Ramblings of a doctor in the time of Corona

Written by Ivan Slipper, 26.

I was supposed to write this two weeks ago, I was supposed to sort out moving to Hertfordshire last weekend, I was supposed to have packed 2 boxes every week since the middle of May, and I was supposed to be keeping a daily diary of how life has changed due to coronavirus. There’s a lot of stuff I’m not getting done these days.

That’s partially due to work; as a doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been transformed in the past 4 months into an entirely different person. I stopped seeing patients face to face, and had to learn how to deal with people over the phone, although now half my week is spent seeing patients over the phone. Then I was taught how to prioritise, diagnose, and manage patients using only a form submitted online, sometimes without ever talking to them, a sort of perpetual exam I answer step by step for hours at a time. I wear a mask all the time at work, no longer allowed to eat in communal areas thanks to this, and the splitting of the building into “hot” (seeing patients) and “cold” (no patients allowed) sites has meant that the morning coffee had half a chance of being made on the wrong side of the building for me.

All the opportunity that arises from it [the pandemic] is, at best, a rebirth from the ashes, not the point of the enterprise

But it’s also due to the whole situation. A lack of social interaction, and the difficulties in easy exercise options or entertainment outside, has left a lot of people struggling with their mental health. I don’t believe that I’m any different, although my app assures me that I have improved over the past 2 months. We’ve seen people who’ve never had a mental health problem before struggling, and stressors like these are felt disproportionately by those with other concerns.

See, the COVID pandemic is being touted as all sorts of things: the death of corporate complacency, the start of healing for the planet, a reminder of the basic humanity inside us all. But it is, fundamentally, a pandemic. A lot of people are at risk of getting ill, and the health service has been challenged to not only deal with the disease, but the related strains. Excess deaths from stretched services, people not reporting to medical professionals because of worries about the virus, as well as from the virus itself, have proved that this is a crisis the world is withstanding, and all the opportunity that arises from it is, at best, a rebirth from the ashes, not the point of the enterprise.

I know I’m really lucky. I’m moving house at the end of next month because I’m moving jobs to the next stage of junior doctorhood (the 3rd year, following 6 years as a student); I have a regular salary that is not going away anytime soon, and I live with an extremely supportive partner. I regularly see patients who are in no way as comfortable as I am, given various health, financial, or emotional concerns.

But the current situation is not normal. I feel especially sorry for the hospital doctors who are wearing gowns through their entire shift, but my weak form can hardly survive the 3-hour session of mask-wearing and constantly changing out safety specs, gloves, and gowns. I’ve got a touch of hay fever, and work in a very warm room, and have sneezed into the mask I was supposed to be wearing for another two hours; I can hardly imagine how uncomfortable wearing the respirator masks, visors, and full-body gowns for an 8-hour shift can be.

I was going to write about some of the politics, but to be honest, if you’ve read this far, on this site, you can probably guess

In my bubble, working as a Foundation Year 2 doctor in a GP’s practice, I am well-protected from the virus. I have never suffered from the reported PPE shortages, I have seen very few patients with suspected coronavirus, and all of my colleagues who have symptoms of COVID have had speedy tests, none of which have ended with the practice closed down.

In many ways I shouldn’t be at the practice, really. All Foundation doctors were supposed to move from one rotation to the next in March, right when we were in the exponential part of the curve, and that was stopped. Instead of 3 4-month blocks I was supposed to achieve this year, I got 8 months of the same. That’s probably been an immeasurable benefit to my patients though, seeing as I currently have more experience inside a GP practice than it’s previously been possible to get outside of those who are training to become GPs themselves.

This has been a long ramble, more than a series of connected viewpoints put forth in support of an argument, and that’s because in the current pandemic, I don’t think there’s much room for argument. I was going to write about some of the politics, but to be honest, if you’ve read this far, on this site, you can probably guess.

Protect the welfare state, save lives.

This contribution was written by Ivan Slipper, 26. visit his profile here to find out more about the voice behind the words.