In the third of our Living With Covid-19 series, where we learn how fellow health workers are adapting and coping with the ongoing pandemic, we hear from Reina Alameddine, based in Lebanon. Reina is a family medicine doctor who recently wrote an academic article with iheed, focusing on advocacy in health training, within the context of the Middle East. Here she describes how the pandemic has affected her life as a doctor and as an individual living in a country that is currently under economical and political stress.
It came at a point where our country and ourselves were on the verge of breaking. COVID-19 was the unwanted guest that seeped through the windows of Lebanese people and invaded their lives.
Over the past few months, Beirut, like all other areas in Lebanon, has been struggling with an increasing number of unemployed and economically disadvantaged people. Beirut has also become tired from relentlessly chasing a dream of a better future. News on protests, roadblocks, and suicide attempts have appeared daily on TV.
I am not a hero with the marks of a tightly fitted mask on the face. I did not wear a hazmat suit, nor have I taken a nasopharyngeal sample from a sick patient. I am a young family doctor who, like many other physicians in Lebanon, has been fighting tirelessly to secure a future in a troubled country and was deeply affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
I work in a primary healthcare center in one of Beirut’s busy neighbourhoods. The center offers healthcare services at low cost to people of all age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds. Before the outbreak, I sat with the team at the center trying to figure out a survival plan amidst the financial constraints. Then the news of the outbreak started pouring in.
Suddenly, we had to shift our attention to securing personal protective equipment, protecting the older staff at higher risk of COVID-19 complications. We needed a triage space and a more effective flow for patients in the center. The country announced the lockdown and everyone had to stay at home. We remained open, worked fewer hours and saw fewer patients.
But it has become harder. Harder to live through the dreading silence of the pandemic, to listen to the struggle of people who were fighting their own battles unarmed. The clinic got busier with cases of uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension, patients who stopped their medications because they could not afford them. Every now and then, we have been getting suspected cases of COVID-19, which we have managed to triage and refer for testing as per the recommendations of the Ministry of Public Health. Currently, halfway through the lockdown, the country seems to be rather successful in flattening the curve. We’ve taken deep sighs, adjusted our facemasks and resumed our own fight against the economic hardships we are living through everyday.
At the beginning of the outbreak, I wanted to keep myself busy. In my agenda, I had webinars I wanted to attend and a long to-do list of projects I’ve had in mind for years. But then, I realized this is not a time for increased productivity; it’s a time of crisis. My study trip to London was cancelled, the degree I am studying for has shifted to an online format and all deadlines have changed. Uncertainties around my professional and educational journey have been clouding my mind. The economic situation has also been weighing heavily on me.
However, there is a strange sense of peacefulness amidst this calamity. The pace of life has slowed down. The street I walk on to get to work is calmer than usual. There has been more time for an afternoon nap, a good book, and a long video call with my loved ones. I can even go for an early evening stroll and enjoy the fresh and clean air of Ras-Beirut.
I ask myself now what matters most; dreams that seem too farfetched, trips that are cancelled or savings that have become worthless. None of this matters now. What matters is to have good health, hope, and to be loved. This is what I want to offer my patients at the moment, I want to improve their physical health, encourage them to stay hopeful, and care for them with love and compassion. That’s how I can win the fight against COVID-19.
Family Medicine Doctor