Vietnamese American doctor volunteering in New York told the last minutes of Covid-19 patients

Vietnamese American medical doctor, priest Pham Huu Tam (Anthony Pham) in Houston, Texas, is volunteering at the front line at Elmhurst Hospital, Queens, the hospital with the highest mortality rate in New York, recently gave interview with VOA Vietnamese about the noble physician’s work – bringing relief to the critical Covid-19 patient, connecting with their families before their death.

The US is currently the largest epidemic in the world with more than 922,293 cases, of which more than 52,000 deaths, mainly concentrated in New York state.

Responding to the New York Governor’s call, Dr. Tam decided to close his office for three weeks to go to the American epicenter of Covid-19 to support the patients.

Photo: Priest, Doctor Pham Huu Tam (Anthony Pham) volunteers at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York

As a priest, he had the opportunity to celebrate the Anointing and the confession for a number of Catholic patients in the intensive care unit of Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, the “center of the pandemic.”

Born in 1965 in Saigon, having a father who was an airplane repairman for the US during the Vietnam War, Tam became a boatman to come to the US to take refuge in 1980. He attended college in California, studied medicine in Washington DC, and later joined the ICM Missionary Conventional Congregation, and studied philosophy and theology in Lousina. After ordaining a priest at a convent in Texas, he continued to study medicine and later became a practicing physician in Houston.

On April 23, some Elmhurst Queens hospital staff lit candles in front of the hospital. We pray for the many thousands of Covid-19 patients who have died here in the past 6 weeks. Let their families suffer, have mercy on loved ones. For those who are still writhing in a hospital bed. For doctors and nurses on the frontline who have fallen for work.

Yesterday I first went to the ED Emergency Department to see the patient. Right next to the bed about 10 medical doctors and nurses were doing emergency resuscitation for a 45-year-old male patient. Chest compressions, oxygen pumps, finding veins into sea water, epinephrine injections, cardiogenic shock … perform all the latest medical knowledge and equipment in the hope of saving patients. 30 minutes like that, but eventually the patient died. The Emergency Department was like a battlefield, the patients were full, with constant emergency care.

Before death, people feel helpless and really humble. Latest medicine has its limits. As in this Covid-19 pandemic, people increasingly feel life is very fragile and limited. So that we can bow our heads and pray to the Most High.

Our weapons are not limited to modern medicine, but also hope and love,” Dr. Tam confided on his personal Facebook.

I went to New York City to volunteer for three weeks. They asked me where I wanted to go. In a spirit of volunteering, I want to go to the busiest and most in need of help.”

They said it was Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, the place with the highest number of Covid-19 cases, the heaviest, the most fatal, and the most overcrowded. That’s why I went to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens to work.”

Currently in the hospital, everything has changed completely. Previously there were different departments but now only one department is treated for Covid-19 patients – with 95% of patients being patients with Covid-19. All the doctors in the hospital, whether they are surgeons, general practitioners, pregnant women, cardiologists, etc. also put their efforts into helping the Covid-19 patients.”

 “They split up into different teams. My team, called Palliative Care, specializes in helping patients feel comfortable, including pain relief, family connection, and spirituality,” Dr. Tam said.

When the patient enters the hospital, it is considered to be cut off with outside, no relatives can visit. When the patient is awake, he can also call to talk a little with family. But when it comes to a more severe period, if they cannot breathe, they must be placed on a breathing tube, then go into a coma, anesthetize them … from that time, family can no longer contact the patient, nor know anything about the patient.”

For critical patients, we must call the family. Updated patient status for families. Those calls are really bad news. I consulted their families that if their hearts stop beating, should we have an emergency resuscitation procedure [Do-Not-Resuscitate order]? In fact, doing that procedure would not have been very satisfactory, and would only prolong the pain of the sick person.”

VOA: Contact with Covid-19 patients at the end of their lives, how do you feel?

Dr. Tam: “In recent days I have helped connect families in some cases. The family wanted to see the faces of their loved ones in the last moments while they were unable to go to the hospital, I called them by cell phone, used Facetime and went to the patient’s room so that they could see the relatives. Of course I have to wear anti-bacterial clothing, cover all … Relatives look through Facetime crying, praying, saying goodbye … in the last moments.

Even after death, the patient stays in the morgue for a long time, because during the epandemic it is impossible to bury anything. So pitiful.”

VOA asks: Many people call this act of courage, very heroic. What does the doctor think about compliments like that?

Dr. Tam said: “When I went to the hospital, there were so many people in it who were facing danger. Not only the nurses, the doctors, but the janitors who clean up, take out garbage from the infected patients room, people who bring food … there are many who are silently sacrificing to work.

We are like those who storm the battlefield before the heads of arrows. We vow to do our best for our responsibility to patients, to our teammates.”

VOA: As both a doctor and a priest, what advice would you give to the VOA audience at the moment?

Dr. Tam: “This is a serious disease. If you are still listening to me, we are still healthy. When you are outside, try your best to support the government to prevent the spread of disease by staying at home and keeping personal hygiene to the maximum.

Our immune system is very important, it depends not only physically but also mentally. If our spirits are strong, joyful … then our immune systems will surely fight much stronger.

At this moment I know for sure that many people are sad because of losing their jobs, being in a prison, difficult family life … so mental health is also very important. Let’s support each other, love each other during this time.”

Each of us has a religion and a faith, and it is faith in religion that helps us to fight, and excitement, hope, and optimism. We pray with grace, Buddhists pray to Buddha, Catholics pray to God … so that grace can bless us, protect us, pray to end this disease soon,” priest and doctor Tam shared.

