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Resilience: A Wanderer’s COVID-19 Diary Entry from United Kingdom

By Rahul Bamal MRCS, MCh

I came to Merseyside, UK as a Hand Fellow in November 2019 after resigning from my permanent substantive consultant job as a plastic surgeon in India. I was due to retire in June 2050, yes, most people would not trade that for a fixed term job in a far away country with an uncertain future. The reason is simple: the search for something more and something better, isn’t it always that?

I left home with my wife supposed to join me soon in the UK as a paediatrics fellow. I had a whole new system around me in which I was looking forward to find a place and flourish. Then the COVID-19 hit like a cannonball, quite literally and the people started to fall dead who have not stopped until now. London was hit first and then the wave moved north, slowing but not dying. It has been a challenging time and I have felt stress as well as anxiety. I talk to my parents, wife, and kid daily through video calls, and that keeps an important pillar stable. Their relocation will be delayed for an undefined time period with all the lockdowns and restrictions in force, and I was in no way prepared for such eventuality. None of us were. I would not have probably moved in the first place if anybody would have seen it coming, maybe never…for the better or worse, who knows?

I was building my portfolio to become a hand surgeon in this country, logging numbers, getting the assessments done, working across domains, and I have not stopped in any way. But, there is anxiety, real danger, and change in routine. My flatmate developed symptoms around Easter weekend, tested positive and I had to self isolate for two weeks. That was a defining moment for myself if I can say so, in terms of realization of how fragile life is, especially when I heard him say after his recovery that he thought he is not going to make it. One of his consultants passed away due to the disease that is still brewing. Report of one my patients came back positive after I operated on her with others not uncommonly being clinically or biochemically positive in wards and clinics. It is all around us, but work goes on, of course with checks and cautions.

Electives have stopped, clinics have almost stopped, but trauma has not. Rotas have been substantially changed and everyone is wondering how far it will go or how bad it will be, still I feel warmth in how the people around me have come together to support and motivate each other in these tough times. We have not yet been redeployed but are on standby, our juniors have been. Sick/isolation leaves have gone through the roof, but the rota has backups for everyone with COVID department hotlines for reporting sickness.

Handling of the crisis by the government is a discussion for another day, but healthcare workers and professional bodies have pushed for a safer working environment and that has produced some results although with a delay of a week or so. Guidelines have been frequently updated to make them better and supply of PPE equipment has been acceptable in our hospital until now barring the few hiccups.

Personally, the time off has provided me an opportunity to do paperwork, read for my academic endeavours, invest more time in discussions with consultants, and reflect.

I would say, it is all about perspectives, that define your actions and responses to a problem. At the same time it is also important to let go of issues over which you do not have any control.

Many have fallen, and many will, but it is not the death that we should be concerned about but our resilience. A decade down the line, we just want to be able to say to our children looking in their eyes that we did whatever we could. Is not that all we want in everything we do and if we can do that, I am sure everything will be alright. It has to be.

Adversities come and go; what truly matters is the spirit of never giving up and enjoying life while you still can.

Rahul Bamal MRCS, MCh
Hand Surgery Fellow

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