Coronavirus News: NYC doctor describes death and despair of fight against COVID-19

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The words from a front line doctor battling the coronavirus are shedding light on the death and despair health care workers must deal with, even as they look for signs of hope amid the pandemic.

"This is well outside of our comfort zone," said Dr. Benny Laitman, otolaryngology resident at Mount Sinai Hospital. "Quite honestly, we don't really deal with death directly on a day to day basis."

About a month ago, Dr. Laitman watched from the sidelines as his friends got hammered on the front lines. He watched as the pandemic engulfed New York.

So he and several colleagues volunteered where their city needed them the most, at a makeshift surge ICU at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens -- what was the epicenter of the epicenter.

"I wasn't ready for this," he said.

As he entered the COVID unit, he said it felt a thick wave of death hit him in the face -- and the pace was unrelenting.

He was terrified about bringing it home to his wife and 20-month-old daughter, and he was terrified for how his patients' families would have to say goodbye.

"Seeing people pass away without their loved ones at their bedside is just not right," he said.

Sometimes the video chats he hosted for a patient's loved ones would happen after the patient had passed, because sometimes they died too quickly.

Imagine having to hold a phone up to a dead patient and watching each child and spouse say their final words, holding each other as they cried, and knowing on the other end that their loved one was already gone.

"It was really difficult," Dr. Laitman said. "It was hard to see those families say those goodbyes, to say their prayers. I'll remember what that looks like. I'll remember what that sounds like."

The good news is that Dr. Laitman says it isn't as bad as it was weeks ago.

He can't predict if we will see a second peak, but if it comes, he doesn't know if can handle another wave.

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