Doctor reveals how virus patients die

A doctor at the frontline of Australia's coronavirus fight has delivered a heartbreaking speech on those hit hardest by the illness and how lonely they can be in hospital.

Speaking on ABC's Q&A last night, Dr Lucy Morgan explained the way coronavirus can slowly kill people.

Dr Morgan, a respiratory physician currently working at Nepean Hospital in Sydney's west, has been on the frontline of NSW's coronavirus strategy and has spent the past few months screening and caring for patients struck down by the illness.

Dr Morgan has also cared for a number of patients from the Ruby Princess cruise ship, which accounts for hundreds of Australia's coronavirus cases and at least a dozen deaths.

Describing the Ruby Princess as "a stark reminder of the potential for this virus to cause catastrophic effect on our community if it's left unchecked", Dr Morgan explained what happened when coronavirus patients become so sick they end up in hospital.

The Ruby Princess docked at Port Kembla. Picture: John Grainger
The Ruby Princess docked at Port Kembla. Picture: John Grainger


"What happens is that they become breathless. They can't breathe. Every breath that they take is increasingly difficult. When you're breathless and you can't breathe, everything gets more difficult," she said.

"As the disease progresses or as the illness progresses, the patient needs more and more oxygen to help their lungs to work properly.

"And then, there comes a point where the care can't be delivered in a ward. So if you're in a hospital and you've been through an emergency department, you've been admitted to a ward somewhere, then you're having very close observation, you're being visited very regularly by the nurses who are caring for you.

"And then as you get sicker and sicker, your oxygen levels are dropping and dropping and you need more and more support.

"There comes a point where that support cannot be delivered at a ward level and a rapidly deteriorating patient with COVID-19 is a critical emergency."

Dr Lucy Morgan has been on the frontline fighting coronavirus. Picture: ABC/Q&A
Dr Lucy Morgan has been on the frontline fighting coronavirus. Picture: ABC/Q&A


Dr Morgan said the most heartbreaking turn in a patient's coronavirus fight was when they were taken to intensive care.

"Patients that crash or require intensive care support deteriorate very, very quickly and have to be transferred to an intensive care unit, where really all the effort of breathing is taken by a machine.

"You have a tube put into your airwaves and a machine breathes for you.

"As this COVID-19 infection progresses, all sorts of parts of the body start to shutdown. So people's hearts don't work properly. Their blood pressure doesn't stay up. Their kidneys don't work properly.

"And so medication and machines are used to support those processes.

"Once you're in intensive care, and you have a tube or machine breathing for you, machines keeping your blood pressure up, doing the work of your kidneys, you're not conscious.

"You're asleep, you're deeply sedated. Your family can't talk to you. In COVID-19, your family often can't be with you.

"So these are the sorts of things that are happening to our patients and to the families of our patients who are getting critically unwell.

"All of this is requiring enormous nursing interventions, huge amounts of nursing support and medical support.

"But can you imagine how terrifying it must be, have been for those patients, people who were getting sick on those ships? They weren't at home, some of them were with some families. They were getting sick and they got off the boats, at least they were in Australia and then they came to hospital because they were starting to get sick.

"The implications are very real when people get very sick from the infection."


Q&A host Hamish Macdonald asked Dr Morgan if some coronavirus patients had died a "very lonely death".

"That's an absolutely devastating part of this illness," she said.

"The construct of progressive illness, you're very much alone separated from most of your family and friends. We've got restrictions on the number of visitors that can come into hospitals.

"That's to keep visitors safe and to keep the traffic of new people coming and going from hospitals as low as possible, to minimise the risk of transmission.

"But that means people who are in hospital have very, very small numbers of visitors and very small numbers of their family can come.

"So, yes, a very lonely way to be very sick."

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