Who is Dr Joseph Varon? Photo of Houston doctor comforting elderly Covid-19 patient on Thanksgiving floors Internet
Dr Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, said the patient was crying as he wanted to be with his wife
As emotions ran high among staff and patients at a Covid-19 ward on Thanksgiving day, a doctor did what many would think unimaginable: he hugged and comforted an elderly patient. The photograph of the coronavirus patient and Dr Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, was captured in the intensive care unit (ICU).
Wearing full personal protective gear, Dr Varon wrapped his gloved hands around the patient, shows the heartbreaking image taken by photographer Go Nakamura of Getty Images, which has now been seen by millions of people. The man buried his face in the doctor’s chest as the two shared a moment that captured a range of emotions, from sadness to fatigue to the compassion and tireless work of healthcare workers, who have been working nonstop to treat Covid-19 patients.
According to Dr Varon, the patient became emotional on Thanksgiving Day because he was lonely in the ICU and wanted to be with his wife. “I usually have media in our unit so that people can see what’s going on. I have the photographer following me and as I’m going inside my Covid-19 unit, I see that this elderly patient is out of his bed and trying to get out of the room, and he’s crying. So I get close to him and I tell him, ‘Why are you crying?’ and the man says, ‘I want to be with my wife’. I just grabbed him and I hold him. I did not know that I was being photographed at that time. And eventually, he felt better and he stopped crying,” the doctor told CNN.
Dr. Joseph Varon hugs and comforts a patient in the #COVID19 intensive care unit during #Thanksgiving at the United Memorial Medical Center in #Houston #Texas 📸: Go Nakamura pic.twitter.com/h2Vk18cKUp— Getty Images News (@GettyImagesNews) November 27, 2020
November 26 marked the 252nd consecutive day of work for Dr Varon at the hospital. He said that the senior patient cannot be with his wife at the moment. “We need to complete his treatment. He needs to be negative on his swabs so that we can then send him out of the hospital. But it is very difficult. You can imagine. You’re inside a room where people come in (wearing) spacesuits (referring to healthcare workers wearing personal protective equipment or PPE). You have no communication with anybody else – or by phone if you’re lucky. And when you’re an elderly individual, it’s even more difficult because you feel that you are alone. You feel isolated,” he noted.
Dr Varon said that he was feeling very sorry for the patient. “I was feeling sad just like him, and I was recollecting all the patients I had to do similar things with. I will go into a room, I will sit and chat with them because they truly need somebody to give them a hand. And my staff is very good at doing this. But we have so many patients that sometimes we cannot hold every patient or grab the hand of a patient,” he explained.
The patient in the image is doing “much better,” informed the doctor, adding they are hoping that before the end of the week, he will be able to get out of the hospital. Sharing the photo on social media, Nakamura wrote: “I am grateful to witness a wonderful moment and I thank all the medical staffs for their hard work even during the holiday season.”
The image also struck a chord with people on social media. One called it "heartbreaking", another "heart-wrenching" and a third said, “Yeah, this is the image of the year and it broke me.”
One person wrote “real hero,” and another stated, “If a picture could speak a thousand words! From compassion, kindness to the doctor’s humility, to what #COVID19 has done to us, this picture tells it all. We will get through this, together.” Someone wrote, “The photo is devastating but also very touching and a beautiful example of a doctor’s humanity,” while another called it “a great act of love.”
That picture is heartbreaking.— Donna (@daffi515) November 30, 2020
:sob: Heart wrenching! Prayers and blessings for the Dr. many prayers for the elderly man. :heart::pray::skin-tone-4:— May Garcia (@maygar2) November 29, 2020
Yeah, this is the image of the year and it broke me.— :mask:Karmageddon:mask: (@TinaMcGugan) November 30, 2020
Real hero!:clap::skin-tone-3::clap::skin-tone-3::clap::skin-tone-3::heart:— TGD (@Teregonzalezd) November 27, 2020
If a picture could speak a thousand words! From compassion, kindness to the doctor’s humility, to what #COVID19 has done to us, this picture tells it all. We will get through this, together :heart:— Shreya Elizabeth (@Shreya_Elle) December 1, 2020
The photo is devastating but also very touching and a beautiful example of a doctor's humanity. Thank you, Dr. Varon.— Re-United And It Feels SO Good (@Trace33917745) November 30, 2020
this is a great act of love— Piero P. Prisco (@PieroPrisco) November 29, 2020
Dr Varon, meanwhile, emphasized that such incidents are not uncommon. “(It happens) very often. The patients get so sad, some of them try to escape. We actually had somebody who tried to escape through a window the other day. They are so isolated, they really want out. It is very sad,” he stated.
When questioned how he handles such situations, Dr Varon noted that he does not know what keeps him going and why he has not broken down. “My nurses have broken down, my nurses cry in the middle of the day because they get so sad sometimes in situations like this — just seeing a patient that’s crying because he wants to see his family,” he added.
Coronavirus cases have been rising across the US and with Americans traveling over Thanksgiving, health experts fear that there could be a “surge upon a surge” in the coming weeks. More than 13,529,960 coronavirus cases have been reported from across the US so far and over 267,960 Americans have died in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr Varon said what gets to him is the “frustration that I do this day in and day out, and people are out there doing the wrong thing.” He noted, “People are out there in bars, restaurants, malls – it is crazy. People don’t listen and then they end up in my ICU.”
The doctor had earlier warned if people do not do things right for the next six to 12 weeks, “America is going to see the darkest days in modern American medical history.” He explained, “My hospital is full. I just opened two new wings so that I can accommodate for the next few days because I know that a lot of people are going to get sick after Thanksgiving.”
Dr Varon recommends that people need to do basic things such as social distancing, wearing a face mask, washing hands, and avoiding going to places that have a lot of people. “If people can do that, healthcare workers like me will be able to hopefully rest,” he said.