COVID-19: Looking for a silver lining

It’s July 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of ending. A friend recently asked me if I ‘d ever imagined such a scenario when I decided to do medicine. The answer is no. None of us, not even our mentors had trained for a pandemic of this magnitude. Still, while this is still far from a “when life gives you lemons make lemonade” scenario, looking for those elusive positives in this global catastrophe is just one way to remain optimistic in the face of such unprecedented adversity.

So unprecedented, in fact, that as our hospital committees initially met to formulate new standards of operation, I found that as fellows in training (FIT) and (very) early-career physicians, my colleagues and I had much to contribute in terms of protocols and guidelines, even in guidance documents of national societies. With the need for rapid update of data and protocols in an extremely volatile situation, a FIT and early career COVID response team was formulated, to submit recommendations on a variety of aspects ranging from infection control, requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE), zonal divisions of hospital, allocations of responsibility and treatment protocols of infected staff, based on international guidance. It was something I had never done before, and taught me the important aspects of healthcare administration, outside of clinical work, and a renewed appreciation for what those in management do (It’s not easy to keep everyone happy!)

These testing times were also an opportunity to lead with empathy, help cultivate an essence of team spirit, and collective resilience as a team. When we had an initial outbreak of cases among our healthcare workers in April, I learnt what real leadership is – the importance of being transparent, even in the face of chaos. I learnt what it means to be present and to lead with empathy, to “be there” for junior colleagues and nurses. In the sea of misinformation, I also learnt to speak up for what was right, with authorities, rectify misconceptions especially relating to evidence-based treatment and push for the changes that were needed. Even now, everybody is still apprehensive. In more ways than one, the pandemic offered an opportunity for a much-needed change of culture within work environments, and more open discourse between peers and colleagues, a positive change that we hope will last beyond these difficult times.

While we educate ourselves on everything that isn’t cardiology, most formal training especially in terms of procedures, is still on hold as we respond to the pandemic. Locally, we have somewhat adapted to a virtual learning platform for residents. However, practising in South Asia, exposure to cutting edge technology and insights from international leaders in the field has generally been limited to the ability to be able to travel for in-person meetings overseas. Despite the chaos, the learning must not stop — while restrictions to international travel may have blocked the networking opportunities of in-person meetings, in a strange paradox, the online interactions might just have brought the world closer.

Just this week, I attended webinars from 2 different continents, without having to apply for any educational leave. Moreover, most of these virtual meetings and webinars are free of cost, and especially for fellows, the opportunity to participate and interact with world-class faculty. (Disclaimer: They are by no means a substitute for the real deal, but I’m trying hard to count the positives here!).

Like so many others I know, 2020 was supposed to be “my year” too. But tough luck. It’s not easy having to endure the stress of colleagues and family falling sick, and having to battle on, knowing fully well that it might very well be you, next. It’s important to embrace the situation and cultivate positive vibes, engage in self-care and your own wellness, however limited the options may be. By not being able to travel to see family, or even out of town for a break, it has been overwhelming to say the very least, but I can safely say that I’ve probably helped more people in the last few months, than I have on all my years as a doctor. That would probably be the biggest silver lining of them all—the opportunity to serve so many people. But in uncertain times like these, we’re all apprehensive. We don’t know when this will end. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and we need to find the silver lining in this new normal, for the sake of our own sanity. At the same time, it’s also imperative that we consolidate the positive effects of the pandemic, the growth it has led to, and incorporate them into our practice as physicians and people.

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