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Houston doctor in full PPE hugs a crying coronavirus patient who missed his wife on Thanksgiving



The image of a doctor comforting an elderly coronavirus patient who missed his wife on Thanksgiving highlighted the emotional strain of the mid-holiday pandemic.

Photographer Go Nakamura captured the gut-wrenching photograph of Dr. Varon Joseph and an unidentified elderly patient trapped in a vulnerable embrace.

Veiled in full PPE, Varon wrapped his gloved hands around the depressed patient placed in the coronavirus ICU at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas.

According to Varon, the patient had been emotionally charged on Thanksgiving Day because he was lonely at the ICU and desperately missed his wife.

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Dr.  Joseph Varon (left) was photographed embracing an elderly coronavirus patient who missed his wife on Thanksgiving Day in Houston, Texas

Dr. Joseph Varon (left) was photographed embracing an elderly coronavirus patient who missed his wife on Thanksgiving Day in Houston, Texas

‘When I walk into my covid unit, I see this elderly patient is out of his bed and trying to get out of the room, and he cries,’ Varon told CNN’s New Day on Monday.

‘So I get close to him and I say to him, “Why are you crying?” and the husband says, “I want to be with my wife.” ‘

Varon said the two embraced until the patient began to calm down and eventually stopped crying. ‘I grabbed him and held him straight,’ he said.

He added that it can be difficult to administer in the ICU for coronavirus, especially as an elderly patient.

‘You can not imagine. You’re inside a room where people are entering [wearing] spacesuits, ‘he told CNN, referring to PPE clothing worn by health workers.

‘You have no communication with anyone else – or by telephone if you’m lucky – and when you’m older … it’s even harder because you feel like you’m alone. You feel isolated. ‘

Led by Dr.  Joseph Varon Prepares Medical Workers to Intubate a Coronavirus (COVID-19) Patient at United Memorial Medical Center's Coronavirus (COVID-19) Intensive Care Unit in Houston, Texas

Led by Dr. Joseph Varon Prepares Medical Workers to Intubate a Coronavirus (COVID-19) Patient at United Memorial Medical Center’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Intensive Care Unit in Houston, Texas

Varon (pictured): 'You have no communication with anyone else - or by phone, if you'm lucky - and when you'm older ... it's even harder because you feel alone.

Varon (pictured): ‘You have no communication with anyone else – or by phone, if you’m lucky – and when you’m older … it’s even harder because you feel alone.

Varon, who has worked for 256 days in a row since Monday, said his staff are good at comforting patients, but the sheer amount of them has been overwhelming.

“But sometimes we have so many patients that we can’t hold every patient or grab every patient’s hand,” he told CNN.

The United States’ fight against the coronavirus pandemic continues from the spring and through the fall, when health officials worry it could collide with the flu season.

America has recorded more than 13.3 million cases and 266,000 deaths, while Texas has collected more than 1.1 million cases and 21,347 deaths.

Officials said Sunday that there were 6,041 new daily cases and 48 new deaths.

In Harris County, where Houston lives, there have been more than 187,000 confirmed infections and 2,418 deaths.

Harris County has the most infections in any Texas county and has a 14-day positivity rate of 9.4 percent.

‘My nurses in the middle of the day, they start crying because they get so many patients and it’s an endless story,’ Varon told CNN.

‘When they finally finish getting a patient in, they get a phone call from the ER that there is another patient being admitted.

“My hospital is full. I just opened two new wings so I have room for the next few days because I know a lot of people get sick after Thanksgiving. ‘

Seeing tears in the ICU room, according to Varon, is not an uncommon sight.

‘It happens all the time,’ he told CNN. ‘Some patients are crying. Some patients try to escape. We actually had someone trying to escape through a window the other day. They are so isolated that they really want out. ‘

Varon (pictured): 'My nurses in the middle of the day, they start crying because they get so many patients and it's an endless story'

Varon (pictured): ‘My nurses in the middle of the day, they start crying because they get so many patients and it’s an endless story’

Dr.  Joseph Varon, 58, chief physician at United Memorial Medical Center, hugs Christina Mathers, 43, a nurse from his team who became infected with COVID-19

Dr. Joseph Varon, 58, chief physician at United Memorial Medical Center, hugs Christina Mathers, 43, a nurse from his team who became infected with COVID-19

Varon admitted it was frustrating to see how many patients were admitted to his hospital while other Americans were advocating for public health guidelines.

‘The frustration I do this day in and day out and people are out there doing the wrong things. People are out visiting bars, restaurants, malls – it’s crazy. People do not listen and then they end up in my ICU, ‘he said.

But Varon on CNN urged local residents and others to practice basic CDC health guidelines that could keep them out of the hospital. ‘

‘What people need to know is that I do not want to hug them,’ Varon said. ‘They need to do the basics.’

Varon then mentioned guidelines such as social distance, face masks, hand washing and avoiding large gatherings.

‘Very simple. If people can do that, health workers like me can hopefully rest, ‘Varon said.

Varon: 'The frustration I do this day in and day out and people are out there doing the wrong things.  People are out visiting bars, restaurants, malls - it's crazy.  People do not listen, and then they end up in my ICU 'Pictured: Dr.  Joseph Varon (right) leads a team as they try to save a patient's life

Varon: ‘The frustration I do this day in and day out and people are out there doing the wrong things. People are out visiting bars, restaurants, malls – it’s crazy. People do not listen, and then they end up in my ICU ‘Pictured: Dr. Joseph Varon (right) leads a team as they try to save a patient’s life

In Harris County, where Houston lives, there have been more than 187,000 confirmed infections and 2,418 deaths.  The picture: Dr.  Joseph Varon (right)

In Harris County, where Houston lives, there have been more than 187,000 confirmed infections and 2,418 deaths. The picture: Dr. Joseph Varon (right)

As of Monday, the elderly patient from the viral photo was still being administered at the ICU and should prove negative on his coronavirus tests.

The man is feeling better and Varon is optimistic that he will be discharged before the end of the week.

The United States has registered 136,313 new coronavirus cases on Monday. New York Times database.

The CDC advised people to avoid traveling during the holidays and advised against meeting with anyone who has not lived in the same household for at least 14 days, the incubation period for the virus.




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