Huntsville Hospital ER chief says COVID-19 patients can struggle to breathe, face wracking cough
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Huntsville Hospital continues to hit all-time highs in COVID-19 patient admissions.

The hospital Friday reported 418 COVID-19 patients systemwide, including 158 in Huntsville.

Dr. Sherrie Squyres, medical director of the Huntsville Hospital Emergency Department, said hospital staff have felt the burden of the months-long pandemic, but she also credited the staff for an extraordinary effort. Squyres said the hospital has also been very effective in ensuring medical personnel have all the personal protective equipment they’ve needed.

“This has certainly been the biggest challenge of my career. I think that’s true of most everybody in the hospital,” she said. “This thing has just gone way beyond what any of us really expected.”

Squyres said hospital personnel are looking forward to a vaccine and what it can do for vulnerable members of the community. But, she also wants people to take seriously the steps that can stop the virus spread until a vaccine is widely administered.

“Masking works,” she said. “Social distancing works, handwashing, sanitizing works. If there is a message that I could get out to medical and non-medical personnel, if we do these things, we can beat this thing.”

She said the virus has created fear in the people who do need care.

“Patients come in and they are scared,” Squyres. “And that is probably the worst thing, is just that apprehension. Then they’re scared they’re going to be put on a ventilator. They’re scared they won’t see their family. Just that apprehension about not knowing about how you’re going to do.”

Patients are putting off coming to the hospital, she said.

“If you’re sick, you know vomiting, diarrhea that’s bad, you are short of breath, then you need to come into the hospital,” she said. “We’re seeing all kinds, we’re seeing people that have put it off because they don’t think they have it, or they have other family members that they are concerned about they need to take care of, so they’re waiting to come in until late.

“We’ve seen a lot that have a test that are doing fairly well, and then a few days later they are worse and short of breath and coughing,” Squyres said.

It can be very difficult battle.

“The worst thing the patients tell us is the shortness of breath,” she said. “Patients that get short of breath a lot of times get really short of breath. And they just feel they can’t breathe, they are very anxious, some of them feel like they’re going to pass out.”

Coughing fits are also common, leading to loss of sleep and worse.

“Some of them, the coughing is just, it’s the kind of cough that just nothing stops it,” she said. “And if any of you have ever had a really bad cough, you just cough and cough and cough, you cough so much it makes you even more short of breath.”

The hospital is crowded and plenty of patients are seriously ill.

“People are sick, they have fever, and they have an incessant cough and just a lot of shortness of breath,” Squyres said. “The ones that are sick are really sick.”

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