‘It was horrible:’ Man life-flighted to Sunnyside as hospitals fill up

The couple said doctors told them hospitals in the area were overwhelmed with unvaccinated patients

TRI-CITIES, Wash. — It was five long, “scary, and terrible” days for Sandy and Dave Mirisciotta as they were transferred from a Tri-Cities emergency room to a hospital nearly two hours away in Sunnyside.

It was the only hospital in the area that had a room available for a patient seeking non-COVID-19 related treatment.

Dave suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), an illness that can trigger confusion due to high CO2 levels and make it extremely difficult to breathe.

The heavy wildfire smoke that recently filled the Tri-Cities air set off an attack so Sandy immediately called their family doctor.

“I said, ‘what should I do?’ and she said, ‘I don’t want to do this because the ER’s are overwhelmed but you need to get him in there now,” Sandy Mirisciotta said. “The doctors said his CO2 levels were really high so they hooked him up to a BiPap machine.”

Mirisciotta said they waited for a while for a doctor to come in.

“He said they were going to admit us, so I said, ‘OK, I need to know the room number,” Mirisciotta said. “He said, well, we’re completely booked. I’m not going to lie to you, we have people in beds in the hallway.”

Mirisciotta said later that evening around 11:30 p.m. another doctor told the couple Dave was going to be life-flighted to a hospital in Sunnyside for further care as he couldn’t be driven with the BiPap machine on and all the other hospitals had no available room.

“I was terrified because anytime you hear life flight, it’s like, oh my God this is really bad,” Mirisciotta said.

She added that during this time due to the CO2 levels that her husband was “confused, like a child without their parent.”

“You want to be with someone when they’re hurt and he was upset and he was confused so he didn’t understand,” Mirisciotta said. “I couldn’t be there to tell him, hey, it’s okay, I’m here. There are complete strangers telling him to calm down and breathe but there he was, not knowing what was going on, where he was, and he’s all of a sudden in a helicopter with no family and no one he knows around.”

Mirisciotta said she drove almost two hours to Sunnyside the next morning to stay with him.

“It was just overwhelming to think that three hospitals in our Tri-Cities are so full of people that are dying that they can’t even take care of basic people,” Mirisciotta said. “I mean they’re turning people away unless they’re close to death. It’s scary.”

Their six children helped provide snacks, drinks, and bought Sandy a hotel room in Sunnyside since the hospitals still have COVID-19 visitor rules in place.

“We’re on a limited income. He’s on social security retired and I’m on social security disability. If it weren’t for our children, I don’t know what I would’ve done,” Mirisciotta said.

She noted that even basic needs were overlooked by hospital staff, something that she only blames the nurse shortage for.

“They were so scrambled trying to get things. You’d ask, ‘can I get him a Diet Coke to drink?’ and they’re like, ‘yeah’! Well of course they forgot,” Mirisciotta said. “How trivial is a Diet Coke compared to someone’s life?”

Mirisciotta said this situation could’ve potentially been avoided if the local COVID-19 cases and the number of sick unvaccinated people weren’t so high.

“If I was not able to get the vaccine or even if I didn’t want to get the vaccine I would still put a mask on. I would still try and do what I can for other people,” Mirisciotta said. “Think of your loved ones, think of your friends, think of your neighbors. They’re all hurting.”

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