Warning: Distressing content
A frontline doctor caring for seriously ill coronavirus patients has given a brutally detailed description of what it's like to die from the virus.
Dr David Hepburn, an intensive care consultant at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Wales, was asked by the UK's Channel 4 to explain how someone can die after contracting coronavirus.
His devastatingly simple answer, in full:
"What we know is primarily the coronavirus causes respiratory failure. So when it spreads to the lungs, it causes what we call a pneumonitis, where the lungs become very wet and waterlogged inside. So the normal mechanisms that keep fluid in the blood break down. The little membranes and tissues and the bases of the lungs become porous, and that allows fluid to leak in from the circulation into the lungs, almost like drowning.
"One of the things we provide with ventilators is pressure, which pushes some of that fluid out and helps to keep the lungs open. So ... people become exhausted because the work of breathing is so great that they basically become exhausted and die.
"So, if you imagine your lungs are normally like a nice, light sponge – light and easy to move. If you've ever pulled a sponge out of a bucket of water you'll know how heavy and wet can become. It's exactly the same thing – if your lungs are absolutely sodden, then it's very, very difficult to breathe.
"What happens over time is people's levels of oxygen fall, the levels of carbon dioxide, which is a gas you normally breathe out, rise in the blood. That makes you even more drowsy – it has a narcotic effect. And then people will slowly develop worsening respiratory failure, and eventually they'll become unconscious and their breathing will get more shallow and they'll die."
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Hepburn explained that is what death looks like without intervention – get a patient onto a ventilator and that slow, painful death is hopefully avoided. The problem as coronavirus spreads across the globe is access to ventilators.
And Hepburn explained that this isn't the only cause of death among patients suffering from coronavirus – he'd also seen patients die from "multi-organ failure", as the kidneys, lungs, liver and even circulation progressively shut down.
"We've also seen patients who develop a thing called a myocarditis. Often when they're starting to recover – the heart can become very adversely affected and they develop heart failure. That's been probably the leading cause of death in the Covid patients we've seen," he revealed.
As Channel 4 put it when tweeting out the clip: "If this description of what it's like to die from coronavirus doesn't make you stay home, nothing will."
And Hepburn doesn't just have experience treating coronavirus – he's also been a patient, having contracted the virus from a colleague. He's since recovered but said the illness had wiped him out: "I can't emphasise how sick this can make you."