I knew my first year as a doctor would probably be one of my toughest. What I didn’t expect was that it would also be during a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 3.3 million people. I started internship (the 1st year in the hospital after medical school) on January 20, 2020. My first term started off pretty well, and as expected. There were, however, whispers of some strange disease from Wuhan, China. To be completely honest Australia is controlling this outbreak so well that we are very lucky. But I still want to talk about my experiences as a doctor working during a pandemic, and my own COVID scare.

The first few weeks of my job continued like that, with people asking if you had any recent travel to China, then moving on with their days. If there was a patient with a fever, who had just arrived from Wuhan, you would consider swabbing them for COVID-19. Otherwise, no one really paid much attention to it. Then the numbers started to increase. Soon, we were screening anyone who had been to China, then anyone who had been overseas. Then anyone with a fever.

The hospital I was working at had some of the first positive cases in Australia. It was scary at the time (around March 2020), because it was very unknown. We still don’t know too much, but back then everyone was in the dark.

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Protecting yourself

We were concerned over our safety once we started to have increasing numbers of COVID-19 positive patients. However, the medical administration told us that we were not permitted to use masks. Apparently, this would cause fear in the general public. So the masks were only allowed when seeing someone who was confirmed positive, or someone awaiting the results of their COVID-19 swab.

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Isolation + could I have COVID??

Soon, like the rest of the world, we were in lockdown. Our positive COVID-19 cases in the hospital were increasing, we had our first COVID-19 related death, and things started to seem very real. What we thought was a mere cold, was something more serious.

Unfortunately, medical administration decided to place COVID positive patients on the same ward that was for patients with dementia. One of my patients was a lovely elderly man with dementia (let’s call him Mr VL*). He was very healthy, but his family couldn’t manage his behaviours anymore, so he was in the hospital. Mr VL loved to walk around and go into other patients’ rooms. He especially liked to rummage through the trash.

Then he went home, and came back within 24 hours with a fever and cough. We found out then that he had been looking through the trash of a COVID-19 positive patient…

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He was initially swabbed for COVID-19 and was found negative. So we continued to look after him without any masks, or protective equipment. Then he was swabbed a second time (accidentally), and his 2nd test came back positive.

I still remember the text page I received while drinking my coffee: Patient VL – COVID POSITIVE

*not real initials for confidentiality of course

It was a logistical nightmare. He had been busy cleaning the walls with his spit (but actually), cuddling up to the other patients with dementia, and he had coughed in my face at one point during a code (medical emergency) for himself.

So the hospital ultimately decided they wouldn’t keep patients with COVID next to patients with dementia. That it was, in fact, a very bad idea. A new COVID ward was created (which was now all confused wandering patients), and I got 2 weeks off work to self isolate.

Luckily – I didn’t get COVID.

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Australia and COVID

Honestly, the Australian government has done a stellar job with managing COVID-19. So has the Australian public. People respect lock downs, we have an amazing welfare system that supports people who need financial support during this pandemic. Free health care…the system works.

Australia has had 29,957 cases total and 910 deaths. Losing anyone to COVID is a tragedy, but I couldn’t imagine how it must be for doctors in India and USA (just for example) dealing with 57 million cases combined. Those two countries alone have close to 1 million deaths.

In Australia, we have had to make a few adjustments. But overall, my work life has not been affected by COVID. I mainly just go to work, and go home – but I would have done this with or without a pandemic. You can’t work from home as a doctor obviously, so I haven’t had to create a home office. At some points we had less work because people were too scared to come into hospital at the start of the pandemic. I didn’t get to go on an overseas holiday, but that is just a luxury, and I am thankful for not having bigger concerns.

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COVID teachings

In conclusion, COVID has flipped everyone’s worlds upside down. I think it shows us how we really aren’t in control of our lives or the world. Even if you feel that you can plan everything, there is never a guarantee. So many people have had weddings cancelled, jobs changed, a year of overseas travel scrapped. Or worse, they have had to deal with illness and loss.

Why not let go then? Because we really never know what is going to happen. It is impossible to plan ahead, and to be completely sure.

You need to roll with the punches sometimes and try to navigate the unknown.

Feature photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash