COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — For the military medical team that responded to help with COVID-19 patients at Kootenai Health, the stress doesn’t come from their daily duties as reported by our news partner, the Coeur d'Alene Press.
It comes from not knowing if the person they cared for one day will be there the next.
“That’s the mental taxation,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Blaine Woodcock.
Woodcock and U.S. Army Capt. Colton Whitehouse are part of the unit working at KH to provide assistance treating coronavirus patients of more than 100 — more than 40 requiring critical care — that have pushed staff and resources to their limits.
The team of about 25 is providing administrative and medical support. Doctors, nurses and therapists are among those who began their duty here Sept. 9 and will continue for at least 30 days. KH has requested they stay another 30 days.
“Kootenai Health is appreciative of the support that has been provided by the Department of Defense," said Joan Simon, chief nursing officer. "Military personnel have been working in critical care and on the medical floors. This includes 14 nurses, four physicians and two respiratory therapists, as well as two photographers who are documenting the mission.”
Both men spoke with The Press in a phone interview Thursday.
“It’s definitely been high-tempo, and we’ve done the best to support it,” Whitehouse said.
Woodcock and Whitehouse are working as critical care nurses in the intensive care unit. Each is part of a six-person team caring for up to six patients while working 12-hour shifts.
The 32-bed ICU has been about 95 to 100% full since they arrived. Patients range from their early 30s to their 80s.
“The patients are very ill,” Woodcock said.
And often, quite anxious.
“Patients have all kinds of different mindsets,” Whitehouse said.
The Panhandle Health District reported 164 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, 122 of those in Kootenai County.
Kootenai County's COVID-19 positivity rate fell for the first time in a month, dropping from 21.8% to 19.4% based on 3,777 PCR tests for the week ending Sept. 18.
The PHD's positivity rate declined to 19.6% based on 5,153 PCR tests, while the state's positivity rate fell for the first time in three months. It went from 17.4% to 16.4% based on 45,484 PCR tests.
Because COVID-19 is still a relatively new illness, it can be even more frightening for some patients who don’t know what to do or what to expect.
Woodcock said their COVID-19 patients include those who would otherwise be considered generally healthy.
“In general, they’re worried about what their outcome might be,” he said.
Whitehouse, Woodcock and the rest of the military medical team do their best to reassure and comfort them. They let them know they’re using the proven therapies and practices.
“They feel comforted in knowing they are receiving the best care,” Whitehouse said.
While most recover, some don’t. That's the hardest part.
“Not knowing which patients will be there the next morning, that’s where the stress comes in,” Woodcock said.
They have been on previous missions to assist with care for COVID patients in hospitals and are seeing similar symptoms and treatments that require ventilators or other means of oxygen support.
It is demanding work, emotionally, mentally and physically.
“Everybody is doing the best they can,” said Whitehouse, who is on his fourth COVID mission since March 2020.
Woodcock said their team divides duties well, but they often go home exhausted. It’s part of what they are called to do — it’s where background and training takes over.
“We’re prepared for anything,” he said.
Whitehouse is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash., while Woodcock is stationed in Texas.
Both men said they appreciate the warm welcome they’ve received from hospital staff, patients and the community.
U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible Department of Defense support to the government COVID response.
While both have family and friends they would like to be with, they said if they are called to serve 30 more days here, they will be proud to do so.
“We’re happy to stay and provide the support that the hospital needs to take care of these patients,” Woodcock said.
“As long as we’re needed, we’ll be here coming to work every day doing the best we can,” Whitehouse said.
The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our news partner, click here.