Image of ICU Doctor Embracing COVID-19 Patient Alone on Thanksgiving Shows Devastating Effect of Pandemic

Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston,
Getty Images

The photograph of a compassionate ICU doctor embracing a lonely COVID-19 patient on Thanksgiving Day tugs at your heartstrings and is the very reason why the photo has gone viral. 

Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, is the physician behind this selfless act. Varon, covered in personal protective equipment (PPE) from head to toe, was captured during a tender moment between patient and doctor by a photographer on Thursday.

Varon, who leads the hospital’s coronavirus unit and has worked 252 consecutive days during the coronavirus pandemic, managed to steal a few minutes to hug a patient who really needed a shoulder to cry on during the Thanksgiving holiday. 

"He was very sad because he's in a room where he knows nobody," Varon told "Good Morning America" of the patient, who was not identified. "We come in dressed like astronauts, and even though I usually have my picture with me so they can know who I am when I go to see them, it's very frustrating for the patients, and he was very emotional.”

Varon told ABC News that just when he heard the patient's emotion, he comforted the man who is being treated in the intensive care unit.

An incredibly moving gesture by Varon, who explained that fighting COVID-19 has been challenging for not only the patient but also for his fellow doctors and nurses, who are all working around-the-clock to care for the sick.  

"We are exhausted. We are tired," he said. "I have nurses [who] are in the middle of the day crying because they keep on getting patients and there are just not enough nurses that can help us."

There are some days, he said, he won’t even make it home.

"My days can be 16 hours ... and then when I get home, I get a million phone calls in the middle of the night," he said. ”When I leave my home, I tell my wife, '[I'll] see you,' but I don't know when or what time.”

Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients have gone up nearly every day since Oct. 25. As of Sunday, there were 93,238 hospitalizations in the United States due to the pandemic.

Varon said many of the people he has been treating are not practicing COVID-19 safety guidelines, including wearing a face mask and social distancing, and explains that situation as “frustrating.” 

“We see people, they come in very, very sick and when you ask them, 'How did you get [COVID-19]?' they basically tell you that they didn't follow any of the things that we've been asking them to please follow -- social distancing, no wearing masks, going to large gatherings," he said. "And then just coming to us near death."


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