Our Members Respond to COVID 19

By Kathee Andrews, MD MCFP NCMP

Past-President, FMWC

These are unprecedented times for the medical profession and for society as a whole.  Some of us remember working during the SARS outbreak in 2003. We had our temperatures taken before we entered hospitals and wore masks while we examined patients.  Sadly, many of us lost colleagues during that time.  Until the COVID-19 pandemic, however, never before has an outbreak caused such an interruption in the care of our patients, impacted our day to day lives, and threatened our economic stability as we have experienced since March.

For over two months, we have anxiously listened to our political and public health leaders (many of whom are women) for guidance as to what to do, who to test, how long to self-isolate, who needs PPE, etc.  Like everyone inside and outside our profession, we want to know how long will this last?

As physicians, we are taught to be resilient and cope with the stresses in our profession well.  As a result, we have found ways to rise these challenges and do the best we can for our patients, families and communities.

Even we need support, though.  In times like these, we lean on the support of our loved ones and our peers.

Mere days before the lockdowns began, Dr. Vivien Brown, North American Vice-President of Medical Women International Association and a past president of the FMWC, was in Ottawa for the Federation’s HPV Prevention Week Awareness Day on Parliament Hill.  Even then, the oncoming storm was apparent even if the extent was still unknown.  Can you imagine meeting a politician who won’t shake hands? Probably not.  Can you imagine an entire legislature full of politicians that won’t?  During the previous break week in the parliamentary calendar, several MPs from different parties had attended various conferences in Washington, DC, some of which we now know had participants that were later diagnosed as COVID-19 positive.  Since that day, she has continued her family practice both in person and virtually and has been regularly providing national and local media updates on health-related issues regarding COVID-19.

Our national president, Dr Clover Hemans, did an immediate pivot and signed up to work in the COVID-19 assessment centre in her health region.  There, she sees dozens of patients daily who are symptomatic and present with respiratory and other symptoms suspicious of coronavirus, and are anxious to be tested.  She has selflessly taken on this job while she waits for her hospital to resume its regular elective surgery schedule in the future.

There is a joke amongst doctors that betrays a stark reality:  an ER or doctor’s office is a horrible place to treat an illness.  It’s not the office, per se, but the waiting rooms with the cocktail of symptoms of those waiting to be seen.  As such, many physicians, myself included, have taken it upon themselves to be trained in virtual and telemedicine so they can provide ongoing primary care to patients in their homes without risking coronavirus exposure to either patient or doctor.  This has not been an easy transition.  Some physicians are older and less technically savvy!  It also relies on patient’s honesty and frankness at a time when they likely don’t even know what details we need to make a diagnosis.  An additional challenge is many patients are now choosing to stay at home with symptoms of serious diseases and conditions such as cardiac illness or stroke which do need to be managed in the emergency department.

Several of our members have successfully converted their psychotherapy practices to online platforms.  For those suffering with pre-existing mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, the added stresses of social isolation, financial hardship, and uncertainty regarding the future has served to intensify symptoms.  The incidence of domestic abuse and violence is rising.  For women in abusive relationships, social distancing and “staying home” has meant “staying trapped”.

For some of us, this pandemic is a crisis on top of a crisis.  Dr. Charissa Patricelli, our President-Elect, has been working night and day with at-risk population in perinatal clinics, battling the opioid crisis in Vancouver.  These challenging cases are made ever so more complicated by the pandemic.

Fortunately, our members support our members.  Dr. Mamta Gautam, psychiatrist and coach, has generously been providing virtual support to physicians on a daily basis.  She will be offering a webinar for all our members on May 19th at 8 pm (Eastern Time). We hope you will join us!

We would love to hear from you and what you are doing during this pandemic.  No matter how many more positive cases we test and successfully treat, we know that 2nd and 3rd waves of this will likely occur.  Patients and physicians will feel the economic, physical, and emotional and social effects of this pandemic for months and possibly years after the virus is under control.

Please stay in touch!

Contact our national office [email protected] to share your story.