David J. Phillip / AP
“At my hospital, last week was the deadliest week I have ever had in my life.”
The words of a Houston doctor treating COVID-19 patients illustrate the brutal reality that many face in the American medical system right now.
Dr. Joseph Varon is chief of critical care at the Houston Interim Medical Center. Harris County, where Houston stands, has the fifth highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases of any U.S. county. More than 1,200 people in the county have died.
“I signed more death certificates last week than in my entire life almost everyone came together,” Varon tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep at Morning edition.
For the past four months, Varon wakes up every morning at dawn and goes to the hospital, where he spends between six and 12 hours in rounds, before seeing new admissions. When he returns home, he sleeps at most two hours a night. “I try to go to sleep, but people call me non-stop,” he says.
Varon manages a large team of people who are tired and scared.
“I have over 300 doctors on our hospital staff and only three or four of us enter the COVID unit,” Varon says. “And I’m there most of the time. People are afraid to enter the COVID unit and I can not force them to enter. This is something I can not do because there is an internal risk of working in a unit. Covida. “
Here are excerpts from his interview:
Is your unit ever on the verge of overload?
Every day. I mean he’s crazy. The last few weeks have been overcome a lot. What I mean by this is that I can have beds, but I have no staff. You know, my nurses are tired. They are tired. These are individuals who, say, work three times a week, and they are constrained to work six, seven times a week. I mean they are physically and emotionally drained because if you look at the last three weeks where we have the highest mortality rates, it is scary and drains you emotionally.
If the governor would call you and say he would like to reopen schools, but he wants to know if your hospital can handle it on the spot, extra cases, what would you say?
Absolutely not. There is no way our hospitals can treat it. Not just my hospital, no hospital can handle it because it can be a real uplift. Just to give you an idea, an individual can infect up to 52 people per hour. … You can put yourself in a difficult situation.
We were reporting to a large number of health experts who are essentially arguing that the national strategy against COVID so far has been a failure and that it is time for excessive action. Let’s go back to where we were in March, close everything and start again. Is it that bad?
I mean, you can not close a city, a state, a country without an educational component. You know, when we closed the city in April, the city is closed and everyone gets feverish about the cabin. And the day we open the city, everyone goes out, people go to the beach, people go to bars. They do not care. I mean, they fill it.
If you were to close the city, you would have to have an educational component that would have to be implemented. It means strength: If I am telling you to wear a mask, you will wear a mask. Because when you wear a mask, you are not doing it to protect yourself. You are doing it to protect the other person. To be honest with you, as Americans, we can do much better than we are doing at the moment.