Jospeh Varon recalls nurses crying as they faced never-ending ICU admissions, beds in hallways, one intubation after another Photo: AFP/File
health

U.S. doctors reflect on exhaustion, trauma of one million COVID deaths

15 Comments
By Issam Ahmed and Lucie Aubourg

Joseph Varon -- who is chief of intensive care at United Memorial, a small hospital that mainly treats minority patients in Houston -- made headlines when a photo of him hugging an elderly COVID patient during Thanksgiving in 2020 went viral.

While that man went on to recover, it was those that did not make it that haunt Varon.

"As a doctor, just in the last two years I have signed more death certificates than ever," he said.

As the United States marks the grim milestone of one million COVID deaths, health care workers who have served on the frontlines continue to shoulder a heavy burden, even as the rest of society has moved on.

Many are exhausted, traumatized, and still afraid of crowded settings.

Varon remembers well his first death, that of an immigrant working in a hotel.

"He came into the hospital, and literally within a week he died, at 34 years of age without any pre-existing medical conditions," he said.

From then, until the last big wave at the start of this year, there was little respite.

Varon recalls nurses crying as they faced never-ending ICU admissions, beds in hallways, one intubation after another.

He also remembers his wife asking him to change his clothes in the garage before entering their home, after 20-hour shifts.

The Thanksgiving photograph, said Varon, "became a symbol that we doctors also have feelings."

At that moment, he didn't care about protecting himself, but wanted to give comfort to a man who didn't know if he'd make it and couldn't see his wife, since visits were not permitted.

The demands of work also extracted a personal toll. Varon feels far older than his 59 years, hasn't gone on vacation since the start of the pandemic, and was phoning in prescriptions on the day of his daughter's wedding.

He now sees "light at the end of the tunnel" and isn't seeing many COVID patients -- though he is seeing patients with post-COVID disorders including heart and lung issues.

Early on, the disease was a total mystery: how it was transmitted, who was most susceptible, how to treat it.

Health workers feared bringing it home to their loved ones, or dying themselves.

That fear was heightened for Daniel Brenner, an emergency physician interviewed by AFP at the start of the pandemic, when doctors were scrambling to find the right strategies to deal with severe lung injury caused by serious cases of COVID.

Brenner's wife is also an emergency doctor -- and until the vaccine came along, they lived in dread of leaving behind their two young children, now aged five and three.

"The thought of dying because of what you do and leaving your children as orphans is terrifying," the 38-year-old said.

Now working in Indianapolis, Brenner says he's found it hard to re-adjust to crowds, despite far lower levels of COVID in the community, and hardly does things he used to take for granted, like eating inside restaurants.

"It's unfortunate because I'm trying to make sure that I don't inflict my trauma on my kids," he said, becoming emotional. "I want to make sure that they have enriching fulfilling things in their lives, but it's really hard when I'm trying to figure out what's safe."

The vaccine was a major turning point, says Brenner, greatly reducing the risk of severe disease and lifting a weight off his shoulders.

But there are still vaccine holdouts getting sick.

"I have a mixture of sadness and frustration because it's preventable and I see people who are spreading misinformation, and doing themselves and their neighbors and their family a disservice," he said.

On a more hopeful note, Brenner makes a point of talking to all high-risk patients he sees about COVID vaccinations, and finds that the hesitant are generally amenable once he addresses their fears.

"The vast majority of my patients, after I have that conversation, ask me where to get vaccinated," he says.

Brenner directs them to a walkup clinic within the same hospital.

© 2022 AFP

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.


15 Comments
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Articles like this help understanding the immense feeling of anger and indignation many health workers feel about antiscientific groups spreading disinformation about COVID, their risk their lives and damage their health (both physical and mental) to save as many patients they can while people shamelessly spread disinformation trying to mislead the public into rejecting safe and effective health measures or underestimating a serious diseases that can kill even young and healthy people.

-2 ( +7 / -9 )

Were they with or of covid though?

1 ( +9 / -8 )

Were they with or of covid though?

Why would this matter? if somebody tell you almost every single death produced by malnutrition are "deaths with manutrition", would this make it less of a problem? People that could have lived productive lives for decades without the infection are still huge losses, and it takes a toll on health care workers that know this, pretending the disease is less important because if this is exactly trying to mislead others into giving less importance to something that is a huge risk for the health of the public.

0 ( +7 / -7 )

"The thought of dying because of what you do and leaving your children as orphans is terrifying," the 38-year-old said.

I bet it was for the single mom working at the Walmart register also living pay check to pay check.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

U.S. doctors reflect on exhaustion, trauma of one million COVID deaths

US: No lockdown, 1 million deaths. China: Lockdowns, less than 10,000 deaths.

But still, some non-medical experts will try and say China is a failure. Such statement shows a complete lack of understanding of quantitative analysis, and reality as a whole.

Why would this matter? if somebody tell you almost every single death produced by malnutrition are "deaths with manutrition", would this make it less of a problem?

What a bizarre "analogy". Covid 19 is a virus. Malnutrition is a social problem. A medical expert would laugh hysterically if a colleague made this type of comparison--if he we trying to be serious!

