Do No Harm

Rafia Zakaria in The Baffler:

This series is devoted to reporting on the experience of doctors at the frontlines of the battle against coronavirus, as we approach what are likely to be some of the deadliest weeks in the history of the United States. Though their identities are known to the editors, the doctors interviewed will remain anonymous so that they do not face repercussions for sharing frank truths about practicing medicine in the midst of this crisis.

ON SUNDAY, MARCH 29, Dr. L[*] walked home in the dark after her shift at a New York hospital ended. The city felt uneasy, as if about to erupt in defiance of the imposed desolation keeping streets empty and noise limited to the unending wail of ambulance sirens. Dr. L lived close to the hospital, but on this dark and silent night, the two blocks seemed longer than ever. In the days that had just passed, the hospital, almost all of which is now devoted to treating COVID-19 patients, had transitioned from anticipating the storm to being in the thick of it; Dr. L had overseen the conversion of more and more floors to COVID-19 floors. As the familiar hospital she and her colleagues knew transformed into a battlefield, they had begun to have the sort of conversations that had been unimaginable just a few weeks ago.

Dr. L recalled overhearing two nurses at a nursing station discussing imminent ventilator shortages. “Who would you save?” one nurse asked the other, “if you had one ventilator and had to choose between a young thirty-five-year-old or a seventy-year-old?” The second nurse didn’t answer. Looking at both, Dr. L interjected. “The hard choices are not going to be between a thirty-five-year-old and a seventy-year-old,” she said, “they’re going to be when you have to choose between a single thirty-year-old  male and a forty-five-year-old male with three children.” The nurses just stared at her silently; the idea that they—health workers, nurses and doctors who had sworn to preserve life—would be deciding the value of one life against another still seemed abstract. Dr. L thought about this conversation as she walked into her dark apartment, switching on the light. She was exhausted, but sleep seemed distant, only a theoretical possibility. She turned on the TV in her bedroom and the never-ending news loop began. The president had given a press conference earlier that day; now CNN was playing clips of it. Trump asked if the masks being sent to New York hospitals were “going out the back door.”

More here.

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