AS NEW YORK HOSPITALS have barred visitors to limit virus spread, Sossou can identify with patients left alone to die. When he was a teenager living in a refugee camp, Sossou contracted cholera and stayed in a tent with other kids whom doctors determined wouldn’t make it. They decided not to give him IV fluid, but reserve it for stronger patients. In the “death tent,” as he called it, a friend died next to him. Somehow he became stronger and stopped having diarrhea, even though he only remembers having unsanitary water to drink.
“A miracle, I guess,” he said. Doctors transferred him to the “survival tent,” and he was able to get treatment. For seriously ill COVID-19 patients now who aren’t allowed to have visitors, isolated like he was, Sossou spends part of his day calling family members to keep them updated on their loved ones’ medical status.
Now Sossou thinks about that kind of rationing coming to U.S. hospitals, where doctors would have to determine whether someone is too sick to get a ventilator. He’s friends with the ethics chair at his hospital, and this week they discussed how they hoped their hospital wouldn’t reach the point where they have to make such decisions. But New York area hospitals are quickly burning through ventilators, and hospitals nationwide are concerned about a shortage in drugs to do intubation.
“These are not easy decisions and they’re very difficult for people who have never had to make them before,” said Dr. David Stevens, who worked for years at Tenwek Hospital, a rural mission hospital in Kenya. Doctors at Tenwek regularly had to make decisions about limited resources—which babies would get an incubator, or who would get oxygen.
Stevens remembered one night that several children died in the pediatrics ward at Tenwek, and one of the doctors burst into tears over their limitations. Stevens told the crying doctor that more children would die without the doctors, so the doctor needed to stay healthy and avoid working 24/7. Stevens advises doctors in such situations: Ration yourself, ration your equipment, but also don’t ever be satisfied with a rationing scenario. Find more resources for patients. Get input from others for decisions on scarce resources, and document how you make decisions in order to be transparent.
“As competent as we are, as excellent as we are with our craft and profession, we cannot meet every need that is out there, and God comes alongside,” said Stevens, who went on to serve as the longtime CEO of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. “In the midst of this coronavirus epidemic, Christ is walking down the wards with healthcare professionals.”
In the meantime Sossou, working shifts six days a week from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., is being creative in the face of shortages. He microwaves his N-95 mask every night to disinfect it and uses it for a full week before getting a new one.
Having faced worse situations in his childhood, Sossou approaches the virus with a calm.
“I’m not afraid of dying,” he said. “Even if I’m dead today, if God planned for me to come this early, then it is His plan, and I’m pleased with it. Most of the time we don’t understand His plan for us and we think it’s irrational, but that’s His plan. If I don’t understand, when I get to Him we’ll talk about it. But I’m not afraid.”