ER doctor’s animated covid-19 video gives stark view of pandemic’s toll on medical professionals

By Erin Blakemore,

Craig Spencer is supposed to save lives.

Instead, he saw them end all around him due to the novel coronavirus.

In a five-minute video diary of a doctor’s battle against covid-19, the emergency room physician sums up the grueling, often otherworldly experience in five stark words: “This isn’t what we do.”

Produced by AJ+, the animated video illustrates what it’s like to wake up, guzzle down coffee, strap on a mask and get to work in a covid-ravaged hospital.

It’s a sensory experience, from the din of the coughs of covid-19 patients to the beeps that indicate they need life support.

Although it was produced in May during the first wave of covid-19 in New York, it’s a glimpse into the toll the pandemic is taking on medical professionals throughout the country as ERs and intensive care units fill.

Between interminable shifts, limited resources, fear of infection, and their sense of their own inability to turn the tide for their patients or their families, they are being stretched to their physical and emotional limits — and beyond.

Spencer, director of Global Health in Emergency Medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, has written several pieces for The Washington Post about his experiences.

“We’re all being asked to do things we’ve never done before,” says Spencer, who contracted Ebola while treating patients as a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders in West Africa.

So how do the two crises compare?

To find out, watch the video. And brace yourself for an emotional journey of your own as you consider what the pandemic really means for patients and the doctors working so hard to protect them. View the video at

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