I couldn’t taste my morning coffee. Covid-19 has officially gone too far.
I’ve previously written about the benefits (and drawbacks) of being a patient and a doctor/healthcare professional/student and now, as the lingering symptoms of my body’s battle continue to frustrate me, I can appreciate a fraction of the burden many patients face on a daily basis.
So what did I learn from my Covid dalliance?
- Location, location, location
Your environment is key to feeling better and, crucially, getting better. I was lucky enough to spend my isolation in a nice flat, with a garden, and with access to local green spaces. This enabled me to get fresh air and maintain a semblance of mental positivity.
Unfortunately, that is not the case for a lot of people. From homeless patients to those in unhygienic conditions, there are those who will be living in conditions that will exacerbate symptoms. Even the hospital environment can’t exactly be called “positive”, especially on crowded wards with little sunlight, constant noises and little sleep.
We know the positive impact of green spaces and a positive roof over your head- it’s certainly something that needs to be translated into clinical practice.
2. Social isolation
Once again, I was lucky enough to have people to talk to and was even isolating with my partner (she was suffering her second Covid-19 infection so I couldn’t complain too much). Even so, I found myself getting overwhelmed with large crowds and busy areas once my isolation was over.
Social isolation is a major problem for many, especially the elderly. The combination of loneliness, neglect and lack of mental stimulation leads to several downstream effects; mental health issues, dementia and unresolved health issues.
Fantastic initiatives such as social prescribing and telehealth will hopefully help vulnerable individuals who are lacking in social contact. We can only hope that those at risk from complications can be identified and given the social support and human contact that would benefit them.
3. Energy is everything
As a regular gym-visitor with a fairly active lifestyle and reasonable diet, I’m someone who is fairly physically resilient. However, even now, over a week after the debilitating fatigue that accompanied the infection, I still feel like I’m pouring from a cup that shrank by about 60%.
Physical fatigue comes hand-in-hand with mental fatigue. It makes simple tasks more difficult, makes it difficult to be active (which we always preach to every patient) and saps at motivation.
I think this has been the most useful one to reflect on. Patients who have ongoing medical conditions often suffer fatigue as a consequence. For some conditions, such as anaemia, rheumatological conditions and cardio-respiratory illness, fatigue is a key part of the clinical picture.
- How likely is a fatigued patient to consistently exercise, dragging themselves against their body’s warning signs?
- How fair is it to expect an exhausted patient to cook a healthy meal from scratch, given they can eat a ready meal or takeaway and save energy?
- How can we expect these patients to stay on top of their clinic times, letters, appointments, changing drug doses and the ever-changing names and faces that feature in their care?
Overall, I’m taking these key points forward and I genuinely believe that this illness has added new dimensions to my empathy, in key that I previously lacked. I think we can all learn from our experiences as patients- the fear, the symptoms, what you miss and what you appreciate once you’re better.
Some patients, however, won’t get better. Many don’t have the background medical knowledge that I had, which reassured me that I wasn’t *that* unwell, even well I felt s***. I think being aware of these privileges is equally as important because it can make you aware of why a patient may stray from the “gold standard” approach that we preach.
For now, I have a lot of work to do in order to catch up on placement and learn as much medicine as possible before my FINAL EXAMS!!!
The end of medical school is in sight. I can almost* smell it.
*(Covid has still taken most of my smell, but at least I can taste coffee now)