Part of our weekly series with The Nib
on inequity in the time of pandemic.

Dr. Rajnish Jaiswal, New York City
Interviewed June 8, 2020

Dr. Rajnish Jaiswal talking to the reader as he walks down the street in East Harlem, at the corner of 1st ave and 99th street. Metropolitan Hospital rises in the background behind him. Narration: Dr. Rajnish Jaiswal works in the emergency room at a public hospital in East Harlem, which started to be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in late March and April. Dr. Jaiswal: It was like nonstop, basically. You had a patient come in every five minutes. We never turned anyone away.
A very busy and chaotic emergency room. The waiting room is full of patients Dr. Jaiswal: We didn't have enough doctors. We didn't have enough nurses. We didn’t have enough room. No matter what we did, we just couldn't catch up. It felt like we were under attack by this faceless enemy that was everywhere.
Dr. Jaiswal and a team of nurses push a patient along in a wheelchair through a hallway crowded with other staff and patients. Many of the patients are coughing. All the staff is wearing PPE, but it still seems dangerous. (PPE note: "PPE mostly worn in the ER was face shield, head/scalp covering, Respirator or double masks (N95 mask and Surgical mask), gloves, booties, gown.") Dr. Jaiswal: We are a very, very high risk environment. We all got sick. I got sick myself with COVID. I was out for about two weeks, but luckily I made a full recovery.
Close up on a young man, the nurse, who is laying in a hospital bed gasping for air. His skin is blue and gray and he looks very afraid. Narration: After Dr. Jaiswal recovered and returned to work, one of his nurses got sick and was admitted to the hospital as a patient. Dr. Jaiswal: He was gasping for air. He was blue and gray. And he had a look of absolute terror in his eyes. He was seeing the air getting sucked out of him and slowly suffocating to death.
An x-ray hanging up on a lightboard. Almost the entire lungs are white, with the rest of the body tissues a healthier dark color. Dr. Jaiswal, in full PPE, puts his hand to his head, clearly distressed. Dr. Jaiswal: His x-ray was horrible. You literally couldn't see any normal lung tissue, because his entire lung had been infected with COVID.
Dr. Jaiswal sitting next to the nurse in a hospital bed, looking exhausted. Dr. Jaiswal: To see someone who you've worked with so closely and is sort of like a fellow soldier, it really hit hard. But none of us had the time to process the emotional aspect of it. We just had to make sure that we saved him. Narration: The nurse survived and returned to work in June.
Dr. Jaiswal taking off his PPE at the end of a shift. Dr. Jaiswal: This pandemic is definitely one of the most devastating things that I've ever seen in my life, not just as a physician, but as a citizen. I don't know how I'm going to deal with this. I don't know how my colleagues are going to deal with it.
Dr. Jaiswal walking along the streets of New York again, looking upward. Dr. Jaiswal: I don't think we’ve had time to process what's happened to us, what we've gone through and what we've survived. I think that will probably be a long journey

Interview by Anjali Kamat, illustrated by Thi Bui, script by Sarah Mirk and Amanda Pike.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Anjali Kamat was a senior reporter at Reveal until summer 2022. She previously was an investigative reporter at WNYC, a correspondent and producer for Al Jazeera's current affairs documentary program "Fault Lines," and a producer, correspondent and host at Democracy Now! She's reported on global uprisings and wars, including the 2011 Arab Spring, and has investigated Wall Street's ties to predatory subprime auto loans, the Trump Organization's business deals in India, exploitation in Bangladeshi garment factories serving major U.S. brands, the trafficking of contract workers on U.S. military bases in Afghanistan and police impunity in Baltimore. Her work has won several major awards, including a duPont Award, multiple Emmy nominations and National Headliner Awards, an Overseas Press Club Award, a Peabody Award, and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. Kamat grew up in Chennai, India, and is based in New York.

Thi Bui was born in Vietnam and came to the United States in 1978 as part of the "boat people" wave of refugees fleeing Southeast Asia at the end of the Vietnam War. Her debut graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do (Abrams ComicArts, 2017) has been selected for an American Book Award, a Common Book for UCLA and other colleges and universities, an all-city read by Seattle and San Francisco public libraries, a National Book Critics Circle finalist in autobiography, and an Eisner Award finalist in reality-based comics. It made over thirty best of 2017 book lists, including Bill Gates' top five picks. She illustrated the picture book, A Different Pond, written by the poet Bao Phi (Capstone, 2017), for which she won a Caldecott Honor. With her son, Hien, she co-illustrated the children’s book, Chicken of the Sea (McSweeney’s, 2019), written by Pulitzer winner Viet Thanh Nguyen and his son, Ellison. Her short comics can be found online at Reveal News, The Nib, PEN America, and BOOM California. She is currently researching and drawing a work of graphic nonfiction about immigrant detention and deportation, to be published by One World, Random House.

Sarah Mirk (she/her) was a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison.

Amanda Pike (she/her) is the director of the TV and documentary department and executive producer of films and series at Reveal. Under her leadership, The Center for Investigative Reporting garnered its first Academy Award nomination and four national Emmys, among other accolades. She was the executive producer of the inaugural year of the Glassbreaker Films initiative, supporting women in documentary filmmaking and investigative journalism. She has spent the past two decades reporting and producing documentaries for PBS, CBS, ABC, National Geographic, A&E, Lifetime and The Learning Channel, among others. Subjects have ranged from militia members in Utah to young entrepreneurs in Egypt and genocide perpetrators in Cambodia. Pike also has dabbled in fiction filmmaking, producing the short film “On the Assassination of the President,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. She is a graduate of Princeton University and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.