"It was a war zone at one point": Fargo doctors reflect on days working the Covid floors

WDAY News reporter Kevin Wallevand talks with 2 doctors about their experience on a COVID-19 floor at Sanford Health.

"It was a war zone at one point": Fargo doctors reflect on days working the Covid floors

We are fast approaching the "one year mark" of COVID-19 coming into our lives here in the region.

On the Covid floor, where months ago, a surge in cases transformed our hospitals and community, it also changed the lives of those doctors who cared for COVID-19 patients.

"Your day would change in an instant," says Dr. Chris Pribula, hospitalist at Sanford Fargo. "8 medical. No one is on a vent right now," he says.

For the first time in a long time, nobody is on a ventilator; a much different Covid floor. Less than 10 patients now, compared to 115 whose days were spent here in late November.

"Who needs my help right now, and moving to the next person, and the next, the next," Dr. Pribula says.


40 patients at one time on ventilators.

"It was a war zone at one point. It was organized," says Dr. Rishi Seth, another hospitalist at Sanford Fargo.

"It was like that MASH TV show of organized chaos, walking in to see what do I need to do right now. The most urgent thing right now," says Dr. Pribula.

The 4 Covid floors packed, sometimes two to a room. COVID-19 patients watching each other die.

"You just saw the door open at the front of the ICU and open and there would be a patient going to another room, another patient to another room and at the same time, we were discharging and what a lot of times people forget is the volume of people leaving was one thing, the volume coming in was higher than those leaving, you would hear the song that people leaving, yet there was this tsunami of patients coming in," says Dr. Seth.

What kept the Covid unit from collapsing? Nurses and doctors leaving the clinic to come and work the hospital floor they left years ago.


"For them to drop everything to come on board and come in and take care of the sickest patients," says Dr. Seth.

The doctors say the story of one hero nurse, she was in a patient room trying to keep an oxygen mask on a covid patient. He was confused and combative and he ripped the mask off the nurse. She continued to work.

"She became positive Covid, and she got sick, really sick. Best part of the story, after Covid, she came back to work in the Covid unit," says Dr. Seth.

So many stories of tragedy and triumph on the Covid floor. Both Dr. Seth and Dr. Pribula have those stories.

"One of the first patients we had, we were sure he wouldn't make it. We were convinced he would pass away," says Dr. Pribula.

The Uber driver, who nearly died, grateful to survive.

"As he walked out, we cheered for him and a couple days later he called in to say I am so thankful, I am so thankful that he was able to have a 2nd chance in life," says Dr. Seth.

For Dr. Pribula, a patient who failed quickly, needed dialysis, given poor odds, but after many weeks, a victory.


"And then, I got a Christmas card from he and his wife and so when you look at those things, it strikes home that you can make a difference, it is hard, but he is home now," says Dr. Pribula.

Covid ranked as the 3rd leading cause of death in North Dakota in 2020.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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