Chicago ER doctors paint grim picture of the coronavirus crisis: "The only thing that scares me"

Chicago doctor on why pandemic "scares" him

"I deal with gunshots every day and trauma and crazy stuff and this is the only thing that scares me," said emergency room doctor, Dr.  Scott Samlan. He and his colleagues at Mount Sinai Hospital on Chicago's west side have been on the front lines battling the coronavirus pandemic with the limited supplies they have, even being forced to make their own masks to make up for the supply shortage. 

"This is the 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 2-year-old and a 1-year-old at home and I don't want to expose them," he told "CBS This Morning" lead national correspondent David Begnaud. "People say it's our job. It's not our job, it's our duty."

He stressed how important it was for people to stay home during the crisis to slow the spread of the disease, which he said currently was 60 to 70% of his daily work. 

When asked about whether it was true in his experience that young people are largely unaffected by COVID-19, Samlan pointed to a 27-year-old patient he "intubated last week who had no medical problems."

With the frequency of cases and amount of risk involved, Samlan said anyone with respiratory problems arriving at his Chicago ER is being treated as positive for the coronavirus because they cannot afford to wait the three days it takes to get results.

"If their white count is normal and they're lymphopenic, which is something that we look at, and their x-ray looks like COVID, and they're influenza-negative, it's COVID," he said.

During the interview, Samlan was alerted to another coronavirus case arriving at the hospital soon. He described his process as he and the other doctors readied themselves using "the physician protection box," which they had made at a local plastic manufacturer to avoid being directly in front of an infected patient's mouth. 

"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, but this is becoming all too common," he said. But before he even got to examine the patient, the individual died while being given CPR.

Another doctor, Dr. Chris Scodeller, expressed sadness over the fact that "these patients are dying alone" because of the necessary isolation measures.

Due to the lack of supplies, Scodeller had been using a respirator he got from a previous job and a filter his father, who works in construction, gave him. 

"There was the CDC that said we could use bandanas as a form of protection for ourselves instead of masks, so I got one that I carry in my pocket," Scodeller said. "It's frustrating, it feels like the government let us down."

Samlan finished with a plea to the public, beyond the urgent request to stay home. 

"If you have a friend or a colleague or anyone you know in the health care industry who's working 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," he said. 

Samlan created a fundraising page to help his hospital. He requested we direct readers to this page, though there were no conditions on his agreement to interview with CBS News.