'Make them smile’: Houston doctor gives hope, humor while treating coronavirus patients

HOUSTON – It’s hard to imagine the fearful loneliness of being a coronavirus victim facing weeks of isolation with no certainty of survival, cut off from friends and family, tended by medics hidden beneath layers of protective gear.

It can create the kind of stress that might affect a patient’s will to survive. Dr. Joseph Varon, Chief of Medicine at Houston’s United Memorial Medical Center, says it’s a real concern.

“I would say that’s 50% of the battle. If I have someone who loses hope, I don’t care how many medications I give him, they’re going to go. So my goal is to avoid losing people to this coronavirus anyway we can,” Dr. Varon said.

So he’s has begun injecting a big dose of humanity into his treatment regime with a little humor.

Dr. Varon and his staff tape photographs of themselves on their hospital gowns. That allows patients to safely see the face behind the mask and perhaps feel a little less lonely and hopefully more connected.

He said it has been a big hit with patients, like Missouri City Councilman Jeffrey Boney who was recently released from the hospital and now quarantined at home.

“Dr. Varon is a one of a kind individual. He loves people he loves the community listening trough his heart and his concern for not just me as a patient but the community as a whole,” Boney said.

After Dr. Varon posted photos on his face book page, he says he began hearing from doctors and nurses around the world, who are now copying the technique, mindful that a caregiver may be the last person some virus patients will ever see.

“Make them smile. Make your patients smile. they’re going through hell right now. They think they are going to die and many of them may die, so at least be humane, be compassionate,” Dr. Varon said.