'It's a war': A look inside Beaumont's COVID-19 unit as doctors, nurses fight to keep patients alive

It's been more than a year of overwhelming work for families and friends on the frontline fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. They treat our neighbors, grandparents, and friends when they need it, and as cases in Michigan start to slow, we're getting a first look at what it's really like inside a Beaumont COVID-19 unit.

All four COVID units and two intensive care units at Beaumont in Troy were at max capacity as FOX 2's Jessica Dupnack was allowed inside for a look behind the curtain to see what frontliners have lived for a full year.

Dr. Chad Mansour works in the COVID-19 unit at the Beaumont hospital. He told us he's "extremely tired" and recently hit his lowest point.

"My low point was recently with a younger patient, 50, and he did not make it. That’s tough to digest," Mansour said.
It's quiet chaos inside the unit. It's not like it's shown on TV, as nurses monitor some patients 24 hours a day by video from outside the rooms. Then whey do go in, they have to layer up head to toe.

RELATED: When will Michigan lift COVID-19 mask mandates?

For this story, Jessica Dupnack layered up with PPE and wore a suit. It was hot and disorienting and she only did it once. Healthcare workers do it over and over again. 

Before Patrick Flood was admitted, he was having thoughts he'd never had before and thought he was running out of time.

"I was thinking, 'Am I going to die or something?'" Flood said. "Ten feet and I couldn’t catch my breath, couldn’t fill my lungs up. You take breathing for granted. I’ve never so consciously thought about breathing in my life. Each breath I couldn’t do it and I got scared."
He was immediately admitted to a COVID unit and put on Remdesivir, steroids, and oxygen.

Doctors say he's one of the lucky ones and, while the treatment is working, more days of isolation are ahead of him before he can be reunited with his baby boy.

Nancy Vedolich is the charging nurse at Troy Beaumont and has been working in the COVID unit since the beginning. She says this is a war. 

"This is a war, I mean it is, and we are the ones on the frontline making sure their loved ones are staying safe," Vedolich said. "I had a patient the other day who still didn’t believe it was a real thing while he’s on a high amount of oxygen and all kinds of therapies, I don’t understand how the two can do together."

She says the worst has been treating entire families and some don't survive. 

More: As COVID cases slow, Michigan health director 'cautiously optimistic'

"It's draining. It's extremely draining. One day you’re working and the patient is fine and the next morning they have been moved to the ICU. It happens so quickly and it’s so unpredictable," Vedolich said.

Aniceta Vista is a former nurse who said she had been a skeptic about the virus at first but changed her mind after she ended up hospitalized.

"I was scared. I thought that was it for me," she said.

The 74-year-old had received one dose of the vaccine when she got sick. Her oxygen levels are still too unstable for her to go home, so she remains at Beaumont where staff are caring tirelessly for her.

"They are the superheroes they put their lives on the line to save so many people including me," Vista said.

Healthcare workers said they are taking care of patients physically and providing mental support to people who are scared and isolated.

"They’re scared, they’re anxious. They don’t know if they’re going to do well or not," Mansour said. "It’s nonstop. Even when we aren’t doing direct care we are still making calls, still putting orders in. It's 24 hours. Nonstop."

Beaumont's numbers have since plateaued since Jessica Dupnack visited last week, but Beaumont said they are still struggling to find enough space for patients and staff to care for them.