On an afternoon in early April, while New York City was in the throes of what would be the deadliest days of the pandemic, Dr. Lorna M. Breen found herself alone in the still of her apartment in Manhattan.
She picked up her phone and dialed her younger sister, Jennifer Feist, as she did nearly every day. Lately, their conversations had been bleak.
Dr. Breen, 49, supervised the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital in Upper Manhattan. The unit had become a brutal battleground, with supplies depleting at a distressing rate and doctors — herself among them — and nurses falling ill. The waiting room was perpetually overcrowded. The sick were dying unnoticed.
When Dr. Breen called this time, she sounded odd. Her voice was distant, as if she was in shock.
“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I can’t get out of the chair.” Her sister helped to get her into a psychiatric ward.
More than 50 family members, friends and current and former colleagues told Dr. Breen’s story to three reporters for The Times: Corina Knoll, Ali Watkins and Michael Rothfeld. They painted a picture of a consummate overachiever. Gifted, confident, clever. Unflappable.
She planned thrilling trips, joined a ski club, played cello in an orchestra, took salsa classes and attended Redeemer Presbyterian, a church that attracted high-achieving professionals. Once a year, she gathered all her social circles at a party on her rooftop.
In late February, when elected leaders were still assuring the public that the virus did not pose a serious threat, she became convinced it would catch hospitals off guard. And it did, inundating emergency rooms like hers with desperately ill people. There would be bodies every day. Ultimately, during the worst of the crisis, almost a quarter of the people who were admitted to the Allen to be treated for Covid-19 would die.