HOUSTON, TX (KTRK) -- At Houston Methodist, the doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients aren't just the front-line in the battle against the virus, they're the last line of defense.
"I usually see the sickest of the sick patients," said Dr. Deepa Gotur, a critical care specialist at Houston Methodist. "Most of them are on life support under my care in the ICU."
Since the pandemic started, Dr. Gotur has been treating some of the toughest COVID-19 cases, while also caring for her own family.
"Every time a patient is not doing well, despite all our efforts, I mean, that's the hardest moment for me to take. Especially because families are not allowed to be there at the patient's bedside," said Dr. Gotur.
Over the past few weeks, she's seen beds in the intensive care units dedicated to COVID-19 patients filling up fast.
"We went from one to two to three, three ICUs," she said. "Each ICU has anywhere between 24 to 36 beds. We are creating new ICU beds just so we can accommodate more. In fact, even children's hospitals are being made into adult hospitals just so we can accommodate these patients."
While families are not able to visit their loved ones in the ICU, they can see them via videoconference. In some cases, families have said their final goodbyes to loved ones over the phone.
"There was one time where I was in the patient's room," said Dr. Gotur. "I had to hold my phone for his daughter to say goodbye on the phone. It was very tough for me. She asked me to hold his hand, which I did."
But along with the heartbreak, there are moments of joy.
"When they get better, I mean, the reward is huge," said Dr. Gotur. "We had a patient who was on life support for three to four weeks who did great. Some of the young patients are doing quite well. It's very rewarding when we see them off the ventilator, off the life support and moving out of the ICU. It's very, very rewarding."
It's crucial for everyone working in the ICU to take extreme precautions to avoid infection themselves.
"One thing that my husband realized right from the beginning is, we're not sure how long this pandemic is going to pan out," said Dr. Gotur. "I have an 11-year-old son as well as a 17-year-old son. Initially there was a time I felt that maybe I should just be quarantined a separate room. For about a week I would get food in my room."
But Dr. Gotur now follows a strict protocol when she arrives home from work.
The moment she arrives home from the hospital, she begins to clean and disinfect.
"I take off my shoes in the garage and shower before I even come and talk to the kids or to (my husband)," she said. "We make sure we have separate cars. The car that I use, my kids don't. We also test ourselves frequently. So far I've tested negative so I'm sure I'm doing something right."
"Being a frontline physician, we are extremely proud of her," said her husband, Suresh Gotur. "The kids are wonderful. They bake brownies. Basically make sure when she comes home, it's a very relaxing environment."
While the job may be tough, support matters. And Dr. Gotur knows, she's never alone.
"I'm very blessed with a wonderful team that I work with at Methodist Hospital," said Dr. Gotur. "Everyone's going through the same emotions that I'm going through. We all rejoice together and we all feel sad together. It's all been a very blessful journey. But I do just hope that it stops. I'm just waiting for this to end."
Houston Methodist ICU doctor shares journey on the front-line of COVID-19