An Interview with a Doctor on the NYC Frontline

I had the honor and privilege of interviewing a doctor from a New York City hospital. For the past few weeks, he has been volunteering to work in the ICUs – where COVID-19’s sickest victims are placed to be intubated indefinitely. Here’s what he had to say.

What was your first day like in the ICU? What surprised you most?

It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Even with all the life support we are providing, the patients are terribly, terribly ill. This is an aggressive disease that attacks many parts of the body. I’m seeing things with this virus that I’ve never seen in more than twenty years of medical practice. Almost all the patients that come to the ICU are going to be there for a long time, and their family members cannot come to visit them. It’s one thing to have a family member in the ICU, but it’s another thing to not be able to visit them.

Describe the environment. What are the sounds? What are the visuals?

Inside the ICU, it is noisy. There are lots of beeping monitors and alarms. There are also loud fans that are pushing air from the patients’ rooms out into the street. There’s a lot of busy, hustling people. Seeing patient after patient on ventilators, there’s a strong feeling of human tragedy.

How do you feel about the current status of PPE in your hospital? Do you feel protected?

At first I didn’t, but now I do. Initially, there was a big PPE problem in my hospital. But thanks to all the local donors who have stepped up, the situation is better now. However, we don’t know how long our current supply will last, so we’re not confident that we’ll continue to be protected. 

How is the overall morale of the hospital staff?

Excellent. Everyone is on the same mission. People are sending around a lot of corona memes.

What’s your favorite coronavirus meme?

Choice A or Choice B.

What has been the hardest part of this experience for you?

The human tragedy. And being isolated from my family. 

Do you want to be doing this?

Yes. I wish it didn’t have to be done. But I want to be doing it.

What is the most uplifting story, if any, that you have for us?

The many people who have showed their willingness to help by donating PPE. America has been divided in many ways in the past few years. It has been incredibly uplifting to see that when we have a common enemy, everyone immediately unites against it. 

If there was one thing you wish everyone knew about COVID-19, what would it be?

I’d like people to understand how much we don’t understand – both about how the virus makes people sick, and how it’s going to behave in the population. Every prediction, about what will happen to an individual person, and what will happen in a country, is incredibly hard to foresee. 

Do you think Brown will be back in session next fall?

Probably not – at least not in physical session. By the time a decision has to be made, I don’t think there will be enough information to conclusively establish that it is safe and wise to bring students back to campus. We will probably still be in a stage where congregation should be avoided unless it is absolutely necessary. But the good news is that in the past few months, we’ve learned that a lot of great things can still be accomplished over virtual meetings.

Any final words of encouragement for readers?

This too shall pass! We are learning more every day, and are getting better at dealing with this, both with individual patients, and as a society at large. I’m optimistic that convalescent plasma will be helpful – in other words, if you get infected with COVID-19, I can use the antibodies in your blood to help someone else who is fighting the disease. One positive statistic is that due to quarantine, the overall weekly death toll in the US is lower than it usually is, even with the additional deaths from coronavirus. 

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, to all those who are risking their lives to keep ours safe.