A boy went to a COVID-swamped ER. He waited for hours. Then his appendix burst.


Pediatric transfers are not yet as fraught as adult ones, Santiago said, but it does take more calls than it once did to secure a bed.

Seth Osborn, the 12-year-old whose appendix burst after a long wait, spent five days and four nights in the hospital as doctors pumped his body full of antibiotics to stave off infection from the rupture. The typical hospitalization for a routine appendectomy is about 24 hours.

The initial hospital bill for the stay came to more than $48,000, Nathaniel Osborn said. Although insurance paid for most of it, he said the family still borrowed against its house to cover the more than $5,000 in out-of-pocket costs so far.

While the hospital system where Seth was treated declined to comment about his case because of patient privacy laws, it did email a statement about the strain the pandemic is creating.

“Since July 2021, we have seen a tremendous spike in COVID-19 patients needing care and hospitalization. In mid-August, we saw the highest number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across the Cleveland Clinic Florida region, a total of 395 COVID-19 patients in four hospitals. Those hospitals have approximately 1,000 total beds,” the email to ProPublica said. “We strongly encourage vaccination. Approximately 90% of our patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated.”

On Sunday, The Washington Post reported that a hospital in Alabama called 43 others across three states before finding a bed for Ray DeMonia, a critically ill heart patient who later died. In his obituary his family wrote: “In honor of Ray, please get vaccinated if you have not, in an effort to free up resources for non COVID related emergencies. ... He would not want any other family to go through what his did.”

Today, Seth is mostly recovered. “Twelve-year-old boys bounce back,” his father said. Still, the experience has left Nathaniel Osborn shaken.

The high school history teacher said he likes to stay upbeat and apolitical in his social media musings, posting about Florida wildlife preservation and favorite books. But on Sept. 7, he tweeted: “My 12-year-old had appendicitis. The ER was overwhelmed with unvaccinated Covid patients and we had to wait 6+ hours. While waiting, his appendix ruptured and had to spend 5 days in hospital. ... So yeah, your decision to not vaccinate does affect others.”

It was retweeted 34,700 times, with 143,000 likes. Most comments were sympathetic and wished his child a speedy recovery. Some, though, went straight to hate, apparently triggered by his last line. He was attacked personally and accused of making up the story: “Good try with the guilt, jerk.”

Osborn, who is vaccinated, as are his wife and son, told ProPublica he only shared Seth’s story on Twitter to encourage vaccinations.

“I have no ill will towards the hospitals or the care received at either hospital,” he said this week, “but had these hospitals not been so crowded with COVID patients, we wouldn’t have had to wait so long and perhaps my son’s appendix would not have burst.”

This story was originally published on ProPublica. ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive their biggest stories as soon as they’re published.


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