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Doctor describes heartbreaking conversations with COVID patients in the ICU

River to River, hosted by Ben Kieffer

Learn what's happening in the Iowa Legislature, about how the state is preparing for Ukrainian refugees and a Finnish writer's work capturing the emotional valance of place.

Since peaking in January of 2022, cases of COVID-19 in the United States have seen a dramatic decrease. While there is some concern over an emergent subvariant, public health safety protocols are dialing back across the nation. But the deaths, long-term side effects and traumas of the pandemic don't go away so quickly.

Neurologist LJ Agostinelli spent her first year of residency caring for COVID patients at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. During this time, patient deaths — particularly among the unvaccinated — were relatively common. She said even communicating about the disease to patients already sick with it was difficult. On this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer speaks with Agostinelli about her year.

"It's just so overwhelming to accept ... that there's a pandemic and humans might be taken out by a virus. It's just so much," she said. "They just need to ignore it. They don't even want to begin to think that this could be real ... They don't want to talk about it it's so overwhelming."

On this episode, we also hear about the Iowa Legislature's so-called "bottle bill," the Iowa agency preparing for Ukrainian refugee arrivals and a Finnish writer-in-residence at the University of Iowa.

Last, Studio One's Mark Simmet joins the show with new music from Arcade Fire and The Black Keys.


  • Erin Murphy, Des Moines bureau chief for The Cedar Rapids Gazette
  • Mak Sućeska, bureau chief of the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services based in Des Moines
  • Silvia Hosseini – writer-in-residence at The International Writing Program at the University of Iowa; writer, book critic and teacher based in Tampere, Finland
  • Dr. LJ Agostinelli, neurologist in residency at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia; received her MD and Ph.D. in 2021 from the University of Iowa
  • Mark Simmet, host of IPR’s Studio One
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Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River