These are unprecedented and extreme times. Everyone is feeling the impact – either from the virus itself, or the impact of the lockdown and disruption of what we recall as ‘normal’, as well as trying to comprehend the loss of lives around us.
Nothing could have prepared us for this, but yet we have to cope. It has been a long and tiring journey for everyone I believe, it certainly is for me. Life has suddenly changed. It is no more business as usual.
People are worried about their families, friends, businesses, finances, their livelihood and sustenance. All these issues can have a profound impact on people’s mental health and also worsen physical health.
Despite the focus on COVID-19, other illnesses are still ongoing in the community and it is essential that our patients seek help as normal. GP surgeries, clinics and hospitals are open and, though we may have changed the way we work, we are still there to see and treat those that need medical help.
As GPs we also need to continue to manage chronic health conditions – hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and others – in the young and old. There have been reports of people who are unwell from causes other than COVID-19 choosing to remain at home and not contacting their GP.
There is a lot of stress in caring for people with COVID-19, but another wave of stress and risk to the community is building up – people who are severely ill due to other conditions but who have not sought help early enough. Some people will be seeking health care, possibly when it is too late to help.
As GPs we need to encourage people to feel confident to contact us when they are unwell or when they have health concerns. All health services are open, though with modifications and with some being diverted.
There have been some positives to the situation. Families are bonding more, people are looking out for each other and new ways of working and doing things are developing.
We have learned that nothing external is indispensable. We have to thank the essential services that continue to function so that everyone can have access to the basic necessities, as well as the charities that are keeping up with supporting the vulnerable in our communities.
The impact on family life
I would like to share my own (and my husband’s) journey during this crisis.
We are working in different capacities, myself as a GP and my husband in urgent care and out of hours. Life at home has been affected, our children had a job adjusting to the idea they can’t jump on to us and hug us at the door as usual on our return from work. They learnt to wait while we change and clean up thoroughly.
They ask us endless questions. They want reassurance we won’t bring the infection home to them. They want to us to reassure them we will be okay. They scream out ‘keep safe daddy’, ‘keep safe mummy’ as we head out to work.
We both return from work and reel out between ourselves demoralising summaries of the day’s work. Nothing in medical school prepares one for this scale of mortality. We now hold out hope for every unwell client and patient, praying that we see them again after trying our best.
We also need to debrief ourselves emotionally, psychologically and mentally. We both find that we need more than ever before to hold on to our faith for inner strength. We are grateful we are able to contribute our bit. When it is all over, we will all need some grace to neutralise the effects of these experiences.
For all those suffering at this time due to one reason all the other, I wish you strength to pull through.? For those who have lost their lives, my thoughts are with your families and friends, may they find comfort.
For the frontline workers who continue to face the challenge head on, I stand in solidarity. ?For us all, we will win the fight against this pandemic - things may be different for some time, but we will come out strong, armed with the lessons we have learned in this crisis.
- Dr Oginni is a GP in Orpington, Kent