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LI anesthesiologist turned coronavirus doctor recalls when a patient asked if they were going to die

While many of us follow stay-at-home orders and wait for lockdowns to end, healthcare workers continue to battle on the frontlines against the novel coronavirus.

Doctors and nurses from all hospital departments suddenly found themselves as first responders in intensive care units intubating patient after patient, trying to treat and prevent the spread of the highly-infectious disease.

One of them is Dr Tazeen Beg, an anesthesiologist at Stony Brook University Medical Center in Long Island, New York – a 600-bed facility that essentially turned into a COVID-19 hospital.

The 53-year-old has treated hundreds of patients over these last two months and says there are several moments that have ‘stayed with her’ during such unprecedented times.

Speaking with DailyMail.com, Beg explained what her days have been like, the challenges she and her co-workers face as they treat seriously ill patients, and the heartbreaking moment in which a patient asked her if he was going to die.

Dr Tazeen Beg (pictured), 53, is an anesthesiologist at Stony Brook University Medical Center in Long Island, New York

Dr Tazeen Beg (pictured), 53, is an anesthesiologist at Stony Brook University Medical Center in Long Island, New York

Dr Tazeen Beg (pictured), 53, is an anesthesiologist at Stony Brook University Medical Center in Long Island, New York

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Beg became a frontline worker on the Airway Team, intubating patients across the hospital. The Airway Team at Stony Brook University Medical Center, Beg (center) with two colleagues

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Beg became a frontline worker on the Airway Team, intubating patients across the hospital. The Airway Team at Stony Brook University Medical Center, Beg (center) with two colleagues

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Beg became a frontline worker on the Airway Team, intubating patients across the hospital. The Airway Team at Stony Brook University Medical Center, Beg (center) with two colleagues 

Prior to the pandemic, Beg was arriving to the hospital at 6.30am to get ready for her day of operations.

Some days she was in the main operating rooms where she provided continuous pain relief and sustained critical life functions during surgeries. 

Other days, she was an anesthesia coordinator, deciding which cases go to which operating room, and sometimes she would be providing sedation for non-surgical operations such as colonoscopies.

Beg would start seeing patients around 7.30am and, on a typical day, she would head home between 5pm and 6pm.

That all changed after the pandemic hit.

Long Island has been one of the hardest hit regions of New York, the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak.

As of Thursday, Nassau and Suffolk County have nearly 80,000 confirmed cases of the illness and more than 4,500 deaths.

At Stony Brook University Medical Center, hundreds of new COVID-19 patients were coming through the doors every day.

‘I volunteered for the COVID Airway Team, which means I was responsible for all the COVID intubations, whether it was in the emergency room or on the floors or in the ICU,’ Beg said.

‘We were providing intubations because they were the sickest of the sick patients.’

She and other members of her team began working 12-hour shifts for seven days at a stretch before getting a couple of days off.

Beg would dress every day in scrubs, a surgical gown, a hood, three pairs of disposable gloves and a N95 mask with a surgical mask over it.

‘It has been very exhausting, both mentally and physically,’ she said.

‘Sleepless hours at night, fearing the unknown you know since there is not a standard treatment nor a vaccine.’

One of the most striking COVID-19 cases for Beg was of a young man between the ages of 27 and 28.

He was very short of breath and his other vital signs showed he was ill, but he sitting up in his hospital bed on his phone.

Beg says that a lot of the younger patients that she’s come across don’t seem to understand how ill they are.

‘We went in, I spoke to him and I told him what we we’re going to do and said: “We’re going to make sure you’re safe and comfortable,”‘ she said.

‘He just looked up from his phone and asked: “Will I wake up from this?” And the second question was: “Am I going to die?”

‘That is something that stays back with you.’

Another patient, a man in his 40s, only spoke Spanish and didn’t understand the nurses when they said they had to intubate him and kept refusing.

Eventually, after getting his family on the phone, whom acted as his translators, he consented.

According to Beg, the man in his 20s was discharged from the hospital one week later while the man in his 40s is still there, last she checked.

Beg’s other big fear is getting her family ill so she’s taken several precautions to make sure she keeps her husband and two college-aged daughters safe.

She changes out of the scrubs she’s been wearing during her shift into a clean pair of scrubs on her drive home.

‘I leave my shoes outside the garage. We have a small area in the garage where we have some rubbing alcohol spray to clean my phone, take it out of the cover.

‘Then I walk straight into the shower and I have a small room right next to the garage where I’ve been staying since March 14.’

If she ever leaves the room to go to other areas of the house, she wears a mask.

While Beg worries about contracting COVID-19, she said she is very appreciative of the outpour of support for frontline workers.

She says she wants to encourage all medical staffers to take just as much care of themselves as they are of patients. 

‘We are very committed and passionate about our profession so we are proud to be able to serve, but we should always remember we are certainly not invincible,’ she said.

‘My piece of advice for other healthcare workers is there is no emergency in a pandemic to rush into a patient’s room. We need you to be healthy so that you can take care of others. So put on your PPE first before entering the patient’s room.

‘I’m always reminded of the situation where you are on a plane and the flight attendant is giving you I the inflight safety instruction and says: “You put on your own mask first and then try to help others.”‘

Source: Daily Mail | Health

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