Ramadan from the Bell Jar

I remember the first time we were shown how to wear PPE. We were all jammed in a small patient lounge, phones at the ready in case we were needed somewhere else. My colleague and I were mushed on top of each other, taking the whole thing lightly but taking it all in. It’s not so different from dealing with MRSA, maybe a bit more alien. Sure, we won’t see many, will we?

I remember the first time I x-rayed someone with suspected COVID. He was a man and honestly, his face has left my memory because this was the first time I was wrapped up like a turkey, huge FFP3 mask, a visor good enough for a welder and a massive yellow apron, complete with regular gloves. There’s no human interaction anymore. Where you’d have a conversation with someone before you x-rayed them, there was no room for that. It’s hard to breathe in those masks. Breathlessly, I was able to get his name and date of birth out of him, and a not-so-shabby Chest x-ray. All with a smile, of course, but I don’t think he knew that.

I remember the first time I had to x-ray someone with COVID 19. He’s not with us anymore, he was knee-deep in lung cancer as it was, it wasn’t looking well for him. I don’t think he expected the virus to get him, not the cancer. And he knew the game was up, no facade of niceness with him. He didn’t want a bunch of randoms x-raying his chest, I bet, he knew what we’d see. He probably had a wife, kids, maybe even a dog who will forever wonder where he went. A do-not-resuscitate hanging over his head like a guillotine, we were checking the system daily to see if he had passed over. Saturday night, around 8pm.

My knuckles have started to crack because of the amount of, possibly excessive, hand washing and sanitising. Our doors and machines are starting to change colour because of the strength of the solution we are using on it hourly, where we’d use it weekly.

This is my new reality now. My working day has changed for me and many of my colleagues in the medical world. And for some reason, we don’t ever see a return to our old ways. Perspex screens are blocking us off from our administrative friends, the restaurant has seated us all 2 metres from each other. Where you’d allow your patients to spill their concerns and worries, you now attempt to play a game of ”no-touch” x-ray and work as quickly as possible to get everyone out of your reach within the golden close contact time of 15 minutes. I was rushing to help someone with their walking stick or their jacket, I’m now 2 meters away as much as feasibly possible.

There’s some times I forget to smile at people, even when my mask is off.

This Ramadan, we’re all staying at home. No iftars together. No mosque trips together. No taraweeh together.

The Qu’ran says, Allah says:
“…If anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.” (5:32).

Day by day, it may not feel like it, but we are slowing this virus down. It’s not going away. Slowing it down means I won’t have stories of thousands of COVID 19 patients, I’ll only have a few. Slowing it down means we can protect the vulnerable from unnecessary exposure and keep our hospitals available for the families and patients who still need it, in this emergency.

This Ramadan, if you stay home, please know – you are saving a life. My heart is heavy for us, we are not used to staying away from each other and the social aspect of Ramadan is the candle that burns the brightest. We’ll be out of the woods soon, but until that point, thank you for putting humanity first.

Ramadan Mubarak.

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