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Jewish doctor admits he ‘hesitated’ before treating Covid patient covered in Nazi tattoos

Dr Taylor Nichols (pictured) shared his experience treating a COVID-19 patient covered in Nazi tattoos in a heart-wrenching Twitter thread on Monday

A Jewish doctor in California has revealed how his commitment to saving lives was tested when he was confronted with a COVID-19 patient whose body was plastered with Nazi tattoos. 

Dr Taylor Nichols shared his heart-wrenching story in a Twitter thread on Monday that quickly went viral, racking up more than 50,000 retweets. 

He was working in the emergency room of Mercy San Juan Hospital in Sacramento in mid-November when an older man arrived by ambulance.

‘He was clearly working hard to breathe. He looked sick. Uncomfortable. Scared,’ Nichols wrote.  

The doctor and his team – a black nurse and Asian American respiratory therapist – moved the man onto a gurney and went to put him in a hospital gown when they discovered the tapestry of Nazi symbols inked into his skin. 

‘The swastika stood out boldly on his chest. SS tattoos and other insignia that had previously been covered by his shirt were now obvious to the room,’ Nichols recalled. 

‘We all saw. The symbols of hate on his body outwardly and proudly announced his views. We all knew what he thought of us. How he valued our lives.’ 

‘Yet here we were, working seamlessly as a team to make sure we gave him the best chance to survive that we could. All while wearing masks, gowns, face shields, gloves.’ 

As the medics surveyed the sinister markings, the man looked up and breathlessly pleaded: ‘Don’t let me die, doc.’  

Nichols said he assured the man that they would do whatever they could to save him. But he soon found himself doubting whether he could keep that promise. 

Nichols (pictured) was working in the emergency room of Mercy San Juan Hospital in Sacramento in mid-November when an older man arrived by ambulance. As medics went to put him in a hospital gown, they discovered the tapestry of Nazi symbols inked into his skin

Nichols (pictured) was working in the emergency room of Mercy San Juan Hospital in Sacramento in mid-November when an older man arrived by ambulance. As medics went to put him in a hospital gown, they discovered the tapestry of Nazi symbols inked into his skin

Nichols described the patient as ‘solidly built, ‘older’ and showing signs of chronic methamphetamine use that had caused nearly all of his teeth to fall out. 

The man was hooked up to a CPAP when he arrived at the hospital, but the doctor said it was clear the breathing machine wasn’t enough.  

Nichols said he asked the man if he wanted to be hooked up to a ventilator, ‘knowing that was all but inevitable and before the hypoxia made him more confused and unable to answer’. 

‘He said that if a breathing tube was the only way he could survive, he wanted us to do everything we could. So we would. We were out of other options by this point, so we prepared,’ the doctor wrote.  

Nichols and his team went to put on full protective gear for the procedure, which can put medical workers at high risk of coronavirus exposure as it spreads potentially contaminated aerosols around the room. 

He doubled checked all of his equipment, ran through the plan with the nurse and respiratory therapist, and then paused to look in at the patient. 

‘I see the SS tattoo and think about what he might think about having Jewish physician taking care of him now, or how much he would have cared about my life if the roles were reversed,’ the doctor wrote. 

‘For the first time, I recognize that I hesitated, ambivalent. 

‘The pandemic has worn on me, and my mantra isn’t having the same impact in the moment. All this time soldiering on against the headwinds, gladiators in the pit. And I realize that maybe I’m not ok.’ 

In his Twitter thread Nichols described how he and his colleagues at Mercy San Juan Hospital (pictured) have been worn down by months of treating coronavirus patients

In his Twitter thread Nichols described how he and his colleagues at Mercy San Juan Hospital (pictured) have been worn down by months of treating coronavirus patients 

Nichols said that moment of hesitation and doubt ‘perfectly captured what we are going though as healthcare workers as this pandemic accelerates’, emphasizing how some Americans’ refusal to follow basic safety guidelines has taken a heavy toll on him and his colleagues.  

‘We exist in cycle of fear and isolation,’ he wrote. ‘Fear of getting sick on the front lines. Fear of bringing a virus home and exposing our families. Fear of the developing surge of patients. Fear of losing our colleagues. Fear of not having what we need to take care of patients.

‘And isolation because we don’t want to be responsible for spreading the virus, knowing that we are surrounded by it on a daily basis. Isolation because no one else can truly understand this feeling, these fears, the toll of this work. But we soldier on.

‘Unfortunately, society has proven unwilling to listen to the science or to our pleas. Begging for people to take this seriously, to stay home, wear a mask, to be the break in the chain of transmission.

‘Instead, they’ve called the pandemic a hoax, called us liars and corrupt, told us we are being too political by worrying about patients dying and trying to save lives. They’ve stopped caring about our lives, our families, our fears, worried only about their own.’ 

Nichols explained the experience to the San Francisco Chronicle after his Twitter thread went viral. 

He said that he treated the tattooed patient about two weeks ago but woke up thinking about him early Monday morning.  

‘I don’t know if I care,’ he remembered thinking as he stood over the patient. ‘I didn’t feel compassion for him in that moment.’  

Nichols said he’d wanted to become a doctor ever since he was treated for a brain tumor when he was seven. 

‘I decided while I was in the hospital that I thought there was nothing greater in the world you could do for another human being than to dedicate your life to have the skills to save them,’ he told the Chronicle.

Over the course of the last nine months that job has become near impossible with an unrelenting pandemic that has worsened in recent weeks, pushing hospitals in California and around the US to their limits. 

Nichols said he'd wanted to become a doctor ever since he was treated for a brain tumor when he was seven

Nichols said he’d wanted to become a doctor ever since he was treated for a brain tumor when he was seven

‘I see no matter how much we scream from the mountaintops, we’re getting overwhelmed,’ Nichols said. ‘I see COVID patients every day. It’s endless.’

He said he doesn’t remember the tattooed man’s name or whether he lived or died, only that he did everything he could to save him before moving on to the next patient.   

But that man will forever live in his mind as a symbol of the pandemic’s toll on him and other healthcare workers whose battle against the virus has no end in sight.  

‘You have the realization that maybe you’re not the same person that you started out as and that’s hard to swallow,’ Nichols said. 

‘None of us wanted to be changed for the worse because of this.’   

California has recorded 1.22 million coronavirus cases and 19,211 deaths as of Tuesday, according to data from the state health department. 

Hospitalizations have exploded by more than 160 percent in the last month, reaching 9,049 on Tuesday, 2,000 of them in the ICU.

ICU beds are currently at 85 percent capacity, and officials project that they could reach 112 percent capacity by mid-December.  


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