An ER doctor at New York Presbyterian Hospital who made headlines five years ago when he survived being infected by the Ebola virus is now working around the clock to fight the deadly COVID-19 outbreak.
Dr. Craig Spencer has for weeks been vocal about his concern over the novel coronavirus, the misinformation and widespread underestimation of it.
He recently described via a lengthy Twitter thread the exhausting prevalence of COVID-19 cases at his hospital, going into detail on the frantic battle against the virus and the toll it takes physically, mentally and emotionally on those fighting it on the front lines.
Dr. Spencer begins by describing the uncharacteristic quiet on the streets of New York, as most people are isolated in their homes per the urging of state officials. The eerie peace doesn't last, however.
As soon as he enters the hospital for his 8 a.m. shift, he's assaulted by the bright lights reflecting from protective equipment worn by his colleagues. And then there's the "cacophony of coughing."
"You take signout from the previous team, but nearly every patient is the same, young & old: Cough, shortness of breath, fever," he writes.
He rushes to address one critical patient, but before he can finish the process of putting her on life support, he's paged about another sick patient arriving.
"Two patients, in rooms right next to each other, both getting a breathing tube. It's not even 10 a.m. yet," he continues.
The morning is as frantic as the afternoon. It's such a steady stream of emergencies that he forgets to drink. He puts off eating for as long as possible because removing protective gear to hydrate or eat is almost too nerve-wracking, "it's the only thing that protects you."
Spencer says he washes his hands twice every time he removes his gear. He admits he's begun to think longingly of the days when every new patient's condition was a surprise. The novel coronavirus is so insidious, the slightest mistake with that life-preserving plastic and metal gear could result in dozens more infections.
"We assume everyone is COVID-19," he writes. "We wear gowns, goggles, and masks at every encounter. All day. It's the only way to be safe. Where did all the heart attacks and appendicitis patients go? It's all COVID."
Many hospitals in New York are running out of personal protective equipment, with some workers wearing Hefty bags with gowns in short supply. A Manhattan nurse died Wednesday, two weeks after testing positive for the disease. One Queens hospital reported 13 coronavirus deaths in just 24 hours Wednesday to Thursday.
The Jacob K. Javits convention center has been retrofitted to accommodate 2,000 hospital beds.
Even coming home for some well-deserved respite is anxiety-ridden. Spencer says he must wipe down everything he brings with him, phones, badges, wallet, coffee mug, "All of it. Drown it in bleach. Everything in a bag. Take no chances."
When he gets home, he strips in the hallway of his apartment. He has to stiff-arm his toddler (she hasn't seen him in days) from hugging him before he can shower and wash it all away.
"It's really hard to understand how bad this is," he acknowledges, "and how bad it's going to be."
Indeed, despite reporting a glimmer of hope with regards to the hospitalization rate, officials still worry the peak of the coronavirus infections in New York state are still weeks away. Hospitals are "nearing capacity" and they still have only a fraction of the ventilators needed to treat critically ill patients.
Everyone doctors are seeing today "was infected a week ago, or more," Spencer emphasizes. They are bracing for the onslaught of sick people to come.
"We were too late to stop this virus. Full stop," he concludes. "But we can slow its spread. The virus can't infect those it never meets. Stay inside. Social distancing is the only thing that will save us now. I don't care as much about the economic impact as I do about our ability to save lives."
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