Taking rest after 12 hours of work, Ms. Hailey Dac feels like collapse because of witnessing a 34-year-old male patient who died of Covid-19 infection.

Photo: Dr. Hailey Dac, at Covid-19 treatment department of Medical City Healthcare, Dallas, Texas

It was March 22, the first day a 45-year-old nurse was transferred to work at the Covid-19 treatment department of Medical City Healthcare, one of the major private hospitals of Dallas, Texas, the US.

I feel helpless before the evil virus. Why can not I save a young male patient, without a history of background disease, previously completely healthy?” Ms. Hailey shared with VnExpress.

Since the end of January, when the first case of Covid-19 in the US was recorded in Washington state, Dallas Medical City Hospital has started preparing infrastructure and equipment, reserving a floor with 15 negative pressure rooms ready to prepare treating coronavirus-infected patients.

On March 11, Hailey’s colleagues accepted the first patient. Ten days later, the number of cases increased to 20, of which 5 people aged 2 to 71 were in critical condition. The common symptom of these patients is high fever of about 40 degrees Celsius, cough, body aches, shortness of breath.

From the emergency resuscitation department, the Vietnamese female nurse was mobilized to join the war. She is in charge of caring for two patients, including the 34-year-old man.

When he was transferred to the hospital, the patient was in serious condition, had a fever, coughed a lot, had trouble breathing, had less than 70% oxygen content. Doctors decided to have a breathing tube right away,” said Hailey. “The result of white chest X-ray, bowel stopped working, blood pressure went down.”

She said doctors have used three types of antibiotics, azithromycin, levaquin, vancomycin, many types of hypertension and plaquenil, a drug commonly used to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus and diarrhea. Plaquenil is currently only used by doctors in Medical City for young patients with no history of heart disease, since the drug can prolong heart rate.

However, the situation of male patients is increasingly critical. The oxygen machine could not pump oxygen into his lungs because his lungs were so badly damaged. That night, the patient died despite efforts of Hailey and the doctors.

What makes us even more heartbroken is that the patient leaves without being able to have a loved one by the end of his life. Has mankind ever become like this?” The nurse said.

10 years in emergency resuscitation department, Hailey had witnessed many patients collapsed before death, but no one had to leave alone like patients infected with Covid-19.

To avoid the risk of infection, the hospital does not allow family members to visit critically ill patients. Medical City has 3,000 beds, 7 gates, but currently only 2 gates open and anyone with access to the body will have a temperature checker. I have never seen the hospital parking lot as empty as it is now.

The infectious disease doctors here initially thought that Covid-19 was just a normal flu and compared it to seasonal flu, which causes 20,000-30,000 deaths each year,” she said. “However, when the number of people infected with Covid-19 has increased globally, they have acknowledged the dangers of the disease. The governor and the mayor of the city hold a press conference every day to update the situation and issue instructions to prevent spreading.”

There are 13 hospitals in Dallas and fortunately, it has not been overloaded yet. Leaders of Medical City Hospital yesterday met and asked nurses like Ms. Hailey to be ready to work one more day a week if the disease situation became worse. They also considered the option of mobilizing retired nurses to assist.

Hailey works 3 days a week, 12 hours a day, from 7am to 7pm. She is fully equipped with protective clothing, hats, glasses, masks, shoe covers, gloves to minimize the risk of infection. When the time was up, she took off her clothes and left the hospital to destroy, bathe and clean before going home.

Medical City Hospital is currently treating 9 cases positive for Covid-19 and has just received rapid test kits for results within 3 hours, instead of 3-6 days as before. Testing and treatment for Covid-19-infected patients at the hospital are free.

However, extensive testing only takes place through a drive-thru testing program. Residents report their health status via the online link, after which they will be scheduled for a test point. They completely sat in the car, were asked to sample fluid by the doctor, advised them to be isolated on their own while waiting for the results.

Ms. Hailey said that according to the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if positive for Covid-19 in mild form, patients should stay at home isolated, report to the doctor by phone to be followed up and guide treatment.

Only those with severe symptoms, excessive coughing, high fever, not breathing can be assigned to a hospital by a doctor or can call an ambulance for themselves,” Hailey said. “When patients are confirmed positive for Coronavirus, doctors will investigate epidemiology and recommend people who have had close contact with them to get tested.”

However, from the actual treatment at the hospital, the nurse warned that young people should be cautious because the risk posed to Covid-19 by everyone is unpredictable.

The patients we have received are of different ages and men account for a higher proportion than women. Young healthy people like the 34-year-old male patients cannot save, while older patients recover,” said Ms. Hailey.

To prevent Covid-19 infection, she advises people to follow CDC recommendations, wash their hands often, and keep a distance of more than 2 meters. If you have any suspicious symptoms, call your doctor and do a self-examination every day.

Because of working in direct contact with the patient Covid-19, two weeks now, Ms. Hailey has sent her 10-year-old daughter to her grandparents’ home to ensure safety. She also calls her two older sons living in separate places to keep the toilet clean, wear a mask, avoid crowded people. Every few days, she and her husband bought necessities and placed them in front of their parents’ house, knocked on the door to inform them that they were going to take and leave, and all conversations took place over the phone.

This virus is dangerous in that it is completely new, we do not know it well and there is no preventive or special treatment. Many people are careful but still do not understand how they have been infected already. There are no symptoms, each body’s resistance is different,” Ms. Hailey said. “I hope that everyone will raise awareness and contribute to smoothing the curve of the epidemic chart. I myself am always ready to be mobilized to relay in the fight.

Trung Nam from Da nang – (Translated)