Every doctor prepares for the day, it is akin to preparing for war. We do not know what awaits, but we do our best to be optimistic. Today was seemingly like any other day; having been grafted into the COVID-19 Case management team, the generally prevailing emotions were caution bordering on fear then counterbalanced by Faith, and a constant reminder of all one stood to lose. For me, I had just been married for 4 months before all of these.
That fateful day, the shift had begun like every other, seemingly normal at first, but it would prove to be a really challenging one.
I had arrived for my night shift at our COVID-19 Isolation Centre and had to review and transfer our first patient with severe illness from the holding area to the Isolation Ward proper. I completed my review and I was really worried: patient was middle-aged, severely dyspnoeic, too breathless to talk, and oxygen-dependent with a host of co-morbidities including hypertensive heart disease, heart failure and chronic kidney disease. I adjusted her oxygen flow, and the nurse administered her evening medications. Moments later, another middle-aged patient would come in with severe hypoxia and co-morbidities; we would be up all night, caring for him, giving our all to ensure he pulled through. I even remember pacing outside the treatment center praying silently to God to help both of my patients. Unfortunately, the latter patient would pass on the next day, and be diagnosed of COVID-19 post-mortem.
His death broke me. Being someone regularly in the face of mortality, one would assume these situations would be more easily processed by our minds by now, but not this time; this experience shook me, it really hit home! Knowing that the very cause of that mortality could be living within you because you could have made the slightest of errors in protecting yourself properly (I must have gone over how I donned and doffed my PPE a hundred times in my mind looking for errors!), or the perennially haunting question of where his soul was headed; he didn’t really get much chance to speak before the end. It reminded me of the fickleness of Life which we so desperately cling unto. Yes, I had prayed for him, but I never really broached the subject of salvation with him. It’s amazing how far our fears can take us if we allow them to.
But I soldiered on, encouraged myself in the Lord and I thank God for family and friends who stayed close. I kept caring for my other patients, in hope, but we often know whose situation would most probably lead to mortality; each time I came for my shift and asked after my other patient, I would literally hold my breath, afraid I would hear some bad news (Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!). But to our greatest excitement, by God’s mercy, as the hours progressed, and with focused care by the team, she made steady progress, came off oxygen and became ambulant.
Fast forward to a few days ago when her second negative test came in! She was going to be discharged! We’d had several other discharges but this one was special! She was surely mortality-prone by every indication and by all the data we have available!
I was so excited for her and told her as much. She was simply grateful and eager to go home! Seeing her leave on her own two feet, albeit with some help, and all smiles too was cheering to my soul which was almost becoming weary just a weak earlier!
Days like that make everything worth it! Do I still have fears? Daily! Silent panic? Oh definitely! But I pray for strength and show up daily because mine is a high calling! Being on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response is deeply challenging for every health worker and their loved ones especially with no clear end in sight but I rest assured in the knowledge that we will overcome, we will win. God is for us!
Dr Kevin Bassey (Uyo)