Watch CBS News

Chicago ER Doctor And The Battle Against COVID-19: 'Stay Home. This Is The Real Deal'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Many medical professionals on the front lines of fighting the coronavirus compare the conditions they face to what it's like in war zones.

One Chicago emergency room doctor spoke with CBS correspondent David Begnaud during a few chaotic moments on his shift.

Doctor Scott Samlan is an ER doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital on Chicago's West Side.

"This is most scared I've ever been being an ER doctor, and it's not just because of me. It's because I have a wife and a two-year-old and a one-year-old at home and I don't want to expose them," Samlan said. "It's not our job, it's our duty. This is what we signed up for."

"I deal with gunshots every day and trauma and crazy stuff. And this is the only thing that scares me."

Begnaud: How many patients do you see on a daily, patients who are suspected of being COVID-19 positive?

Samlan: Over 60% to 70% every day.

Begnaud: We keep hearing that young people are not as affected as this. Is that your experience?

Samlan: You can tell that to the 27-year-old I intubated last week who had no medical problems.

Samlan said anyone arriving in the ER with respiratory problems is treated as being positive for COVID-19 because they can't afford to wait the three days it's been taking to get results back.

"So we do deductive reasoning. If their white count is normal, and their x-ray looks like COVID-19, and their influenza negative, it's COVID-19."

Samlan is notified that another COVID-19 patient is coming in. CBS gets a look at the setup before the patient arrives.

"Before we go in we put on gowns, we put on goggles, we put on as much PPE as we have. "Respirators, as we have them, to intubate the patient, put a tube down their throat. This is becoming all too common."

There's also a physician protection box, as they call it. It's something the doctors had made at a local plastic manufacturer to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

"This way, I'm not in front of the patient's mouth," Samlan said, who added that protective gear is scarce. Especially masks.

"When we use them in a shift, we put them in brown paper bags," he said.

A suspected COVID-19 patient is arriving by ambulance. Samlan said they're performing CPR on him.

Suspected covid patients must be isolated said Doctor Chris Scodeller, who's been using a respirator that he got from a previous job and a filter that his father, who works in construction, gave him.

"These patients are dying alone and that's really sad," said Scodeller, who added that he's frustrated with the lack of help from the federal government.

"There was the CDC that said we could use bandanas as a form of protection for yourself, so I got one," Scodeller said. "It's frustrating. It feels like the government left us down."

Begnaud: How are you doing?

Samlan: Thank you for asking. I'm not well. It's not a joke. I want people to stay home. This is the real deal.

Begnaud: Are they still performing CPR?

Samlan: No, they're dead.

There was no time to test the patient for COVID-19 but the doctors took precautions anyway. Beyond PPE, and a break, Samlan said this is what they need:

"If you have a friend or a colleague or anyone you know in the health care industry who's rowing the front lines, just send them a text saying god bless you, love you. Thank you for what you're doing. That's all we need."

Begnaud: On behalf of a grateful country, thank you.

Samlan: Thank you.

The interview with the doctor was done from Begnaud's home in New York City as he following orders from New York's governor to stay at home.

CBS found out about Dr. Samlan because he started a GoFundMe account to raise money to buy his coworkers medical supplies and masks.

Because in some places around this country, that's what it has come to.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.