A doctor treating coronavirus patients in New York City has detailed the gut-wrenching realities of life right now in the emergency room.
Dr. Craig Spencer, the Director of Global Health in Emergency Medicine at Columbia Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, has quite a bit of experience with fast-spreading deadly diseases: He treated ebola patients in West Africa in 2014, and survived the virus himself.
But in an alarming new Twitter thread, Dr. Spencer has illustrated how working on the COVID-19 frontline has presented unprecedented terrors.
Chilling: Dr. Craig Spencer, Director of Global Health in Emergency Medicine at Columbia Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, shared what it’s like to be an ER doctor now
Experience: Dr. Spencer treated ebola patients in West Africa, and survived the virus himself (pictured with Mayor Bill de Blasio after being released from the hospital in November 2014)
Viral: On Twitter, he gave a chilling account of a day in his life treating coronavirus patients
Responding to followers who asked for more details about his experience, he tweeted a thread called ‘A Day in the Life of an ER Doc – A Brief Dispatch from the #COVID19 Frontline.’
He began: ‘Wake up at 6:30am. Priority is making a big pot of coffee for the whole day, because the place by the hospital is closed. The Starbucks too. It’s all closed.
‘On the walk, it feels like Sunday. No one is out. Might be the freezing rain. Or it’s early. Regardless, that’s good.
‘Walk in for your 8am shift: Immediately struck by how the calm of the early morning city streets is immediately transformed. The bright fluorescent lights of the ER reflect off everyone’s protective goggles. There is a cacophony of coughing. You stop. Mask up. Walk in.
‘You take signout from the previous team, but nearly every patient is the same, young & old: Cough, shortness of breath, fever.
Scary: Two hours into his shift, he’s already put two people on life support. Every patient has the same terrible symptoms
‘They are really worried about one patient. Very short of breath, on the maximum amount of oxygen we can give, but still breathing fast.
‘You immediately assess this patient. It’s clear what this is, and what needs to happen. You have a long and honest discussion with the patient and family over the phone. It’s best to put her on life support now, before things get much worse. You’re getting set up for that, but…
‘You’re notified of another really sick patient coming in. You rush over. They’re also extremely sick, vomiting. They need to be put on life support as well. You bring them back. Two patients, in rooms right next to each other, both getting a breathing tube. It’s not even 10am yet.
‘For the rest of your shift, nearly every hour, you get paged: Stat notification: Very sick patient, short of breath, fever. Oxygen 88%.
‘Stat notification: Low blood pressure, short of breath, low oxygen.
‘Stat notification: Low oxygen, can’t breath. Fever. All day…
All COVID: He is afraid to remove his mask even to eat or drink. He also said it seems like all the heart attack and appendicitis patients disappeared
‘Sometime in the afternoon you recognize you haven’t drank any water. You’re afraid to take off the mask. It’s the only thing that protects you. Surely you can last a little longer — in West Africa during Ebola, you spent hours in a hot suit without water. One more patient…
‘By late afternoon, you need to eat. Restaurant across the street is closed. Right, everything is closed. But thankfully the hospital cafeteria is open. You grab something, wash your hands (twice), cautiously take off your mask, & eat as fast as you can. Go back. Mask up. Walk in.
‘Nearly everyone you see today is the same. We assume everyone is #COVID-19. 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? Its all COVID.
‘When your shift ends, you sign out to the oncoming team. It’s all #COVID-19. Over the past week, we’ve all learned the signs — low oxygen, lymphopenia, elevated D-dimer.
Heading here: Dr. Spencer described a hectic scene not dissimilar to those being pictured in Italy (pictured: hospital in Cremona, Italy on March 23)
Going home: At the end of the day, he wipes everything down twice, walks home, and strips outside his front door to protect his family
‘You share concerns of friends throughout the city without PPE [personal protective equipment]. Hospitals running out of ventilators.
‘Before you leave, you wipe EVERYTHING down. Your phone. Your badge. Your wallet. Your coffee mug. All of it. Drown it in bleach. Everything in a bag. Take no chances. Sure you got it all??? Wipe is down again. Can’t be too careful.
‘You walk out and take off your mask. You feel naked and exposed. It’s still raining, but you want to walk home. Feels safer than the subway or bus, plus you need to decompress.
‘The streets are empty. This feels nothing like what is happening inside. Maybe people don’t know???
‘You get home. You strip in the hallway (it’s ok, your neighbors know what you do). Everything in a bag. Your wife tries to keep your toddler away, but she hasn’t seen you in days, so it’s really hard. Run to the shower. Rinse it all away. Never happier. Time for family.
The future: He notes that all the people in the hospital now were infected a week ago, and the numbers will skyrocket
‘You reflect on the fact that it’s really hard to understand how bad this is — and how bad its going to be — if all you see are empty streets.
‘Hospitals are nearing capacity. We are running out of ventilators. Ambulance sirens don’t stop.
‘Everyone we see today was infected a week ago, or more. The numbers will undoubtedly skyrocket overnight, as they have every night the past few days. More will come to the ER. More will be stat notifications. More will be put on a ventilator.
‘We were too late to stop this virus. Full stop. But we can slow it’s 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.
‘You might hear people saying it isn’t real. It is. You might hear people saying it isn’t bad. It is. You might hear people saying it can’t take you down. It can.
‘I survived Ebola. I fear #COVID-19,’ he concluded. ‘Do your part. Stay home. Stay safe. And every day I’ll come to work for you.
Update: As of Tuesday morning more than 46,400 people in the US have tested positive for coronavirus and 586 have died