Dr Blair Bigham (Diploma of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, 2018) works a Resident Emergency Doctor. Here, he discusses what it has been like to work within a hospital during this pandemic and how important providing accurate information has been for Canada.
How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your work?
The Emergency Room (ER) has been really quiet, with volumes down about 60%. But the acuity is higher – people seem to be waiting longer to come to the ER for help and we’re seeing diseases in later stages. I’ve had a few cases with poor outcomes that I consider to be collateral damage of this pandemic, even though the patients didn’t have COVID-19. Of course the COVID-19 patients are there too, but we avoided the tidal wave experienced in other cities and we are grateful for the warnings that came early and fiercely from China, Italy, New York and elsewhere that encouraged us to take things seriously and prepare aggressively.
How have you been responding to the outbreak?
In addition to my ER duties, I’ve been asked to staff Intensive Care Unit (ICU) shifts at a community hospital across town that was hit particularly hard. At one point the ICU was mostly COVID-19, and we had to surge into the post-operation care area. I’ve also been battling the fake news, what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls “the COVID infodemic”, by providing commentary in national newspapers and on the airwaves. My training as a journalist has helped me synthesize the massive amount of information flooding social media, the literature, and the hospital hallways. I think that right now, it is so important that doctors are the public face of the pandemic and are out there providing accurate information and analysis for the public.
How has your countries response to the outbreak affected your work?
I think we (Ontario, Canada) locked down just in time. We have not seen the surge we were fearing. The projections were terrifying, but fortunately, have not materialised. We are now starting to focus on catching up on cancelled services while maintaining PPE stock, capacity for outbreaks, and social distancing measures. We have had some exemplary public health leaders, and some that serve as an example of what not to do – so I think there will be a chance to learn from this pandemic and be better prepared to communicate honest, accurate information to the public that strengthens, not undermines, the social contract we have as members of Canadian society. Canadian journalists have also stepped up – I think they may have saved more lives than doctors during this pandemic by accurately conveying important information to Canadians, and building a sense of community from coast to coast.
How has LSHTM’s training helped you during this outbreak?
Having training in public health has certainly allowed me to sift through some of the literature with a better aptitude than my emergency medicine training provided me. I was also able to connect with LSHTM colleagues around the world – I have alumni friends on every continent except Antarctica – to get a grasp of what other countries were experiencing and doing to address the pandemic. And the COVID-19 course offered by LSHTM in March gave me a great sense of how COVID-19 came to be, and how it might eventually be resolved.