ICU Doctor Simulates the 'Last Moments' COVID-19 Patients See Before Death as Plea to Take Virus Seriously
"This is not fear-mongering. This is real," Dr. Kenneth Remy, a physician for Washington University-BJC Health System in St. Louis, tells PEOPLE
A doctor working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic has created a harrowing first-person video of a dying patient's "last moments" as a desperate plea for the public to take the virus seriously.
"This is what it looks like when you breathe 40 times a minute, have an oxygen level that's dipping well below 80. This is what it's going to look like," Dr. Kenneth Remy, a pediatric and adult critical care physician for the Washington University-BJC Health System in St. Louis, says in the clip — which has been viewed over 121,000 times since it was uploaded on Twitter last week.
"I hope that the last moments of your life don't look like this," he continues, holding up a laryngoscope and endotracheal tube used for intubation. "Because this is what you'll see at the end of your life if we don't start wearing masks when we're out in public."
Remy, 43, tells PEOPLE on Thursday that he created the video after seeing a "pretty high mortality in people dying" of COVID-19 in the intensive care unit.
As his colleagues have been working tirelessly in response to the recent surge of coronavirus cases, Remy says he made the video to emphasize the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing and exercising other safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"The only way I know how to keep people alive, to keep people safe, is that they don't get the disease in the first place," he says. "I really don't want to continue calling families to let them know that their loved ones — who were otherwise healthy a week ago — are now dead."
Remy says he has treated more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients and has intubated at least 100 of them amid the ongoing pandemic. He's also personally witnessed "at least 50 or 60" patient deaths.
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"To be perfectly candid, I fully recognize that restricting the way we conduct our lives right now has been exceedingly difficult and uncomfortable," Remy says. "But you know what is really uncomfortable? Not being able to breathe. Not being able to leave an intensive care unit. What's really uncomfortable is being vulnerable in a bed, where someone is putting a plastic tube down your throat to help you, and you may not survive."
"Once you get into a situation in the intensive care unit where you wear a breathing tube, your mortality rate goes way up," he adds.
Remy is worried that he will see more coronavirus patients following Thanksgiving, despite health officials' previous recommendation against non-essential travel or gathering in large groups during the holiday season.
The doctor says he's concerned another spike will sicken healthcare workers and put a strain on his already "fatigued" colleagues.
"This disease is quite rampant and surging. I fear that it will surge even more," he says. "Our hospitals are going to get more full than they currently are right now."
"This is not fear-mongering. This is real," Remy continues.
Remy is also afraid of contracting the novel virus at work and bringing it home to his wife Allison and their four children: Caitlin, Emma, Richard and Kenny.
"The truth is every time I intubate or perform CPR on a person with COVID, I'm a little nervous of getting the disease," he says. "I can't tell you enough how that fear is real for me and all of my colleagues. It seems odd, but the thought of potentially transmitting the disease inadvertently to those that I love the most in this world [while] doing the job that I have wanted to do since I was five years old is frankly terrifying."
As of Thursday, there have been more than 12,851,200 cases of COVID-19 in the United States and at least 262,100 deaths from coronavirus-related illnesses, according to a New York Times database.
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