People that could have lived productive lives for decades without the infection are still huge losses, and it takes a toll on health care workers that know this, pretending the disease is less important because if this is exactly trying to mislead others into giving less importance to something that is a huge risk for the health of the public.

Speechless.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

What a bizarre "analogy". Covid 19 is a virus. Malnutrition is a social problem.

The analogy do not depend on etiology but on the invalid way to try and ignore a problem just because it is not recorded as the only cause of death,

 medical expert would laugh hysterically if a colleague made this type of comparison--if he we trying to be serious!

That is not an argument, it is all product of your imagination and once again an attempt to disqualify other people opinions based on what you imagine them to be or not, which by definition is a baseless assumption.

Speechless

Anybody should be about people trying to make a very important disease that caused millions of deaths appear as not important.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

But there are still vaccine holdouts getting sick.

And there are those unvaccinated also getting sick, as recently reported by medical experts in the US.

The analogy do not depend on etiology but on the invalid way to try and ignore a problem just because it is not recorded as the only cause of death, 

It would take an "interesting" imagination to find symmetry in that kind of thought.

 medical expert would laugh hysterically if a colleague made this type of comparison--if he we trying to be serious!

That is not an argument, it is all product of your imagination and once again an attempt to disqualify other people opinions based on what you imagine them to be or not, which by definition is a baseless assumption.

It isn't an argument. It is a statement of fact.

Anybody should be about people trying to make a very important disease that caused millions of deaths appear as not important.

Talking about malnutrition now? I thought we went over this already.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

It would take an "interesting" imagination to find symmetry in that kind of thought.

Since you have no argument against it that means it still holds, even if you think is difficult to come up with.

It isn't an argument. It is a statement of fact.

If it were a fact you could be able to prove it with a reference for example, instead it is just your personal opinion, based on what you imagine other people to be. Which of course makes for an invalid argument.

Talking about malnutrition now? I thought we went over this already.

Who is saying that malnutrition is not important, the comment is specifically about COVID, when someone tried to say it is not important if it is not listed as the only cause of death, which is obviously nonsense.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Kill the viruses or the viruses kill us. What is so extremely difficult to understand with that? All that propaganda of ‘living with the virus’ and promoting a happy life in coexistence with them , that’s even worse than the one million dead, because that stupidity already includes the next million dead. I tell you something again and you better listen to that the sooner the better, only ZeroCovid is good Covid!

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Kill the viruses or the viruses kill us. What is so extremely difficult to understand with that? All that propaganda of ‘living with the virus’ and promoting a happy life in coexistence with them , that’s even worse than the one million dead, because that stupidity already includes the next million dead.

Unfortunately, covid got beyond the point of control. That’s no more an option than eliminating the flu virus at this point. Maybe with future technology, but insofar as current technology is concerned, covid containment is not a reality. Look at China, where they have the authoritarian power to do a lockdown as locked down as any lockdown has locked down, and even they are unable to contain it.

Fortunately, the world came together over the past two years to create and distribute vaccines, as well as come up with other methods of managing covid when people catch it. So unlike the early days where some hospitals were flooded with dying people, we’re now at a level where society is actually able to proceed somewhat normally, managing covid as best we can moving forward.

Ir sucks that some people will die. I’m with my frail father right now and it’s a worry for him. But life has to go on, and in the meantime scientists are still looking for the magic bullet for covid.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Mysteriously, the U.S. halted early treatment of COVID. Hospitals insist on using Remdesivir and ventilators. If you go into the hospital with COVID, there's a good chance you're not coming out alive.

How is Japan doing with early treatment?

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Mysteriously, the U.S. halted early treatment of COVID

There is no mystery, the "early treatment" was based on drugs () that were completely ineffective even when used before the infection, since they have well known toxicity there is no point in using them even as placebo so they were stopped. Remdesivir is being replaced by more effective drugs that have evidence of more efficacy.

The US is not alone in this, everywhere where evidence and ethics determine what can be used for the treatment of patients did the same.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Were they with or of covid though?

What's the difference?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

As the United States marks the grim milestone of one million COVID deaths,

In contrast, China has less than 10,000 deaths. And people criticize the zero covid policy.

I am guessing the families of those 1 million victims in the US would not have minded a zero covid policy in the US.

Since you have no argument against it that means it still holds, even if you think is difficult to come up with.

Another classic example of a fallacy.

If it were a fact you could be able to prove it with a reference for example, instead it is just your personal opinion, based on what you imagine other people to be. Which of course makes for an invalid argument.

It is a fact, as is well-known.

Who is saying that malnutrition is not important, the comment is specifically about COVID, when someone tried to say it is not important if it is not listed as the only cause of death, which is obviously nonsense.

Another off-topic fallacious argument.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Another classic example of a fallacy.

Not at all, pointing out that you have no argument to dispute the relevance of something is completely valid, because you still have not used any.

It is a fact, as is well-known.

And yet you could not provide a source even when explicitly called on it, that means it is not a fact but just your personal belief, that you could not sustain on any evidence.

Another off-topic fallacious argument.

If answering your question is off topic that means you are recognizing you are making off topic questions, this can be interpreted as an excuse after being proved wrong and having no arguments to defend your beliefs.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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