From the emergency department, many patients eventually migrate to the I.C.U. Weiler’s I.C.U. has more than doubled in size since the pandemic hit, and it was calm and still, so different from the emergency department. Most patients lie sedated in beds in negative-pressure rooms; the only motion was in the squiggly lines on the electronic monitors. One patient recovering after 10 days on a ventilator waved to me happily, but she was the exception; many coronavirus patients in the I.C.U. never make it home.
New Yorkers have been dying of Covid-19 at a rate of almost 800 per day, and that’s probably a significant undercount. Upon a death, doctors fill out paperwork for the death certificate, and nurses and technicians prepare the body and attach a toe tag. In the old days, the body would be covered with a sheet and rolled to the morgue; now it is encased first in one body bag and then in a second, and a team takes the body to the hospital morgue, and then because there is no space, to a refrigerated truck outside that is replaced every couple of days.
“We are working with the funeral homes” to claim the bodies, said Linda Berger Spivack, the clinical director of nursing at Weiler. “However, the funeral homes are also extremely overwhelmed.”
Death is often an undignified and wrenching transition, but it’s particularly brutal now. We humans evolved to support one another, but viruses evolved to take advantage of our bonds — and so in a time of plague, people often die alone.
The Covid-19 wave may now be passing over New York — which means it will soon hit other places that were too relaxed about social distancing. “They should learn from New York,” Dr. Esses said. “Because if they don’t learn, then the same thing will happen there. And by the time they realize this, it’s too late.”
Let me give the last word to Nicole Del Valle, the young doctor who bravely reassures patients all day and then goes home to cry. I asked her what message she has for those who live in places not yet battered by the virus, who doubt the calls for masks and social distancing.
“The hospitals are still very overwhelmed,” she said. “It’s really hard as an emergency physician to see people suffer without their families at the bedside. It’s been a very hard time for everyone here.
“We are telling people to please stay home.”
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