‘They're All on Fire': NYC Per Diem Doc Warns of Hospitals' Capacity to Fight Virus

"I've treated my own colleagues, nursing staff, put them on breathing machines, intubated them."

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Dr. Calvin Sun has worked 18 shifts at more than a dozen emergency rooms across New York City in the past 21 days, and he has been documenting everything on Instagram.

He works as a per diem emergentologist, meaning he will fill in shifts at any emergency room if someone calls in sick, usually around 10 times a month. But due to the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and New York City becoming the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., Sun says he has been responding to every call.

"As a per diem doctor, I can choose whenever and wherever I want to work but in war-time scenario such as this, it's a calling. I have to go in," Sun told MSNBC on Monday.

Having seen the inside of many hospital rooms in the city, the doctor noted that one hospital is not more or less busy than any other ones. "They're all on fire. They all need help," he said.

When asked about personal protective equipment for health care workers, Sun said all hospitals he has worked at are running low. "It's like being asked to run naked into a burning building," he said.

The past week, Sun says he has been using donated PPE.

"[My] face shield is now two weeks old. It's supposed to be changed between patients," he said. "I'm washing it with soap and water. The paint started washing off."

"I have no choice," he added. "I'd rather have something physical, a physical barrier, than nothing at all."

Sun also noted that he has worked around the world, but what he's seeing amid the coronavirus pandemic is the most dire situation he's even been in. In New York City alone, more than 1,000 people have died from COVID-19.

"This would not be the country you'd expect to be doing this," he explained. "I've worked in developing countries where we didn't have to deal with this."

New research from Columbia as of March 29 projects a “medium” surge to start overwhelming hospital capacity in Westchester in 12 days and Manhattan in 20 days.

"I've treated my own colleagues, nursing staff, put them on breathing machines, intubated them. It's very saddening to see that we could have prevented all of this if we had been adequately protected from day one," Sun said.

He also expressed concerns that the city's hospital system is going to collapse within one or two weeks unless something changes, describing lined up stretchers as Tetris and hospital waiting rooms as cans of sardines.

"I'm seeing EMS stretchers lining up and down the block, waiting up to 5 hours just to be triage," Sun said.

The FDNY says 911 calls have hit an all-time high in New York City and Sun echoed the department's call, asking residents to only call for help if there is a real emergency. If you feel like you are actually going to die or lose a limb is when you should call 911, Sun said.

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