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Houston doctor shown hugging distraught COVID-19 patient in ICU in now viral photo

Dr. Joseph Varon has worked for 256 days straight taking care of COVID-19 patients at United Memorial Medical Center.

HOUSTON — A hug -- probably the most treasured act of comfort that most people took for granted before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, wrapping your arms around a loved one or even a stranger is discouraged as medical experts tell everyone to keep their distance.

But on Thanksgiving Day, a hug was what one elderly man needed as he sat in ICU at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston battling the coronavirus.

Dr. Joseph Varon's gentle embrace of the distraught patient was captured in a now viral photo by photographer Go Nakamura. 

"A gentle touch, just telling them they're going to be ok kind of encourages them," Dr. Varone told KHOU. "Because, in those units, trust me they get depressed. It's like being in a jail. Trust me, that's what it looks like."

"I have never seen anything like that in front of my eye. I thought that was very special and I truly admire the doctor's compassion and what he does," Nakamura told KHOU.

The pandemic hasn't been easy for Dr. Varon. He has been working for 256 days straight taking care of COVID-19 patients. 

"Unfortunately, I can't take any days off because there's nobody else that will do what I'm doing," Dr. Varon explained. "I see passion for caring for patients. I see myself. I truly see myself in the sense that this is what I was meant to do."

 UMMC reported they have reached capacity and expanded several times to make room for the sick.

"My nurses in the middle of the day, they will start crying, because they are getting so many patients, and it' a never-ending story," Dr. Varon said in an interview with CNN

The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in the United States topped 200,000 for the first time Friday. The highest previous daily count was 196,000 on Nov. 20, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Since January, when the first infections were reported in the U.S., the nation's total number of cases has surpassed 13 million. More than 265,000 people have died.

Dr. Varon told  CNN that America is "going to see the darkest days in modern American medical history" if things don't change fast.

Here in Texas, the state broke a record Wednesday for the number of COVID-19 cases reported with 14,648. That broke the record set on Monday of 13,998 cases. There were also 240 new deaths and 90 additional hospitalizations. 

The good news, vaccines for the coronavirus could be available to Texans as early as December 12 with certain people prioritized for getting the vaccine first.