A Houston doctor who drew widespread attention after a photograph went viral showing him comforting a patient in a coronavirus intensive care unit on Thanksgiving is opening up about the experience, saying he was trying to “be a little more human.”
Dr. Joseph Varon, who serves as chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center, told CNN’s John Berman on Monday that the viral moment occurred shortly after he spotted the elderly man crying and trying to leave the unit as the physician entered the room last Thursday.
Varon said a photographer had also followed him into the special unit, noting that he “usually has media” for transparency “so people can see what’s going on.”
“So, I have the photographer following me, and as I’m going inside my COVID unit, I see that this elderly patient is out of his bed and trying to get out of the room and he’s crying,” Varon said.
Varon, who was in protective gear at the time, said he got “close” to the patient and asked him why he was crying, to which he said the man responded, “I want to be with my wife.”
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“So, I just grab him. I hold him. I did not know that I was being photographed at the time. And he was just crying and eventually he felt better and he stopped crying,” Varon said.
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The doctor said the man won’t be able to be with his wife until he completes his treatment and recovers.
“He needs be negative on his swabs so that we can then send him out of the hospital,” Varon said.
“But, it’s very difficult,” Varon added of being in the coronavirus intensive care unit. “You can imagine, you are inside a room where people coming in space suits and you have no communication with anybody else, other by phone, if you’re lucky.”
“And when you are an elderly individual, it’s even more difficult because you feel that you are alone,” he continued. “You feel isolated.”
Varon said he felt “very sorry” for the patient during the viral encounter last week.
“I was feeling sad just like him,” Varon said. “And I was just recollecting all the patients that I’ve had to do similar things with.”
“I will go into their rooms. I will sit on their bed and chat with them because they truly need somebody to give them a hand,” he said. “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 or at least try to be a little more human,” he said.
Luckily, Varon said the patient has since been “doing much better,” adding that staff is hopeful that “before the end of the week, he will be able to get out of the hospital.”