Dr. Hadi Halazun grabs 15 minutes of sleep whenever and wherever he can, even if that means having to dash to work in a cab where he can get a few minutes more.
The 39-year-old cardiologist is trying to avoid putting his loved ones at risk from the exposure he faces every day as he treats COVID-19 patients. But Halazun returns to the frontlines nearly every day, determined to see the crisis through.
“One of the most painful things about this disease ... is the separation of the patients from their families while they're sick in the hospital,” Halazun told ABC News. “You know, when you're admitted to the hospital at any other time, your family members are allowed in and they can see you, and it's both important for the patients and for the families to be together during this time. And the policies around COVID are such that, you know, family members aren't allowed in.”
In audio diaries he recorded, Halazun recounts the story of his first patient who died. The patient had been in the hospital for a week and his wife could only hear about his condition over the phone. When his situation turned dire, hospital officials called once again, this time telling her she should come in as her husband was likely to pass away in the next 20 minutes.
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Halazun said he went back to his office and cried.
“It makes you feel a little bit less of ... a doctor. Even less of a human in that moment, because it's not fair,” Halazun said.
Halazun’s audio diaries are featured in a special edition of the ABC News podcast “Start Here,” which airs Saturday.
Halazun says he is also aware of the uniquely dangerous position he and his colleagues are in as healthcare workers.
“It's not something you expect when you become a doctor or any sort of health care worker, you know, you know the sacrifices that you're going to make,” Halazun said. “You know, you're going to miss your friends’ weddings and different life events while you were trained, but to get physically ill is not something that we thought would ever happen, but I think the world understands this.”
Working through the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on his personal life as well. He worries about being away from his son, but he knows it’s best to stay away from him while he works in the ICU.
“Probably like any first parent, I worry about long absences from him and it's very difficult, but [I’m] also more worried about giving him something to make him sick,” Halazun said.
In a moment of reflection on the last time he remembers life as “normal,” he described a photo preserved on his phone, taken just before the pandemic took hold. Dr. Halazun is in front of the Eiffel Tower but it’s not a selfie, nor is it a posed photo with friends or family with the iconic structure in the background. He’s throwing his infant son in the air, a look of complete glee on both of their faces. The Eiffel Tower is actually an afterthought in the photo as Dr. Halazun only has eyes for his son.
“My grandmother turned 90 in February and sort of the last feeling of normalcy … was a trip we took to Paris. It was a surprise. She lives between Lebanon and California, so we have cousins all over the world and we all met in Paris to celebrate her 90th birthday.”
Halazun said he looks forward returning to normalcy, and thanked the community for an outpouring of support as well as reminding people that health care workers are always on the frontlines — not just in a pandemic.
“It's nice to feel that you're going to work and you have society's support behind your back,” Halazun said. “It's really empowering. It's really inspiring. And, you know, it doesn't come often.”
"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.
What to know about coronavirus:
- How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained
- What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptoms
- Tracking the spread in the U.S. and worldwide: Coronavirus map