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August 23, 2021

A Message From A Physician Caring for COVID Patients

On August 2, 2021, Philip Keith, MD, with Lexington Critical Care, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice, posted this message on his Facebook page. At the time of publication, the hospital had 141 patients with COVID-19 — 86% were unvaccinated, 30% were in the ICU and 26% were on ventilators.

As I sit here thinking of what to say, on my first day off after 21 straight days of 16- to 20-hour days, I reflect over the last three weeks and feel extreme disappointment. Growing up, with every tough decision, the thing that stopped me most often when I knew something was wrong was fear of disappointing my parents. I could handle losing; I could handle failing; but I could not stand disappointing my parents. Of all the emotions I feel right now, the overwhelming feeling is disappointment in our society over a lack of concern for humanity. A lack of value for human life, whether at the hands of a largely preventable virus, another senseless murder or turning our backs on millions in our own country who will sleep in the streets without a meal tonight.

Let me start by saying that this post is not for sympathy. Anybody who truly knows me knows I’m honest and upfront. I go to work because I want to be there. It’s what God called me to do. If your response to this post is that I signed up for it, you’re right. But you’re missing the point. This isn’t a contest.

Our hospital system is quickly becoming overwhelmed. Two weeks ago, we had no ICU patients with COVID-19. Today, we have 30. And that number doesn’t include the ones who have already come and gone — some home to their families and many to their eternal home. I love caring for these patients. And I will continue to do it with a smile and an annoying fist bump every time. But it hurts the same — every single time — when we talk to a grown man gasping for air and in tears before he goes on a ventilator, not knowing if his wife will be a widow or if his kids will grow up never knowing their father. It doesn’t matter if he’s the 0.9%. He is somebody’s everything. To count him as a statistic is inhumane.

To say COVID-19 only affects the elderly and those with comorbidities is wrong. Those statements are false, simply not true. If you don’t believe me, I have more than a handful of friends who are living proof and would be willing to tell their personal stories. Many reputable websites have statistics reported by health care professionals and organizations.

I’m a simple country man who was taught by my grandfather to believe nothing you hear and half of what you see. What I have seen is that this horrible disease affects all of us, young and old. My job forces me to see it and seeing is believing. More importantly, who are we to judge and determine whose life is valuable and precious enough to matter? At what other time in our lives has our answer to a tragic and avoidable death been, “Oh, well. He was 50 years old and had high blood pressure.” How many “perfectly healthy” people are on our planet? How many of these people must die before it’s enough to matter?

Here’s a fact. Seventy-four percent of Americans over 20 years old are overweight ( That’s probably the number one comorbidity linked to poor outcomes from COVID-19. In Americans over 20 years old, 47% of African-American women and 43% of African-American men, 31% of Caucasian women and 33% of Caucasian men; and 85% of Americans over age 65 (American Heart Association) have high blood pressure. Facts. They can’t be argued. Blue is blue and two plus two is four. So, do those facts mean every life lost over 20 is expected? Does it mean we shouldn’t grieve when our mother dies from cancer? Or when our dad dies of a heart attack unexpectedly at work one day? They were both over 20 and overweight so they should’ve known it would happen? “We are all going to die of something,” people say when people die of COVID-19. But death of any other cause is tragic, unexpected, unfair. Why is COVID-19 so different to the rest of the world?

To those who argue the flu is much worse than COVID-19, you are wrong. Facts are facts – 600,000 deaths compared to 22,000 ( There. Is. No. Other. Argument. Please don’t repeat comments from your friends’ Facebook posts. Your cousin’s girlfriend’s best friend who used to be a candy striper in the hospital is not a reliable source.

Again, seeing is believing. In the past two weeks, we have filled three ICUs with critically ill COVID-19 patients. I have cared for more critically ill COVID-19 patients this past month than critically ill patients with flu in my entire career.

For those who question the vaccine, the government already tracks you on your phone, so don’t worry about the microchip you think is injected with the vaccine.

In all seriousness, the vaccine works. The stats don’t lie. No vaccine has 100% efficacy. Neither does any treatment. If we only do things that work 100% of the time, we’d never do anything… except die and pay taxes. The vaccine works by preventing cases and limiting the severity of others. Believe me. Believe the scientists.  Again, the numbers don’t lie.  And again, seeing is believing.  For months, our ICUs overflowed with critically ill COVID-19 patients.  Then, for a brief period, there were none.  Access to vaccines was the only thing that changed.

For those who still question the validity, safety and efficacy of the vaccine, I encourage you to ask your questions and see for yourself.  But please, look for answers from those with a true understanding of research and valid evidence to answer your questions and address your concerns. And please, listen to the answers. Don’t plan your rebuttal while you tune out what you don’t want to hear. Understand the difference between FDA approval and FDA emergency use authorization (EUA).  Understand the process and the checkpoints.  I’m a clinician, not a researcher. I didn’t know until I looked it up myself.  It’s not hard to find this information.

To those who truly have concerns after reviewing the research and data and still choose not to take the public health stance to help our community as a whole, that choice is yours. No one is trying to deny you that right. Please know my frustration will not affect my attitude or effort when you get sick. There is no judgment.  I don’t know if you are vaccinated or not when I meet you, and at that point, it doesn’t matter.  Eighty to 90% of the people we care for with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, and we never withhold treatment, empathy or effort from any of them. Our frustration lies with those who devalue human life by spreading false information, as well as those who treat those affected by this disease as a number not worthy of our consideration.

Somehow, we made this global tragedy — dying from a largely preventable disease — a personal vendetta. In the beginning, we refused to wear masks. Now, we refuse the vaccine. This pandemic is an opportunity to rally together, but instead, it divides us. Without change, history tends to repeat itself.  We’re seeing it again right before our eyes.

Our creator made us out of love, and our sole purpose on Earth is to show and share that love. In the greatest global tragedy of our lifetime, we have chosen to neglect love and spread hate. Let’s be more like our children and recreate innocent love.

Philip Keith, MD