Front-Line Fighters: An inside look at Broward Health’s COVID-19 unit

(WSVN) - As South Florida continues to see a surge in coronavirus cases, we give you an exclusive look inside a COVID-19 unit where doctors and nurses say it’s like fighting a battle every single day.

The doctors and nurses here say they are not just exhausted; they are also frustrated because many people are still not wearing masks. They have an urgent warning for South Florida.

Dr. Sunil Kumar, ICU doctor, Broward Health Medical Center: “It is physically tiring. I think it is emotionally exhausting, and it is real.”

Every single day, Dr. Sunil Kumar suits up in personal protection equipment from head to toe and slaps on a double pair of gloves.

Kevin Ozebek: “Can you describe to us what it’s like today, right now, inside of your ICU?”

Dr. Sunil Kumar: “It is scary. When you see a 19-year-old kid struggling to live, and we are doing everything to keep that kid alive, that’s scary.”

Because of the risk of getting COVID, we cannot follow Dr. Kumar into the intensive care unit, but Broward Health shot video for us.

As Dr. Kumar gets patient updates, there can be ups.

Broward Health nurse: “The number is good. She’s doing good. I’m happy.”

But also downs, as some patients fight to stay alive.

Dr. Sunil Kumar: “They’re struggling. They’re struggling to breathe. We are trying to keep them off the ventilator as much as possible, because once they’re on the ventilator, it’s much harder to live.”

At Dr. Kumar’s side is nurse Sarah Freeman.

Kevin Ozebek: “Have you ever seen a wave of patients coming in with an infection like this before?”

Sarah Freeman, Broward Health COVID Unit nurse: “The entire time I’ve worked here, I have never seen anything like this.”

Right now there are about 275 COVID-19 patients in Broward Health hospitals.

Kenneth is spending his 37th birthday inside the hospital.

Kenneth Sloan, patient: “The frustrating thing I see on social media is when people say, ‘I don’t want to wear a mask, I can’t breathe in a mask. I can’t work out in a mask. It’s hard to breathe,’ and I’m like, ‘COVID patients, they’re not breathing at all.'”

You’ll find that same frustration in Dr. Kumar and nurse Freeman, who have sacrificed so much.

Sarah Freeman: “It’s hard on a daily basis. I have three small children at home. You leave work, and you leave with the fear that you’re going to bring something home.”

Dr. Sunil Kumar: “My life has completely changed. I haven’t had a sit down meal with my family in four and a half months.”

After a tough day of rounds in the ICU, Dr. Kumar self-isolates from his two children.

He says, if he can make that sacrifice, everyone else should be able to make the much easier sacrifices that can stop the spread of COVID.

Dr. Sunil Kumar: “When I hear people arguing about not wearing a mask, it makes me mad. It makes me upset.”

Kevin Ozebek: “I get the sense from you, we need to buckle up.”

Dr. Sunil Kumar: “Yes, today, not tomorrow. I think this is getting completely out of control, and if we don’t do this, this is shameful.”

Broward Health Medical Center has already had to bring in more ICU beds and nurses.

The fear is, if the public doesn’t play its role, these healthcare workers will really become overwhelmed.

Sarah Freeman: “There doesn’t seem to be light at the end of the tunnel. Our hope is that people really see this and take things seriously and start to wear their masks.”

Kevin Ozebek: “Are you worried this bombardment of patients is not going to stop or slow down?”

Dr. Sunil Kumar: “Unless we as a community are together and do something about this, I’m afraid that this virus is going to beat us, and not the other way around.”

Dr. Kumar says playing your role is very simple. Just follow what he calls “the three w’s: wash your hands, watch your distance from others and wear a mask.”

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