One afternoon in early April, while New York City was at the height of the deadliest pandemic days, Dr. Lorna M. Breen found herself alone in her Manhattan apartment building.
She picked up the phone and dialed her younger sister, Jennifer Feist, as she did most days. Lately, the conversations had been bleak.
Dr. Breen, 49, oversaw the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital in Upper Manhattan. The unit became a brutal battleground, with supplies running out at an agonizing rate and doctors – herself among them – and nurses becoming ill. The waiting room was perpetually overcrowded. The sick were dying unnoticed.
When Dr. Breen called this time, she looked strange. His voice was distant, as if in shock.
"I don't know what to do," she said. "I can't get out of the chair." Her sister helped to take her to a psychiatric ward.
More than 50 family members, friends and current and former colleagues told Breen's story to three The Times reporters: Corina Knoll, Ali Watkins and Michael Rothfeld. They painted the image of a consummate sales supervisor. Gifted, confident, intelligent. Unperturbed.
She planned exciting trips, joined a ski club, played the cello in an orchestra, took salsa classes and attended the Presbyterian Redeemer, a church that attracted high-performing professionals. Once a year, she gathered all her social circles at a party on her roof.
In late February, when elected leaders were still reassuring the public that the virus did not pose a serious threat, she convinced herself that she would catch hospitals unawares. And did, flooding emergency rooms like hers with desperately sick people. There would be bodies every day. Finally, during the worst of the crisis, almost a quarter of the people who were admitted to Allen to be treated with Covid-19 would die.