(CNN)It sometimes seems like the country's attention is shifting away from Covid-19's devastating death toll, which is projected to reach 200,000 by October, as several states see record numbers of cases on a daily basis. Today, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks to his longtime friend and colleague Dr. Nick Boulis about what was it was like to work inside Emory University's Covid-19 intensive care unit and watch the deadly power of this disease firsthand.
'It's a Little Bit Like Living on Mars': Inside a Covid-19 ICU. Dr. Sanjay Gupta's coronavirus podcast for June 17
You can listen on your favorite podcast app or read the transcript below.
Dr. Nick Boulis, associate professor, Emory University department of neurosurgery: The thing about the ICU is, it's like you're visiting your executioner. But every time you gown up and you go in there and you're examining these patients, or you're doing a procedure on these patients you're — you're looking at your potential fate, which is really ugly.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Dr. Nick Boulis is a friend of mine. We trained together as neurosurgeons and we now work together at Emory University's School of Medicine.
Recently, Nick volunteered for several shifts on Emory's Covid-19 intensive care unit. I asked him to record some of his thoughts and his observations from the experience.
Boulis: I was just in there talking with, uh, my patient, who's a Covid nurse who was infected, and, uh, she's coughing. I can just see the cloud of virus coming out of her mouth. So that's the first time I've actually felt scared.
Gupta: Typically as doctors, even when we're taking care of the sickest patients, we're not at risk ourselves, from getting sick or even dying. I can tell you, as a neurosurgeon myself, the type of work that Nick was doing in that Covid-19 ICU was very different from what he normally does.
And on top of that, as of Saturday, cases of coronavirus have been increasing in 18 states.
So today I wanted to take a moment and look again at where the critical work is being done to fight this virus that is now projected to take 200,000 lives by October. I wanted to share Nick's experience because it is a stark reminder that this pandemic is far from over.
I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent. And this is "Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction."
I'll take this opportunity to tell the audience that Nick and I have known each other for over a quarter century now. Hard to believe. And you're a neurosurgeon, a brain surgeon. You specialize in operations of the brain and the central nervous system and the peripheral nerves and all that.
And yet, most hospitals in the country, pretty quickly, became Covid hospitals primarily taking care of Covid patients. So what do you, as a specialist of the brain and the spinal cord, do in a situation like this? How — what is your role at that point?
Boulis: So first and foremost, I began adapting my own behavior for life in this hostile environment. It's a little bit like living on Mars, right? You wouldn't go out without your, your spacesuit on, your appropriate protective gear. Suddenly, the world became a fundamentally hostile environment. And in some environments, more hostile than others.
And so my first role was to try to communicate to my friends and do so through social media. Simply say, "This is how I'm dealing with this. If any of you are scared and wondering how you should behave, I can't tell you the right way, but I can tell you how I'm dealing with it."
And I think as doctors, it was incumbent on us to be outspoken about what we believed to be the right way to handle this on a national level, on a local level, at the level of the hospital, and then to do so, and I think that that last piece involved behaving in a fashion that was effectively irreproachable with regard to accepting responsibility, personally.