WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — With COVID-19 cases again surging thanks to the delta variant, news out of hospitals in Palm Beach County remains guarded at best.
But Contact 5 lifted the curtain, speaking to doctors on what they are seeing on the front lines and the emotional toll it takes dealing with COVID-19 death on a daily basis.
Both medical residents at Florida Atlantic University's Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine are taking care of patients at Palm Beach County hospitals as part of their training.
It's been baptism by fire for these young doctors as the county's hospital report shows more than 800 COVID-positive adults admitted in area hospitals with about 200 in intensive care units.
Most of the COVID-19 infections requiring hospitalization are those who have not been vaccinated, health professionals say. According to the county, hospitals are running at 6% deficit in available hospital beds, forcing them to scramble to find room for patients.
"This is not a joke. People are dying and it's very, very frequent," Dr. Daniella Lamour, a second-year emergency medicine resident at FAU, said. "This could be my little sister. This could be my little cousin. This could be anyone."
Lamour said she's seeing COVID-19 patients of all ages, including a 16-year-old.
"I had a 21-year-old. I had a 24-year-old. I had a 28-year-old," she said.
One patient went without food or sleep for five days, breathing with the help of a machine that delivered oxygen. She asked Lamour if it was too late to get the vaccine.
"Every day she's telling me she can't do it anymore, she can't do it, and I was always trying to give her hope and say, 'Just try a little longer. Just try a little longer.' Until one day she told me she couldn't do it anymore, so I had to call her son," Lamour said.
But the son couldn't get into the room to hold his mother's hand under COVID-19 protocols. So, he told Lamour everything he wanted to tell her.
"We intubated her, and he cried like no tomorrow because right when we intubated her, (her) blood pressured dropped. She went into organ failure," Lamour said. "We literally saw her die right in front of our eyes."
Dr. Thomas Peterson, a third-year emergency medicine resident at FAU, said he's seen multiple patients under 40 die in the emergency department due to COVID-related complications over the past one to two months.
"We're seeing a huge surge of unvaccinated patients and we are seeing a smaller number of vaccinated patients," Peterson said. "Overall, they tend to do better."
More than 53% of Florida's population, or 11.3 million residents, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"It's hard to go home and spend time with your wife, to spend time with your son, to spend time with your family, with your friends, 45 minutes after you talked to a family who just lost their son, who lost their mother," Peterson said.
Peterson also recalled the story of a 40-year-old father who had not been vaccinated. He was playing with his children and didn't feel well. By the time he got to the emergency room, his heart was no longer beating on its own.
"He was worked by the physicians, by the nurses, for a long time in the emergency department, trying to bring, you know, this young father back so that he could spend his life with his children and, unfortunately, he succumbed to side effects of COVID," Peterson said.
Both young doctors pleaded with county residents to get vaccinated and to wear face masks.
"I would urge you to just be responsible, realize that this is bigger than all of us," Lamour said.
Peterson added: "It will protect you, it will protect your loved ones and it will just make such a huge difference on the burden of health care right now, because we need to have space in the hospitals."