When paramedics rushed the pregnant Honduran woman into the emergency room, 28-year-old Chuan-Jay Jeffrey Chen stood ready to receive her. It was April, and the pandemic had already taken over his final year as an emergency medicine resident. Of all the coronavirus patients surging into Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, this 32-year-old patient remains Chen’s most memorable.
The woman was so short of breath she could barely speak, so Chen would need to intubate her—a tricky procedure that requires precision as well as speed. Every moment without oxygen causes a patient’s chances of survival to decline; pregnancy further complicates the scenario by making airways swollen, causing blood pressure to drop more quickly. As Chen set to work and talked her through the steps in Spanish, he also tried to calm his own nerves.
“I knew I had very little margin for error,” says Chen. The woman’s husband had been barred from entering the building because of coronavirus restrictions, and Chen knew that if anything went wrong, his voice could be the last she would ever hear.
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