‘You’re basically right next to the nuclear reactor.’

Dr. Cory Deburghgraeve has volunteered for one of the coronavirus pandemic’s most dangerous jobs, despite an underlying condition that puts him at risk.

This is my entire job now. Airways. Coronavirus airways. I’m working 14 hours a night and six nights a week. When patients aren’t getting enough oxygen, I place a tube down their airway so we can put them on a vent. It buys their body time to fight the virus. It’s also probably the most dangerous procedure a doctor can do when it comes to personal exposure. I’m getting within a few inches of the patient’s face. I’m leaning in toward the mouth, placing my fingers on the gums, opening up the airway. All it takes is a cough. A gag. If anything goes badly, you can have a room full of virus….

Our team had a meeting on March 16th to figure out a staffing plan, once it was clear where this was going. Chicago’s becoming a hot spot now. Our ICU is almost full with covid patients. The pediatric ICU has been cleared out to handle overflow. The wave is just starting, and we need to limit our exposure or we’re going to run out of staff. Everyone basically agreed we should dedicate one person to covid intubations during the day and another at night, and I started thinking: I’m 33 years old. I don’t have any kids at home. I don’t live with older relatives. About an hour after the meeting, I emailed my supervisor. “I’m happy to do this. It should be me.”….

I try to keep my lungs strong. It’s hard not to think about, because I’ve had bad asthma since I was a kid.

I use an inhaler twice a day. I’m very in tune with my breathing, and whenever I’m getting sick, the first symptom is I start wheezing.


[As told to Eli Saslow/The Washington Post]