For well over a year, respiratory therapist Le My Hanh has worked in close contact with acutely infected COVID-19 patients. Though her tasks require routinely direct contact with patients’ bodily fluids, she has never experienced infection.
At The Start Of The Pandemic
In Cincinnati, Ohio, Le works at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center as a respiratory therapist. She assists various departments such as the emergency room, the intensive-care unit, post-op care, and the otolaryngology unit. For patients connected to respirators, respiratory therapists assist the doctors doing intubations and then maintain the patients on ventilators.
When cases of COVID-19 popped up in major U.S. cities, around February or March 2020, the hospital started to change.
At the beginning of the outbreak, Cincinnati had few COVID-19 cases.
One day, the hospital’s switchboard received an onslaught of calls from ambulances bringing patients with symptoms of COVID-19 infection.
The number of COVID-19 patients continued to climb and Le’s hospital became overwhelmed. Some staff preferred not to work in the intensive-care unit where care for severe COVID-19 cases was provided.
Most patients in this area were on ventilators and/or dialysis. For the ones on ventilators, some of their lungs would deteriorate while their organs began to shut down.
At the time, doctors were not aware of effective treatments. It was distressing seeing so many patients die absent of effective treatment. Doctors felt helpless. As bad news from hospitals spread, Le and her colleagues learned many colleagues had become infected and died. The atmosphere became tense—everyone was worried and tired.
At that time, Le had direct contact with a lot of blood and phlegm, and the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus seemed to be in the air.
As the number of cases increased the supply of masks and protective equipment dwindled.
Initially, they were able to use special N-95 masks with the “fit test” to ensure a correct fit, but the hospital ran out of stock. Le and other respiratory therapists had no choice but to use whatever was available. This included masks with poor fits, or which had been reused many times.
Le continued to medicate and check on critically ill patients three times a day, monitored and adjusted ventilators, and assisted doctors in performing bronchoscopy. For the many patients on ventilators, sometimes lungs hemorrhaged, and then blood clots became an issue. The respiratory therapists had to assist on many bronchoscopies to locate where the lungs were bleeding to remove the blood clots and obtain other needed samples.
In order to reduce the burden on the health system, the hospital only admitted acutely ill patients. It was difficult to witness ventilated patients die with the breathing tube still extending from their throats. Le had to use hemostats to clamp the breathing tube to prevent the virus from spreading from deceased patients into their room.
She said that she “lost count of how many COVID-19 patients I have taken care of since March of last year until now. Many patients died, but also many lives have been saved. Especially sad were the COVID-19 patients who died alone without relatives.”
In terms of whether to let the relatives say a final goodbye to the patient, Le admits that “the hospital was awkward at first and didn’t know what to do. If we let their loved ones in, we risked spreading the disease into the community. But it seemed inhumane not to let them in.” In the end, the hospital decided that relatives could only stand outside and look through the glass door to say their final goodbyes.
Le has seen a lot of painful “departures” as patients passed on. Some people have relatives. Some have no relatives to say goodbye to before they die. As hospital admissions increased, so did the death rate.
A Natural Resistance to COVID-19
When the epidemic spiraled out of control, some of Le’s colleagues were worried. Some of them quit to work in other areas of the health care industry, as a consequence, the rest were overloaded with more work and the added burden of wearing protective gear. Many nurses and doctors started getting infected, and then many more got infected a second time. One of her colleagues was infected in December 2020. Afterward, he received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but was infected yet again a few months later. Another colleague has still not regained her complete sense of smell after recovering from COVID-19.
The medical staff working in the ICU shouldered a very heavy workload. The risk of infection was high. Some tried to change to job positions with lighter workloads. They asked to change assignments with Le because they knew she wasn’t afraid of infection.
Le said: “I practice Falun Dafa. Over the years colleagues have witnessed my endurance in health which I have achieved thanks to my cultivation practice.
She regularly takes shifts like this and takes on harder tasks. With COVID-19 patients that have been on a ventilator longer than three weeks, she and the doctor would work together to remove the breathing tube and place an opening (tracheostomy) in the patient’s neck. It’s a multi-step process with high risk to the staff providing acute care. Although she was in direct contact with many COVID-19 patients, handling their blood and sputum sometimes with inadequate PPE, so far she has not become infected.
Very sick hospitalized patients are in pain and may behave rudely, grabbing or hitting medical staff. Faced with this situation, Le tells herself to be patient and tolerant because she follows the three principles of Falun Dafa: truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance.
“As a cultivator, I cherish all the lives around me. When the patients recover from their illness, they often are very touched and thank me.”
“Admittedly, I occasionally felt a little sorry for myself because of the work overload, but at those moments I remind myself that I am a Falun Dafa cultivator. We are taught that in everything we do, we should think of others, and strive to be good and improve.”
Le said she believes the surrounding staff also feel a kind of positive energy.
“From the bottom of my heart, I know this comes from my sincere practice of Falun Gong. My immune system is always in top condition. Falun Dafa practitioners around the world have experienced this beneficial state of health.”
During the long pandemic, with occasional insufficient PPE and no guarantees that she will be immune to the CCP virus, Le intensified her practice and the corresponding exercises. She knew that her character and body would then be in the best shape to handle the extreme situation. For her, this is how Falun Gong practitioners come to have such miraculous immune systems.
Home and Family Life
Le’s husband also works in the medical field, in urgent care. He was concerned about Le My Hanh getting sick, and suggested she resign.
She said: “I understood my husband’s feelings and calmly explained that I had taken care of patients with infectious diseases for so many years without getting infected. Also, at that time, many patients were in need of my help.”
“The hospital will be overloaded because of the lack of staff, especially the respiratory department where I work. If I stay at home, my colleagues will have to shoulder more work and the hardship will increase.”
“I have the knowledge. I have been trained, and I have many years of experience working in this field. … In this unprecedented situation, I could not sit here doing nothing, I would feel uncomfortable and useless.”
At first, Le’s husband did not agree. Not wanting to argue, Le promised her husband that she would be careful at work for the safety of the family. Before leaving the hospital she usually changed into clean clothes to go home. When she gets home she would shower right away.
A few weeks went by, doing what she could to put her husband’s mind at ease. “He experienced me taking care of COVID patients without getting infected and it was not mentioned thereafter that I should quit.”
Vanessa Wang contributed to this report.