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Cleveland Clinic doctor who appeared on Howard Stern also talks to 3News: 'Every day, I know I am going to have to put multiple people on ventilators'

A local doctor recounts his journey treating ICU patients.

CLEVELAND — An intensive care doctor with the Cleveland Clinic painted a dire picture of his new life, working amid dying and suffering patients in the COVID-19 pandemic while an indifferent public goes about their daily life.

Dr. Cody Turner, a critical care doctor at the Clinic’s Hillcrest hospital, provided a stark and bold story to a national audience Monday on "The Howard Stern Show" on Sirius XM radio and again when he talked today to 3News' Laura Caso.

"I’m trying not to cry right now, because if I think about what I see every day, most people can’t handle it," Tuner said. 

A physician for 11 years, Turner, 34, admitted to breaking down and crying recently when talking about his own personal mental struggles after nine months of providing care to the sickest of the sick. He recalled a recent death that seemed to push him over the edge mentally.

"I am not an emotional person," he told Stern. "I'm relatively resilient, but I came home that night and I started talking to my wife about it, crying like I couldn't help it.

"It's been nine months of hell, and no, I'm not unique. We have lots and lots of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, all disciplines in medicine, and we are drowning. We are drowning and we are in hell, and people don't understand, not only what's happening to people, you know, but patients across this country."

A Clinic spokeswoman on Tuesday said ICU bed capacity is being "closely monitored" at all Clinic facilities and "while some of our ICUs may reach capacity on certain days, we still have beds available within our health system and are able to continue providing critical care to those patients in need." 

Turner issued a bleak forecast for Ohio, saying he believes the state's current surge of cases won’t peak until mid-January. Yet, he said, he constantly hears complaints over the usefulness of masks and criticisms of people who favor lockdowns or greater social distancing.

Speaking with 3News' Laura Caso on Monday, Turner emphasized anyone can get dreadfully sick from COVID-19, regardless of age or prior health conditions. Sadly, he said he experiences the death the pandemic has caused every day, multiple times a day.

"There are things we can do to prevent what we are seeing, and so many people believe this is a hoax and this is politically motivated," he said. "The truth is, I don't get to look away. Every day when I go to work, I know that I am going to have to put multiple patients on ventilators, and when I put those patients on ventilators, I am at risk every single time. I could also die from this."

He also lamented claims comparing the coronavirus to more common diseases such as the flu, which have persisted despite being debunked numerous times by numerous experts and outlets.

"Some people look at it and say some people die from the flu every year, and that's true, but not to this level," Turner said. "I've never seen anything like this in my time in medicine. This is the health care crisis of a generation. We haven't seen anything like this since the 1918 influenza pandemic, and the difference now is we have modern health care."

Turner was the first Cleveland Clinic doctor to intubate a coronavirus patient. He says it is a day that will stick with him forever.

"When we put her on the ventilator, right before we gave her medications to make her comfortable to put the breathing tube in, to make her sleep so she wouldn't have to remember the tube going in," he remembered. "She looked at me three times and said to me, 'I am not ready to die; please don't let me die.' That unfortunately, nine months into this, that is not a unique story anymore. That's something that we encounter almost every day."

Fortunately, the woman survived, but Turner says the virus can attack anyone at any age. His youngest patient was a 21-year-old who went into cardiac arrest from COVID-19. 

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