So many tragedies have happened this year, we can’t even keep up. Although the Beirut explosion and the death of Chadwick Boseman were a punch in the gut, COVID-19 is the mother of them all.
I’m sure everyone has a story to tell and a blame to lay on COVID-19. This here is my story.
COVID started in December last year, hence the “-19”. Despite this, I first heard of COVID in March this year. At this point I was on leave and it was the last thing on my mind. It was still in China, a very distant land. So I enjoyed every bit of my leave as scheduled and even planned more activities. After all, I am in a first world country, communicable diseases are a non issue.
Three weeks later, I had resumed work. COVID had already set sail and docked in Europe, particularly Spain and Italy. Still, there was a lot of speculation. I did my first set of shifts and COVID preparedness was a conversation staple. Most of us were ripe with ideas of how it should be handled, a popular strategy being setting aside wards to deal with the disease. What we didn’t know was that the axe would fall on our bark.
You see, working in a hospital set up, your ward is like a small family. You are used to your colleagues. They know you and you know them. Just like sibling, you like some more than others but you still make it work no matter what.
At this point I was roughly six months in the UK and I was in a phase called “SuperNewMary” to mean that I was working under supervision, still being hand-held for most procedures. Socially, I was just getting used to the environment and finding my feet. The universe had other plans. The gods have a sardonic wit.
Monday morning, I report to work and find the doors to our ward chained and locked. Words cannot describe the confusion from that morning. In the long run,we reported to the site manager and were sent to different wards. This was to be our new normal.
Before we deal with the horrors of COVID, here I was, having to dance with strangers, all day, everyday. Adapting to my ward was hard enough. I didn’t need this, not just when my emotional and mental well being were finding some semblance of stability. I was in the deep end. Again. To be honest, I almost drowned.
The consolation was that everyone was panicking. No one seemed to know what to do, when to do it and how to do it. The number of positive patients was slowly rising and the death toll with it. There was a shortage of PPES. Staff started developing flu-like symptoms as well. Daily government briefs became more confusing than helpful. Chaos had erupted across the globe.
After a few weeks of being at sixes and sevens a system was developed to classify the COVID cases and wards were assigned as below:
Cohort 1: Low probability
Cohort 2: Intermediate probability evidenced by chest CT scan
Cohort 3: High risk patients for full escalation
Cohort 4: High risk with DNACPR in place
Cohort 5: High risk with End of Life care
For two months I worked with all these cohorts. I saw how the virus caused extreme pain when breathing, a task we consider mundane. I saw patients developing fevers that would not respond to any medication. I saw how some patients’ symptoms evolved in a span of 24 hours or less, necessitating Intensive Care. I saw the panic in health care providers’ faces. I saw the panic in my own face.
Simultaneously, I was filling in shoes too big for me professionally. On one day I had to lead a team. On another, I had to do a shift in Intensive Care Unit with my “SuperNewMary” status because there was a shortage of staff across the hospital. All these and I am in a country with one of the best healthcare systems in the world.
My worst moments were making phone calls to inform relatives that their loved ones had died. And that they were not allowed to come into the hospital nonetheless. As I mentioned before, I almost drowned. I was fatigued both physically and emotionally. Social distancing added insult to the injury. I took a break, for my sanity’s sake.
After a week of resting and reflecting, I realized that despite the physical and emotional toll, COVID had been a steep learning curve for me. I had to quickly understand the hospital’s system. I learnt how to respond to medical emergencies when they happen. I gained skills to interact with different pools of healthcare providers and people. Most importantly, I developed the courage to speak up for myself. I learnt to say no to tasks I was not competent or comfortable doing.
Due to COVID-19, my skin has grown two inches thicker. Both figuratively and literally.
We are yet to beat the virus. No one knows what the future entails. We dread a second wave. Worse still, winter is coming. However, there is hope. We know what to do to contain the spread of the virus. Also, there are people working round the clock to develop a vaccine. In the meantime we must do out part; sanitizing, masking up and social distancing.
P.S I tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.