It was late at night on Jan. 24, the day after Wuhan went into lockdown, when I boarded a plane bound for the city as part of a 128-member medical support team sent from the southern Guangdong province to the epicenter of China’s COVID-19 epidemic. We received a brief training session the next day, and on Jan. 26, we were taken to the hospital ward where we would spend the next 54 days.
I’ve been a doctor in an intensive care unit for 12 years, and during that time I’ve dealt with all manner of serious diseases. But stepping into that ward was the most terrifying moment of my life.
The cleaning staff and security guards hired by the hospital — most of them contractors — were gone, and the hallways were covered in garbage bags and contaminated medical waste. The ward was staffed by a total of two ophthalmologists and two nurses who were expected to care for 85 critically ill patients in varying degrees of respiratory distress.
Most of these patients should have been in an ICU, not a converted inpatient clinic. That first day, we watched as one of the doctors did their best to save a patient near death. It was no use: The hospital didn’t have enough oxygen left.