Given the dangers doctors face on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Matthew Bai and his wife made a difficult decision over the weekend.
"My wife and I decided that it would be safer for our family, for our 17-month-old daughter and my wife, to leave our apartment until this is over, since I'm in and out of this high-risk environment everyday," he said to the camera while sitting in his car. "I don't know how long it's gonna be, but this morning when I left the house and said goodbye to my wife and my daughter for who knows how long. It's gonna be several weeks probably before I see them in person again."
Bai, an attending physician in the emergency department at Mt. Sinai Queens hospital, spoke about his difficult decision as part of a video diary documenting his day in the coronavirus pandemic.
The video, posted to the Mt. Sinai hospital Facebook page Wednesday night, shows some of the realities of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York: the fear of health care workers, the shortages of personal protective equipment, or PPE, and the surge in patients taking over hospital space.
New York has been the hardest hit state in the U.S. with over 84,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 2,200 deaths. The surge in cases has threatened to overwhelm the health care system, and doctors have warned they are running low on space, ventilators and supplies.
"You can see all the rooms are filled," Bai said as he navigated around patient beds in the hallways. "Usually these halls are very neat and empty. And now you can see, there's patients everywhere because of this. It makes it very hard to work, and we're trying our best to treat everyone we can."
"All these patients here, sitting out in the hallways because we are full. All these patients in the hallway have all been seen, even though we're overflowing -- (we're) trying our best to still provide them care, which we are doing. You can see here that the patients have oxygen tanks that they need."
Bai knew it would be a difficult day from the start. The night earlier, he said, there were over 60 patients waiting for a hospital bed with COVID-19.
“I don’t know what this morning’s gonna be like, but it’s probably not gonna be that much different from last night, meaning it’s gonna be a busy day. It’s been tough,” he said.
After arriving to the hospital, he put on layers of PPE that generally stay on for the entire day, including an N95 mask, a surgical mask on top of that, and eye protection.
"If I need to go into a high-risk procedure, like intubating a patient, meaning putting a patient on a ventilator, we have full face masks that cover the entire area and all your equipment," he said. "And after you're done with the procedure, that comes off, and we wipe that down and disinfect it for the next use."
His shift was supposed to end at 5 p.m., but he said he stayed until about 7 to finish taking care of patients. Bai, red-nosed from the tight fit of his PPE, admitted it was a tough day.
"The (Emergency Department) has been really full and everyone's trying their best to give everyone the treatment that they need. I mean I'm— I'm tired. I'm gonna go home and I'm gonna try to sleep, and then we'll be back tomorrow," he said.
"I want to say that, I mean, the things that I see in the ER are scary. I'm a little scared myself. But it's good to see all these people coming in from all over, from other services in the hospital, from other areas in the nation stepping in to help out.
“So, it’s not gonna be easy. I mean it’s gonna be really tough and it’s only gonna get tougher over the next two weeks,” Bai said. “But we’ll get through this as best as we can, and we’ll try to use the resources that we have, as best as we can to help as many people as we can.”