Health care workers the world over have never faced combat with anything quite like Covid-19, a disease that spreads rapidly and so far has killed more than 360,000 people worldwide. Health officials were so concerned that hospitals would be overwhelmed by patients that in March much of the world went into an unprecedented lockdown to “flatten the curve”—slowing the rate of new infections to give facilities time to muster a response. Regions that acted quickly, like the San Francisco Bay Area, have so far succeeded—those that stalled, like New York City, saw their hospitals flooded with patients. It got so bad in NYC that one hospital had to bring in a refrigerated semi-truck trailer to hold the dead.
Caring for so many extremely ill patients has taken an extraordinary emotional and physical toll on health workers from every nation. WIRED’s video team reached out to 16 of them—including doctors, physician assistants, paramedics, and epidemiologists—and asked them about their experiences treating Covid-19 patients. Some of them saw their first coronavirus patients just days before filming began; others had already been battling the disease for weeks or months. Some had seen just a few patients, others hundreds. All, though, are dealing with a pandemic the likes of which the modern world has never seen.
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They’re having to make brutal decisions, like when to pull patients off ventilators and where to allocate precious resources. They have to think twice about once ordinary treatment regimens: Using aerosolized medications to treat asthma or wheezing could help spread the virus through the air. These health workers must take time away from their families, and they can’t even see all of their patients. One doctor in Los Angeles, who travels to his clients’ homes, had to tell an 84-year-old patient he sees monthly that he could no longer enter the man’s house, lest he bring the virus with him. That’s even with strict sanitization practices in place: This doctor wipes his car clean between patients; another puts all of his clothes in the wash and masks in the oven when he returns home, and then showers, a decontamination process that takes up to 45 minutes. Still others opt to shower at their workplaces.
It’s taking a personal toll on them too: Some people say they can’t sleep, and even when they do, they have Covid-19 nightmares. Yet still they persist, support each other, take pride in their ability to help others in their communities, and steel themselves for what could be an even more punishing second wave of Covid-19 come winter.
For their full stories, take a look at the video above.
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- Read all of our coronavirus coverage here