Helpless to improve her infant son’s breathing as he was about to be intubated, Catherine Perrilloux did the only thing that came naturally to her in that moment, the worst of her life: She looked away and prayed. The boy, known as Junior, was two months old and gravely ill with Covid-19.
“I see a bunch of them crowding around the room with the ventilator machine, and then they pull out the tubing, and I’m just losing control,” Ms. Perrilloux, a dean at a nearby private school, recalled last week in her son’s room in the pediatric intensive care unit. “There’s nothing that you could say to make it better. You can’t do anything. It’s just paralyzing.”
At Children’s Hospital New Orleans, where the intensive care unit has been jammed with Covid-19 patients, scenes like this have played out unrelentingly over the past month. Nurses raced around monitoring one gut-wrenching case after another. One child was getting a complicated breathing treatment known as ECMO, a last resort after ventilators fail, which nurses said was almost unheard-of for pediatric cases. About a half-dozen others were in various stages of distress.
“We all thought, ‘Well, thankfully it’s not happening to the kids; none of us would be able to stomach that,’” said Mark Melancon, a longtime nurse at the hospital, recalling previous stages of the coronavirus pandemic. “Fast forward to now, and it’s happening with the kids.”