* Photo essay at https://reut.rs/3hOPbgm (adds link to COVID-19 graphic in paragraph 9)
By Callaghan O’Hare and Maria Caspani
Houston, July 29 (Reuters) The scene inside United Memorial Medical Center in Houston has become all too familiar: medical staff fighting to curb the wave of COVID-19 patients coming through hospital doors every day.
While medical emergencies subsided in epidemic hot spots as before in New York, Texas is one of several U.S. states struggling with a resurgence of the virus that is straining their health systems.
Chief Medical Officer of United Memorial Medical Center (UMMC) Drs. Joseph Varon said that he feared he would soon face a dilemma and many doctors said he had previously faced an epidemic: deciding who to save.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to make some serious decisions at some point,” he told Reuters in an interview. “I’m starting to get the idea that I can’t save everyone.”
Varun, 58, is overseeing a dedicated hospital unit for COVID-19 patients, where he said he gives an average of 40 people a day. He said he signed death certificates more than last week at any turn of his career.
Earlier this month, Reuters followed a lung and critical care specialist on a shift, as he hurried through the hallways – nurses in tow and a small group of medical students – to observe X-rays or medical charts. And offers to stop to examine patients. Words to comfort them or hold your hand.
Many of Varun’s COVID-19 unit require nasal tubes to help them breathe, some are needed.
In the afternoon, the doctor and his team raced to rescue a patient, who was later pronounced dead, performing CPR on him. Medical personnel covered her body in white sheets and wrapped her in a biozard bag.
As the coronavirus virus epidemic has severely gripped the country for months, healthcare workers often make headlines, often falling prey to the virus, which has killed more than 150,000 people in the United States. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2P87LUu)
Varun’s team is no exception. Christina Mathers, a 43-year-old nurse at UMMC, was told that she tested positive for COVID-19 last week when she felt ill during her shift.
Mathers, who has been working every other day since April 29, said, “This is the hardest thing ever … It’s messing with you.”
When a major earthquake struck Mexico City in 1985, Varun, who was hospitalized, said that dealing with the virus is incredibly challenging for medical professionals. “Throughout my life, I’ve been in great disasters,” he said. “Nothing is as difficult to deal with COVID.”
Riley Harrison, 67, said he began to have difficulty breathing at work and struggled to get enough air into the lungs to call his wife, who also contracted the virus. Now, they are both hospitalized at UMMC.
“I can’t breathe,” Riley said in a whisper as oxygen flowed through the tubes in her nose. “If you get the death you want, play with COVID.”
Medical experts and officials are sounding the alarm over the increasing number of young people falling ill with COVID-19, warning that they alone should not be discounted as a dangerous virus for elderly people.
Eighteen-year-old Larissa Raudels had trouble breathing and said she suffered a lung injury when she was taken to UMMC. With medication, she began to feel better.
“I panicked … I felt I couldn’t breathe anymore,” she said. “I thought I’d die right there.”
Texas, along with California and Florida, has emerged as one of the new national hot spots. So far in July, the state has doubled its cases to a total of over 400,000. In the last week alone, 32% of deaths, or more than 1,000 people, were lost. But recently the number of new cases has slowed down and the hospitalized COVID-19 patients are below the record height.
Houston Health Department Health Officer Drs. David Pearse said hospitals in the area were “struggling” to deal with a shortage of personnel to overcome a crisis that has been dragging out for months.
He said, “People working in hospitals get tired … It takes a physical and an emotional toll on you.” “It wasn’t always pretty, but it has been functional, and that’s why we call it a disaster.”
(Click on https://reut.rs/3hOPbgm to see related photo essay)
(Reporting by Calgon O’Hare in Houston; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Writing by Maria Caspani; Editing by Paul Thomas and Lisa Shumaker)
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