said, choking back tears. “It snuck up on me, and it surprised me because it’s so relentless. … I (no longer) miss it. If I have to stay late after working, if it means doing it on my day off. They’re not going to pass alone on my unit. Again. None of them.”
Since then, Traywick said he’s personally held hands with 23 patients who have died.
“I never thought it would happen here,” he said. “I never thought we would be anywhere close to where we are now. … I’m a good nurse — and the nurses I work with are good nurses — but we are broken.”
‘We are broken’: Montana health care workers battle growing Covid outbreak https://t.co/gEJZD22bpt
— Gabe Gutierrez (@gabegutierrez) October 30, 2020
His experience is shared by health care workers across the country and increasingly in rural areas such as Montana. Billings has a population of more than 100,000, but St. Vincent Healthcare treats critical patients from across the state.
On Thursday, Montana reported its second-highest number of daily Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began. St. Vincent has now expanded to three Covid-19 units.
NBC News was granted rare access inside the ICU — with the permission of patients’ families — to document the virus’ devastating impact. One of the patients had just been taken off a ventilator.
“He is improved,” Dr. Kris Spanjian said. “But that doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods yet. He is still very critical.”