April 3, 2020 / Jayme Fraser, Jessica Bliss, Giacomo Bologna, Grace Hauck, and Daveen Rae Kurutz, USA TODAY Network
One day last week in New York City, ambulances queued up outside the entrance to the emergency room. Passengers waited, some for five hours, to be triaged. They sat in the lobby hours more before seeing a doctor.
Dr. Calvin Sun — a freelance ER physician who said he’s worked 18 shifts at 10 hospitals in recent weeks — said the chaotic scene meant it was easier for him to leave the ER from one door and re-enter through another rather than weave between the tightly packed beds of coughing, sick people. Many more filled a hallway, sometimes for three days, until a bed or ventilator was available upstairs. Some died waiting.
Sun said nurses he knew to be unflinching told him they were terrified for their lives. Some used days-old face masks and wore garbage bags as gowns. When the hospitals ran out of hair nets and surgical caps, Sun wrapped a scarf around his head. When a gown did not have long enough sleeves, a coworker wrapped tape around his arms.
Sun, who has worked in New York emergency rooms since earning his medical degree five years ago, assessed the growing list of patients — all reported COVID-19 symptoms. He felt like every care decision he made was between a bad choice and a worse one.
“I was crying for the future,” Sun said. “I felt like nothing I was doing was beating back the tides.”