'It is a lifelong trauma' - New York doctors on coronavirus frontline

New York City, once the U.S. epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, celebrated a new milestone of declining hospitalizations last week as the number of new cases elsewhere in the United States kept climbing, especially in the West and South.

Three frontline doctors, interviewed by Reuters at the height of the pandemic in late March, shared what they've remembered most in the fight against the virus and what they will carry with them.

"It is a lifelong trauma," Dr. Arabia Mollette told Reuters. "The psychological trauma from it all will definitely be something that I'll carry for the rest of my life."

Mollette is an emergency medicine physician at Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn and in March had described her emergency department as a "medical war zone." At the end of her shift, which often ran much longer than the scheduled 12 hours, she sometimes could not hold back tears.

She'll never forget "the faces of the people that died, the patients that my team and I were taking care of, and then I come back into the room and they've perished before our eyes and just their eyes, I'll just never forget their faces and the way they looked at me before dying."

Dr. Jennifer Haythe, an internist and critical care cardiologist at Columbia University Medical Center said the epidemic has taught a daunting lesson.

"I think that we've learned that Mother Nature is more powerful than all of us and that has to be respected," she said. she said. "I've seen patients who were on a breathing tube with a tracheostomy and a peg tube for feeding, who were admitted in mid-March, who finally left the hospital. So, I've seen people recover after incredible ordeals. I've seen people die."

For Dr. Allon Mordel, medical director at K Health, he said in March that even though he was working as hard as he possibly could, he still "felt this tidal wave coming."

Looking back, Mordel said, "I did what I could and I did everything I could to help. And though we can only do so much, it mattered and it made a difference, and that's what I'm going to try to hold on to."

The focus of the pandemic has moved to the U.S. West and South, including more sparsely populated rural areas, from the early epicenter around New York state, where more than 31,000 deaths were recorded, more than a quarter of the country's total.

"The initial shock and anxiety has waned a bit," Haythe said. "The only caveat, I would say, is seeing around the rest of the country, these very concerning changes in Texas and Arizona and even Florida. I'm worried for them that they're about to sort of go through what we went through, which was pretty overwhelming and horrible, frankly, with the number of people that died."

The numbers in the Northeast dropped after governors imposed severe lockdown measures, some of which remain in place in hardest-hit New York City.

"They have to lockdown their state and really enforce stay-at-home orders, and people have to wear masks because this virus is wicked. It does not discriminate," Mollette said.

The world is far from safe from a virus that continues to rage. It reached two grim milestones on Sunday (June 28): 10 million confirmed global infections and 500,000 deaths. The United States remains the epicenter of the pandemic, and cases are rising at an alarming pace in states like Arizona, Florida and Texas.

(Production: Roselle Chen)