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‘I cannot save everybody’ Doctor, 58, on Houston hospital’s COVID-19 ward

A doctor on a coronavirus ward has realized he ‘cannot save everybody’ as deaths mount in Texas.

Dr Joseph Varon, 58, is the chief medical officer at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston and has been battling to save COVID-19 patients since February.

‘I’m afraid that at some point in time I’m going have to make some very serious decisions,’ he said. ‘I’m starting to get the idea that I cannot save everybody.’ 

Dr Varon tends to around 40 patients every day and has signed more death certificates in the last week than at any point in his career.  

Many of those in Varon’s COVID-19 unit needed nasal tubes to help them breathe and some required intubation – where a tube is inserted through the neck into the windpipe.

During one afternoon at work the physician and his team rushed to resuscitate a patient, performing CPR on the man who was later pronounced dead. 

Medical personnel covered his body in white sheets and wrapped it in a biohazard bag.

As the coronavirus pandemic shows little signs of abating healthcare workers on the frontlines often fall prey to the virus that has killed around 150,000 people in the United States.

Varon’s team is no exception. Christina Mathers, a 43-year-old nurse at UMMC, was told she tested positive for COVID-19 last week after she reported feeling ill during her shift.

‘That’s the hardest thing to ever hear… It messes with you,’ said Mathers, who has been working every other day since April 29. ‘But I wouldn’t go anywhere else but here.’

Varon said dealing with the virus has been incredibly challenging for medical professionals. ‘Throughout my life, I have been in major disasters,’ he said. ‘Nothing has been as difficult to deal with (as) COVID.’

One of those disasters was when Varon worked as a hospital intern during an earthquake in Mexico City in 1985.

Riley Harrison, 67, said he started feeling out of breath at work and struggled to get enough air in his lungs to call his wife, who also tested positive for the virus. 

Now, they are both hospitalized at UMMC.

‘I couldn’t breathe,’ Riley said in a whisper as oxygen flowed through tubes in his nose. ‘If you got a death wish, play with COVID.’

Medical experts and officials have been sounding the alarm on the growing number of young people who are falling ill with COVID-19, warning they should not discount it as a virus dangerous for elderly people alone.

Eighteen-year-old Larissa Raudales had trouble breathing and said her lungs hurt when she was taken to UMMC. With medication, she was starting to feel better.

‘I was terrified… I thought I couldn’t breathe anymore,’ she said. ‘I just thought I was going to practically 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 more than doubled its cases to more than 400,000 total. 

Deaths rose by 32 per cent, or more than 1,000 lives lost, in the last week alone. But lately the number of new cases has slowed and hospitalized COVID-19 patients are down from record highs.

Dr. David Persse, the health authority for the Houston Health Department, said hospitals in the area were ‘struggling’ as they dealt with a shortage of personnel to tackle a crisis that has been dragging out for months.

‘The people who work in hospitals are exhausted… It takes a physical and an emotional toll on you,’ he said. ‘It’s not always been pretty but it’s been functional, and this is why we call it a disaster.’

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