Struggling to Save Lives in New York as COVID-19 Fatalities Rise

We have been largely ignorant about the spread of the virus.

My Report
5 min read
Rajat Thawani details his experience of working at one of New York City’s biggest hospitals during COVID-19.

I graduated medical school in Delhi, practiced in India and then decided to move to the US to train in internal medicine in 2017. I was a decent student, and would say that I had a broad knowledge of diseases, and yet, all I knew about coronavirus was that it causes SARS and looked like a crown.

I work at one of New York City’s biggest hospitals, which has been deeply impacted by COVID-19 and caters to a wide range of immigrant population. I heard about the epidemic pretty early on, in December 2019. Like most people, I was ignorant and thought it was something that would stay in China and the lockdown of flights from China to the US might be excessive but definitely enough to stop the spread.

(Click here for live updates on COVID-19. Also visit Quint Fit for comprehensive coverage on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.)

One of my classmates was in China and when she came back, she was asked to quarantine at home for 14 days. Again, excessive! In my head, I equated this disease to influenza where we wear a mask to see every patient and are okay then. At a public health level, the US gives the flu a lot of importance, with vaccinations and a lot of signs about maintaining hand hygiene, etc.

I was sure that if the virus had to come to the US, it would be New York City. And it did! In March, our hospital had our first case and there was no stopping it. The numbers kept on rising, the hospital kept on expanding their beds.

One ICU after another were added to the hospital, and doctors and nurses were taking charge of more patients that they usually do. There was a shortage of ventilators, PPE and other medical supplies, like everywhere else in the city. The Governor of the state of New York asked private companies to produce them if they could, there were ads for private citizens to donate money, supplies, anything they could.

Rajat fully dressed in his PPE.
Rajat fully dressed in his PPE.
(Photo Courtesy: Rajat Thawani)

Recommendations were to save our masks until they were ‘visible soiled’ or ‘completely unusable’. A few weeks ago, we would throw these masks after every use.

On the hospital front, the disease is new! Doctors did not know the impact of the disease on the human body. My first day in the ICU as a resident physician, I had no idea what I am dealing with.

All the patients on life support were crashing one after the other. Overhead, you could hear a rapid response for a patient requiring mechanical ventilation or resuscitation every 10-15 minutes.

It was scary and depressing. There were rumours that we have no more ventilators left in the city. We were wondering if we ever have to decide on who we need to save, and forget about everything that we have trained for. Luckily, we never reached that stage.

To make matters worse, we started hearing doctors and nurses dying of the disease. One colleague of ours was admitted to the hospital with severe shortness of breath, then another senior doctor, and then another, and then too many to count. All the doctors started being scared of the impact of the disease on our physical well-being.


Mental Cost for COVID-19 Doctors

At this point, most of my co-residents have been sick with a viral illness, we just don’t know which one because none of us want to be in an ER to get tested as patients. We know what the wait time is like.

The mental toll this disease is taking on us is exceptional, and it is believed that many of us will need therapy after this ends, if not now.

When I go to work, I drink warm water, eat a meal at 6 am, and gargle. I force-feed myself a meal to make sure I can last 12 hours without the need to remove my mask. I go in scrubs, get into a bunny suit, wear one N95 mask, then a surgical mask on top of it with a head cover, two shoe covers, glasses to cover my eyes, and then a face shield on top of it all.

After a long day at work.
After a long day at work.
(Photo Courtesy: Rajat Thawani)
It takes 30 minutes to get ready for work, at work!

Doing my job is definitely harder. I can’t see ultrasound images through my glasses and face shield, and I avoid prolonged conversations with my patients. I fear getting the disease from them, and then ending up like them. I feel guilty for not being the doctor I am trained to be, and not living up to my oath.


After 12 hours of work, I remove my gear, and carefully preserve my N95 because I need it again. I get out of my suit, and wear regular street clothes, and pick up scrubs for tomorrow.

Because I walk the hallway in my regular street clothes, when I reach home, I go into the shower with my clothes and launder them there itself.

My message to people to India, and why I write this, is that you do not want to be in a hospital right now. Please do as the government says and prevent this disease from doing what it did to other countries. Help yourself and fellow Indians by staying at home. Don’t look for ways to get away from this curfew. Support healthcare workers who are contributing a lot in taking care of you.  To all the healthcare workers in India, you are one of the best in the world, and I know because I worked with you!

Please take care of yourselves. The psychological stress of this is real and seek help when you think you need it.

(All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!