The doctor revealed that COVID-19 patients, unable to bear the sting of isolation, have tried to escape the hospital.
"I want to be with my wife," a frail elderly man in a hospital gown told Joseph Varon as he buried his head in the arms of the PPE-clad doctor. The chief of staff at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston had found the senior COVID-19 patient out of his hospital bed, crying, and seeking help on Thanksgiving as he yearned to be with his family for the holiday. The heartbreaking moment Dr. Varon — dressed in protective equipment from head to toe— hugged and consoled the patient was captured on camera by photographer Go Nakamura, who was in the COVID ward documenting the pandemic for Getty Images.
The image, which shows the doctor's fixed, disturbed gaze through his plastic face shield, went viral on social media over the weekend after Nakamura posted it on Facebook. The photograph resonated with the pain and struggle of the millions of Americans who've either been battling the pandemic from the frontlines for months or felt its devastating impact in their personal lives or both. "I am grateful to witness a wonderful moment and I thank all the medical staffs for their hard work even during the holiday season," Nakamura captioned the image on Facebook.
Speaking to The Washington Post about the photograph being shared hundreds of times by netizens, he said: "I am so glad the photo went viral because people are talking about what is really happening inside of hospitals. I believe the photo can be the door to certain people so they can start to realize what is going on and what the reality is in the world right now." Nakamura revealed that he was standing in the corner of the intensive care unit room when the encounter unfolded before his eyes. He swiftly pulled out his camera and started shooting, attempting to capture a moment that exemplified the anguish and loneliness felt by COVID-19 patients who are separated from their loved ones for days on end and the quiet acts of compassion by medical workers.
Nakamura, who has visited the medical center more than 20 times, explained that he has witnessed many acts of generosity by Varon — a "warm, big-hearted person" — and other staff members. "I was feeling sad, just like him, and I was just recollecting all the patients that I have had to do similar things with," Varon told CNN. "I would go into their rooms, sit on their beds, and chat with them because they truly need somebody."
Dr. Varon added that that COVID-19 patients often cry and that there have even been some incidents where, unable to bear the sting of isolation, they've tried to escape the hospital. He revealed that the elderly patient in the photograph is currently recovering and expected to be discharged this week. As the country reels from soaring coronavirus infections and hospitalizations, Varon said that health workers at the United Memorial Medical Center are sometimes incapable of offering more comfort to their patients.
“I was just recollecting all the patients that I’ve had to do similar things with... because they truly need somebody.”— New Day (@NewDay) November 30, 2020
Houston Dr. Joseph Varon, who has worked 256 straight days, was seen comforting an elderly Covid-19 patient in a widely-shared photohttps://t.co/TZFrzscle0 pic.twitter.com/2YUImD7lT0
Texas reported the nation’s second-highest number of infections in a single day and has reportedly reached over 1,200,000 cases and more than 21,000 deaths so far. Varon, who revealed that he has worked for more than 250 days straight, said that he has repeatedly warned the public about the severity of the crisis in the state and pleaded with them to acknowledge the danger of the virus and follow appropriate preventive measures. If people refuse "to do the right thing," he said in an interview with CNN a day before Thanksgiving, "America will face the darkest days in modern American medical history."