Hospitals are scrambling to find enough respirators for coronavirus patients, but now a growing number of doctors are questioning if the machines are necessary, or if, in some cases, they are making the patient’s condition worse.
Many hospitals are reporting unusually high death rates for coronavirus patients on ventilators. According to Fox News, 40 to 50 percent of patients who have severe respiratory distress and are placed on ventilators, die. In New York City, the number of deaths of patients placed on these machines approaches 80 percent, says Fox.
The high death rate has some doctors hesitant to use the respirators, turning to other techniques instead. While health experts say they don’t know the reason for the higher-than-normal death rates on these machines, some speculate that they may be causing a harmful immune reaction, says Fox.
“If we’re able to make them better without intubating them, they are more likely to have a better outcome — we think,” said Dr. Joseph Habboushe M.D., an emergency medicine doctor who works in Manhattan hospitals.
Talking Points Memo explains that mechanical ventilators push oxygen into patients whose lungs are failing by sedating them and sticking a tube into their throats.
“We know that mechanical ventilation is not benign,” said Dr. Eddy Fan, an expert on respiratory care at Toronto General Hospital. “One of the most important findings in the last few decades is that medical ventilation can worsen lung injury — so we have to be careful how we use it.”
Another reason the death rates are high is that coronavirus patients tend to be on the respirators much longer than other patients with conditions like bacterial pneumonia, according to TPM.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo remarked that coronavirus patients commonly are on these devices for “seven days, 10 days, 15 days and they’re passing away.”
Despite the controversy, the growing number of cases still means that ventilators may be in short supply and that is a concern as well, says Habboushe.
And for some people, the ventilator has proven to be a life saver.
Zachary Shemtob was terrified when his 44-year-old husband, David, was put on a ventilator at NYU Langone last month after being infected with the virus, reports TPM.
“Needing to be ventilated might mean never getting off the ventilator,” he thought, after reading about the death rates. Six days later, his husband was breathing on his own.
“David is living proof that they can really save lives, and how incredibly important they are,” he told TPM.
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