By Dr Azraa Alli

I am an intern at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital (formerly known as Johannesburg General). As a baby doctor (I’ve only qualified last year), I often feel out of my depth on a day to day basis, when it comes to basic things like hospital administrative issues, or scary things like being required to fully manage patients alone at 2 am, knowing that someone else’s life rests solely in your hands.

Then again, there’s nothing more rewarding to me than seeing a shine in a patient’s eyes when I give them good news, or when I can make them feel heard and respected. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had patients cry on me. One of the first changes that took place in our hospital was the dehumanising aspect of social distancing. My shoulder was no longer allowed to be there for my patient to cry on. Something as fundamental as the patient having the right to see my mouth smile reassuringly at them, my hand warm on their arm, was replaced with cold masks and rubber gloves.

Now, we have weekly meetings on how to don adequate protection. Every day there is a new protocol for managing Covid-19 patients, a new guideline, a new plan. We have daily fights over masks and gloves. Our rosters are in disarray, given out last minute, hours extended, doctors pulled from every department to help screen and manage Covid patients. Now, the congenial greetings of the nurses are strained and forced. And all the while, we are all waiting.

Now, it’s pretty standard to see someone duck away from you in hospital corridors, and frantically press the ‘close door’ button on lifts to minimise interactions with other humans. Aside from the general changes that have invaded our hospital with Covid-19, there is a pervasive atmosphere of apprehension, like the calm before the storm, almost as though everyone is collectively holding their breath as we brace for the worst. Because the worst is still coming, and despite all of our preparations, we have no idea how we’re going to fight it.

At least there’s no traffic.

Image from Wikimedia Commons