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ER Doctor Saw COVID-19 Devastate New York. Now, He's Doing It Again In California

Medical personnel from Riverside University Health Systems hospitals administer a coronavirus test to an individual during drive-through testing in the parking lot of Diamond Stadium on March 22 in Lake Elsinore, Calif.
Medical personnel from Riverside University Health Systems hospitals administer a coronavirus test to an individual during drive-through testing in the parking lot of Diamond Stadium on March 22 in Lake Elsinore, Calif.

Dr. Louis Tran, an emergency physician, spend much of May in New York City ICUs treating patients with COVID-19. Now, he's back at home in San Bernardino County in California, fighting the same virus on a different coast.

This week, California surpassed New York and became the state with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country. But the deaths are far lower, in part because the majority of new cases are young people, who are not at an increased risk of severe illness and are less likely to die from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gov. Gavin Newsom reimposed restrictions on some indoor businesses, including restaurants, wineries, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, zoos, museums and bars on July 13.

"It's difficult when you're just being bombarded on a daily basis," Tran says. "COVID-19 is a different animal and there's a lot of us who are wondering how it's going to look when we really get hit."

He says some of his colleagues are experiencing what he would describe as symptoms similar to PTSD.

"I've had professional colleagues tell me that they're not sure that they could handle a second wave if it would hit again," he says. "They are so overwhelmed."

On Morning Edition,Tran describes what it's like for his colleagues at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center and how doctors are handling working during the pandemic.

Here are excerpts of the conversation.

On the impact the pace of work is having on him

Just because we're physicians does not make us not human. ... Obviously we're fearful of not caring for our patients but we also are concerned for our families and friends. I haven't seen my mother in months. The only time I saw her was one time when she injured her knee and I came over to examine her from a distance. But other than that I haven't seen my mother personally in months. We FaceTime. I haven't seen my friends who are older or who have significant comorbidities in a while. And I do miss them. I miss the community of people that we all need. ... It is definitely putting a stress on all of us. Our staff is short. We are asked to cover more shifts. Just the emotional and physical demands of the job itself — forget about the impact of the disease on your psyche. That itself is already putting a toll on a lot of us.

On long doctors can operate at this pace

How long can we deal with this? The short answer is as long it needed to be. The bottom line is that if there's a need, we'll be there. Someone has to be there. That's the calling of emergency medicine and we answer the call 24/7. Someone always has to be there. But it can be a little taxing on the body and soul. But we all agree that we will always be there.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.