Dr. Joseph Varon, the chief medical officer at Houston’s United Memorial Medical Center, will get dwelling after an extended day at work.


Dr. Joseph Varon hasn’t had a time off in months.

Friday was his 134th consecutive day main the coronavirus unit at Houston’s United Memorial Medical Center.

“If you ask me how the hell have I been able to survive for 134 days nonstop, I guess it’s adrenaline,” he mentioned. “But I’m running on fumes. It’s tough.”

And final week was his hardest but. With Houston coping with a surge in Covid-19 circumstances, he signed extra loss of life certificates than he has at any level in his career.

“People were dying every day,” he mentioned.

Nurse Flor Trevino prepares a physique to be transported to a morgue. The affected person died throughout an intubation process.

Varon wrote this word that detailed a affected person’s loss of life on July 17.

Varon’s workday begins early. Around 4:30 or 5 a.m., he heads to the hospital and goes straight to the coronavirus unit the place he and his group go over every affected person’s case.

Then he begins making the rounds.

“He’s involved with everything and very, very personal,” mentioned photographer Callaghan O’Hare, who shadowed him a number of occasions over the previous month. “He will sit on the bed with people and give them hugs and have a chat. It’s pretty incredible to watch.”

Caring for the coronavirus sufferers takes a minimal of 10 hours every day, Varon mentioned. After that, he meets with his different sufferers in the hospital — the ones who don’t have coronavirus.

“If I am lucky, I get home before 10 o’clock at night. If I’m not lucky, which is most of the time, I make it home around midnight,” he mentioned.

Varon and his group go over affected person recordsdata throughout a every day assembly. “I’m afraid that at some point in time I’m going have to make some very serious decisions,” Varon mentioned in July. “I’m starting to get the idea that I cannot save everybody.”

This X-ray reveals a affected person’s lungs inside the coronavirus unit.

Of course, Varon isn’t the just one making sacrifices. He is fast to reward his group and the lengthy, arduous hours they put in.

“The nursing life inside a Covid unit is tough,” he mentioned. “Every time they go in and they wear those spacesuits, they come out sweating like there’s no tomorrow. It’s like a mini sauna for them.”

The work is bodily exhausting, with everybody on workers sporting a number of layers of private protecting tools, or PPE. Varon has seen nurses slip on their very own sweat.

It’s additionally emotionally draining.

“I have seen nurses, in the middle of rounds, just start crying,” Varon mentioned. “Crying because they just can’t handle it anymore.”

Varon passes a bit of paper to colleague Cesar Barrera as he checks on sufferers in the emergency room.

Varon talks on the cellphone whereas sitting at a desk in the workers lounge. His telephones — he carries two — are consistently ringing, and he’s usually taking media requests and letting journalists get a firsthand have a look at what it’s like inside his hospital.

O’Hare says she was struck, nevertheless, by the resilience of Varon’s staffers and the way dedicated they had been to make a distinction.

“They really try to take the time to get to know the patients,” she mentioned.

It isn’t simple to attach with somebody when your face is roofed by a masks and a defend and also you’re dressed head to toe in PPE. But Varon’s group has an answer.

“The doctor and then the nurses will all wear printed photographs of themselves over their PPE so the patients can at least know what they look like and have an idea of who they’re talking to,” O’Hare mentioned.

Varon speaks to coronavirus affected person Henry Rodriguez on July 10. The workers wears printed images of themselves in order that they’ll make a extra private connection.

Efrain Guevara lies on a hospital mattress on July 17. He was hospitalized after being identified with Covid-19.

Three nurses on Varon’s workers have contracted Covid-19 in the previous few months. Varon doesn’t know the place they contracted it, however at the hospital they’re at all times cautious as regards to PPE.

“I often tell people I feel more comfortable inside my unit than outside my unit,” he mentioned.

Nurse Christina Mathers examined constructive final week.

“That’s the hardest thing to ever hear. … It messes with you,” mentioned Mathers, who had been working each different day since April 29. “But I wouldn’t go anywhere else but here.”

Varon hugs Christina Mathers, a nurse from his group who grew to become contaminated with Covid-19.

A employee locations an indication studying “cleaned vent” onto a bit of medical tools.

Houston is the county seat of Harris County, which as of Friday was fifth in the United States for many confirmed circumstances of Covid-19.

“I’ve heard quite an increase in ambulances, just at all hours of the day,” mentioned O’Hare, who lives in Houston. “And I’ve accomplished fairly a bit of protection standing in the car parking zone of the Texas Medical Center and seeing the quantity of ambulances going out and in at testing amenities.“

She says she’s seen individuals present up at 11:30 the evening earlier than just to make certain they’ve a spot in line and may get examined the subsequent day.

“It’s pretty chaotic,” she mentioned.

A person delivers balloons to the room of a coronavirus affected person who was lacking his daughter’s birthday.

A medical pupil checks on Larissa Raudales, an 18-year-old who was hospitalized after being identified with coronavirus. “I was terrified. … I thought I couldn’t breathe anymore,” Raudales mentioned. “I just thought I was going to practically die right there.”

The first two occasions O’Hare visited Varon’s hospital, the coronavirus unit was at most capability. The US Army got here later to assist develop the space and add extra beds.

Some of the individuals O’Hare noticed throughout these earlier visits didn’t survive. It was robust to consider.

“One of the hardest things to watch was after a man died, they put his belongings in a plastic bag next to him — just basketball shorts, a T-shirt, shoes,” she mentioned. “And it actually struck me that this man died with out his household and pals being there to say goodbye.

“No one deserves anything like that, and we all have a part to play in making sure that that doesn’t happen to more people in Texas.”

Jonnie Harrison sleeps in a mattress subsequent to her husband, Riley, on July 25. Both of them had been hospitalized in the coronavirus unit.

Health-care staff take a break from treating coronavirus sufferers.

Varon has been outspoken about the Covid-19 menace and the significance of sporting masks. That hasn’t sat effectively with everybody.

“People are calling my office and leaving threats because of all the media I’ve been doing, because they don’t believe that what we’re doing is real,” he mentioned.

Varon desires individuals to see: This is just not a hoax. This is an actual factor. People are dying.

“You have no idea my frustration when I leave the hospital, I’m heading home, and then in one of these outdoor malls I see a hundred cars, a bunch of young guys or young women having a party — no face masks, no nothing. That kills me,” he mentioned. “People are not listening.”

A medical-school pupil takes a nap in a break room. The group has been working round the clock this previous month to cope with a surge of Covid-19 circumstances.

Callaghan O’Hare is a photographer based mostly in Houston. Follow her on Instagram.

Photo editor: Brett Roegiers





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