Joseph Varon, who is the head of the intensive care unit at United Memorial, a small hospital that mainly treats minority patients in Houston, hit the headlines when a photo of him hugging an elderly Covid patient during Thanksgiving in 2020, became viral.

While this man continued to recover, the Crow was pursued by those who did not have time.

“As a doctor, in the last two years alone, I have signed more death certificates than ever before,” he said.

As well as United States notes the grim milestone of one million deaths from Covid, health workers who have served at the forefront continue to bear a heavy burden, even as the rest of society moves on.

Many are exhausted, traumatized and still afraid of overcrowding.

Raven remembers well his first death – an immigrant who worked in a hotel.

“He was hospitalized and died a week later at the age of 34 without any previous illness,” he said.

Since then, until the last big wave earlier this year, there has been little respite.

Raven recalls how the nurses cried, faced with endless receptions in the intensive care unit, beds in the corridors, one intubation after another.

He also remembers how his wife asked him to change in the garage before entering their house, after a 20-hour shift.

The Thanksgiving photo, Varon said, “has become a symbol that we doctors also have feelings.”

At that moment, he did not care to protect himself, but wanted to comfort a man who did not know whether he would have time and could not see his wife, because visiting is prohibited.

The demands of the work also gave personal gifts. Raven feels much older than his 59 years, hasn’t gone on vacation since the pandemic and called for prescriptions on his daughter’s wedding day.

He now sees the “light at the end of the tunnel” and doesn’t see many patients with Covid – although he does see patients with post-Covid disease, including heart and lung problems.

– Crowd stress –

In the beginning, the disease was a complete mystery: how it was transmitted, who was most susceptible, how to treat it.

Medical workers were afraid to bring him home to their loved ones or die themselves.

This fear was heightened for Daniel Brenner, an ambulance doctor interviewed by AFP at the start of the pandemic, when doctors were trying to find the right strategies to deal with severe lung damage caused by severe Covid cases.

Brenner’s wife is also an ambulance doctor – and until the vaccine came along, they lived in fear of leaving their two young children, who are now five and three years old.

“The thought of dying because of what you do and leaving your children orphaned is horrible,” the 38-year-old man said.

Now working in Indianapolis, Brenner says he has found it difficult to adjust to the crowd, despite the much lower level of Covid in the community, and is unlikely to do what he previously took for granted, such as eating out.

“It’s unfortunate because I try not to hurt my children,” he said, becoming emotional.

“I want to make sure there is something in their lives that is enriching, but it’s very difficult when I’m trying to figure out what’s safe.”

The vaccine was an important turning point, Brenner said, significantly reducing the risk of serious illness and removing the burden from his shoulders.

But vaccine supporters are still sick.

“I have a mixture of sadness and frustration because it can be prevented, and I see people spreading misinformation and doing themselves, their neighbors and families a disservice,” he said.

As for more hope, Brenner is keen to talk to all the high-risk patients he sees about Covid vaccinations, and believes those who are hesitant tend to give in when dealing with their fears.

“The vast majority of my patients after this conversation ask me where to get vaccinated,” he says.

Brenner directs them to a clinic at the same hospital.

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