Picture: Dr Kate Barclay and team on the job in Sydney.
When Dr Kate Barclay puts on her Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and suits up for a day on the COVID-19 ward, she thinks of it as going out into a war zone.
Dr Barclay works on the respiratory ward of a major Sydney hospital on the front-line of the coronavirus pandemic. She says pandemic medicine is completely different to the way medicine is normally practiced.
“It took me a little while to make that adjustment in my mind,” Dr Barclay told Hope 103.2. ‘The way we practice medicine is no longer business as usual. The best analogy I came up with is the difference in practising medicine in wartime versus peace time.’
Kate admits that working on a COVID-19 ward was daunting at first.
“There are significantly fewer patients in the hospital… because they’re staying at home and washing their hands, they’re just not catching all the normal seasonal viruses.”
“Initially I was pretty scared actually, just between you and me and Hope radio. Putting on the PPE – it’s pretty confronting. There’s a real order to it and almost an art in taking it on and taking it off – it’s called donning and doffing – and to spend a large amount of time, like hours, wearing the masks and goggles, is quite claustrophobic.
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“But having said that, the team on the ward are just fantastic and that’s really been one of the best bits about the job. The nursing staff and the doctors, all the ward staff, are just really working together and collaborating and problem-solving when things don’t go according to plan.”
While footage of overcrowded intensive care wards from Italy and New York set off alarm bells in the medical community in Australia, that situation hasn’t eventuated here.
“There are significantly fewer patients in the hospital at the moment. I suppose because they’re staying at home and washing their hands, they’re just not catching all the normal seasonal viruses and infectious diseases.”
Staying Vigilant Against Infection
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Understandably, there is a level of anxiety amongst hospital patients and health workers alike.
“Absolutely we do talk about it and we worry about it,” Kate says. “Unfortunately health care workers are really overrepresented in patient numbers when you look at the data from overseas. But having said that, we’re really blessed in Australia, we do have adequate PPE and if you’re trained in its use, and you’re not overrun with patients and you’re not rushing and you have good infection control policies, actually the risk is minimal.
“And a lot of my meetings are about how to protect staff and keep them safe, because it’s really vital to our health care system that our health workers are kept safe.”
With young children at home, Dr Barclay is quite fanatical about showering at work, washing her hair before she leaves the hospital, wiping down her bag, phone and pen, wiping down her car and leaving her bag outside the house at the end of the day.
Courage and Faith
When asked what has helped her through this challenging time, Dr Barclay paid tribute to the struggles of previous generations.
“What I found helpful was thinking about the generations who had to go to war… People who had to send their children, their sons, to war, people that were fighting on the battlefronts. I actually took courage from their example of doing their bit for their country. Not everyone is a respiratory physician and I am, and this is my small contribution to the fight.
“God doesn’t say it’s all going to be easy. There will be trials… I just get onto it and go onto that ward and fight the good fight.”
“The other thing that encouraged me is that God is in control, even in the bad times. God doesn’t say it’s all going to be easy. There will be trials, so that also encouraged me to just get onto it and go onto that ward and fight the good fight.
“I’m almost taking it one day at a time. I think it’s becoming apparent that this virus is going to be around for a while. I know our case numbers are low, but that’s because we’ve slammed on the brakes and we can’t keep those brakes on to the same extent that we have been. I think we need to learn to live with it.”
Praying For Health Care Workers
When asked what we can pray for, Kate suggested the following:
- That health care workers can get rest and renewal
- That those on the front line don’t get tired and make mistakes
- That they and their families would be protected from the disease
- That health care workers, teachers and others in stressful roles will have peace and put their trust in God to sustain them
- That those who are making decisions will have wisdom – “because we don’t always know all the answers”.