Photographer Go Nakamura captured the gut-wrenching photograph of Dr. Varon Joseph and an unidentified elderly patient caught in a vulnerable embrace.
Cloaked in full PPE, Varon wrapped his gloved-hands around the downhearted patient, who was placed in the coronavirus ICU at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas.
According to Varon, the patient had been emotional on Thanksgiving Day because he was lonely in the ICU and desperately missed his wife.
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Dr. Joseph Varon (left) was photographed hugging an elderly coronavirus patient who missed his wife on Thanksgiving Day in Houston, Texas
‘As I’m going inside my covid unit, I see this elderly patient is out of his bed and trying to get out of the room, and he’s crying,’ Varon told CNN’s New Day on Monday.
‘So I get close to him and I tell him, “Why are you crying?” and the man 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 just held him,’ he said.
He added that being administered into the ICU for coronavirus, especially as an elderly patient, can be difficult.
‘You can’t imagine. You’re inside a room where people come in [wearing] spacesuits,’ He told CNN, referring to the PPE clothing healthcare workers wear.
‘You have no communication with anybody else – or by phone if you’re lucky – and when you’re an elderly…it’s even more difficult because you feel you are alone. You feel isolated.’
Led by Dr. Joseph Varon, medical workers prepare to intubate a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient at the United Memorial Medical Center’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) intensive care unit in Houston, Texas
Varon (pictured): ‘You have no communication with anybody else – or by phone if you’re lucky – and when you’re an elderly…it’s even more difficult because you feel you are alone’
Varon, who has worked for 256 straight days as of Monday, said that his staff is good at comforting patients but the sheer amount of them has been overwhelming.
‘But we have so many patients sometimes that we cannot hold every patient or grab the hand of every patient,’ he told CNN.
The United States’ battle against the coronavirus pandemic has continued from the spring and through autumn, when health officials are concerned it could collide with flu season.
America has recorded more than 13.3million cases and 266,000 deaths, while Texas has amassed more than 1.1million cases and 21,347 deaths.
Officials on Sunday said there were 6,041 new daily cases and 48 new deaths.
In Harris County, where Houston resides, there have been more than 187,000 confirmed infections and 2,418 deaths.
Harris County has the most infections of any Texas county, and has a 14-day positivity rate of 9.4 per cent.
‘My nurses in the middle of the day, they will start crying, because they are getting so many patients, and it’s a never-ending story,’ Varon told CNN.
‘When they finish finally getting a patient in, they get a phone call from the ER that there is another patient getting admitted.
‘My hospital is full. I just opened two new wings so that I can accommodate for the next few days, because I know that a lot of people are going to get sick after Thanksgiving.’
Seeing tears in the ICU room, according to Varon, isn’t an uncommon sight.
‘It happens all the time,’ he told CNN. ‘Some patients cry. Some patients try to escape. We actually had someone who tried to escape through a window the other day. They are so isolated they really want out.’
Varon (pictured): ‘My nurses in the middle of the day, they will start crying, because they are getting so many patients, and it’s a never-ending story’
Dr. Joseph Varon, 58, the chief medical officer at United Memorial Medical Center, hugs Christina Mathers, 43, a nurse from his team who became infected with COVID-19
Varon admitted that watching the droves of patients be administered into his hospital while other Americans flout public health guidelines was frustrating.
‘The frustration that I do this day in and day out, and people are out there doing the wrong thing. People are out visiting bars, restaurants, malls – it’s crazy. People don’t 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 don’t want to be hugging them,’ Varon said. ‘They need to do the basic things.’
Varon then mentioned guidelines like social distancing, face masks, washing hands and avoiding large gatherings.
‘Very simple. If people can do that then healthcare workers like me will be able to hopefully rest,’ said Varon.
Varon: ‘The frustration that I do this day in and day out, and people are out there doing the wrong thing. People are out visiting bars, restaurants, malls – it’s crazy. People don’t listen and then they end up in my ICU’ Pictured: Dr. Joseph Varon (right) leads a team as they try to save the life of a patient
In Harris County, where Houston resides, there have been more than 187,000 confirmed infections and 2,418 deaths. Pictued: Dr. Joseph Varon (right)
As of Monday, the elderly patient from the viral photo was still administered in the ICU and must prove negative on his coronavirus tests.
The man is feeling better and Varon is optimistic that he’ll be discharged before the end of the week.
The United States has recorded 136,313 new coronavirus cases on Monday, per The New York Times database.
The CDC recommended people avoid traveling during the holidays and advised against gathering with anyone who has not lived in the same household for at least 14 days, the incubation period for the virus.