Viral photo of Texas doctor comforting elderly COVID-19 patient highlights toll of isolation

Viral photo of Texas doctor comforting elderly COVID-19 patient highlights toll of isolation

Joseph Varon hugs COVID-19 patient, Houston, Texas, US
Dr Joseph Varon hugs and comforts a patient in the COVID-19 ICU during Thanksgiving at the United Memorial Medical Center on Nov 26, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images/Go Nakamura)

WASHINGTON: Joseph Varon, a doctor treating coronavirus patients at a Texas hospital, was working his 252nd day in a row when he spotted a distraught elderly man in the COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU).

Varon's comforting embrace of the white-haired man on Thanksgiving Day was captured by a photographer for Getty Images and has gone viral around the world.

Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, told CNN he was entering the COVID-19 ICU when he saw the elderly patient "out of his bed and trying to get out of the room".

"And he's crying," Varon said. "So I get close to him and I (ask) him, 'Why are you crying?'"

"And the man says, 'I want to be with my wife.' So I just grab him and I hold him," Varon said. "I was feeling very sorry for him. I was feeling very sad, just like him."

Texas doctor comforts COVID-19 patient
Dr Joseph Varon comforts a patient in the COVID-19 ICU during Thanksgiving at the United Memorial Medical Center on Nov 26, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images/Go Nakamura)

"Eventually he felt better and he stopped crying," Varon told CNN on Monday (Nov 30), which he said was his 256th consecutive day of work.

"I don't know why I haven't broken down," the doctor said. "My nurses cry in the middle of the day."

READ: California at COVID-19 'tipping point' as Trump administration hopes for vaccines by Christmas

Varon said the isolation of the COVID-19 unit was difficult for many patients, particularly the elderly.

"You can imagine," he said. "You are inside a room where people are coming in spacesuits.

Joseph Varon COVID-19 doctor, Texas
Dr Joseph Varon puts on his face shield before entering the COVID-19 ICU at United Memorial Medical Center on Nov 16, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images/Go Nakamura)

"When you are an elderly individual, it's more difficult because you are alone," he said.

"Some of them cry. Some of them try to escape," he said. "We actually had somebody who tried to escape through a window the other day."

READ: US reports more than 10,000 coronavirus deaths last week

Varon said the elderly man in the picture is "doing much better".

"We are hoping that before the end of the week he'll be able to get out of the hospital," he said.

Joseph Varon COVID-19 doctor, Texas (1)
Dr Joseph Varon prepares to go into the intensive care unit (ICU) at the United Memorial Medical Center on Nov 22, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images/Go Nakamura)

Varon also had a message for people who are not taking precautions amid the pandemic.

"People are out there in bars, restaurants, malls," the doctor said. "It is crazy. People don't listen and then they end up in my ICU.

READ: Americans brace for COVID-19 'surge upon a surge'

"What people need to know is I don't want to have to be hugging them.

"They need to do the basic things - keep your social distance, wear your masks, wash their hands, and avoid going to places where there are a lot of people," he said. "If people would do that, healthcare workers like me could hopefully rest."

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Source: AFP/jt

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