It was March of this year when everything shut down. I had exams that week and I would go to a café to continue studying after classes. There was still a lot of misconceptions about COVID-19, so social distancing and wearing a mask were not yet widely practised. It was almost like everyone was waiting on someone else to start wearing it first. Those who did wear it were looked at as though they were exaggerating a minor problem.
I’m reminded of the earlier days of this pandemic when doctors and nurses were fired for wearing masks and PPE, but I digress. As we were studying for an upcoming exam, we were met with the news that schools and universities were to be suspended for two weeks. We thought great, two weeks for us to catch up with lectures and be better prepared. Little did we know.
Soon after, we had to adjust to online learning and the possibility of sitting online exams. It was hard to get any studying in, being constantly bombarded with updates on COVID-19 and the daily count of rapidly rising cases. I followed the news religiously and even got to know a few people who were repatriated from Wuhan to their countries. I watched their Instagram stories as they were isolated from the public and on the front page of newspapers; back when having COVID-19 made one internationally newsworthy.
For most, they seemed to be taking it in stride – a two-week detox from the outside world funded by the government. It wasn’t a great start to the year, but I thought things would soon enough be back to normal. It’s now been almost ten months since WHO declared a global pandemic, with no signs of normalcy on the horizon. Although we might have a vaccine developed, some people seem to be hell-bent on it being a disease-inducing tool that will alter their genes.
I mean, who hasn’t had a family member send them the video of the nurse fainting after taking the vaccine and warn them about its dangers? It’s certainly remarkable that people are acquainting themselves with scientific literature and analysing papers concerning the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine. Yet there’s still so much fearmongering and confusion out there, people still debate whether masks can cause hypoxia or even work at all. On the other hand, several countries have managed to successfully keep the virus under control with harsh and rigorous lockdowns. We could only dream for what they have now.
It’s a lot more challenging and disheartening studying under these circumstances, as this was our first clinical year. After three years of mainly having textbooks to look at, we really looked forward to being in the hospital for our lectures and clinical rotations. Some of us had even planned on joining in a few surgeries to learn and observe. We now attend classes once a week in university and the rest is self-learning. Our ENT lectures are pre-recorded, so no Zoom classes either like we had for Internal Medicine.
Cafés and co-working spaces were practically where I studied for the majority of the third year. After a very long day of lectures and practical classes, I’d much prefer to go home and sleep or continue whatever show I was watching. A reward for the tiresome day I’d endured, is how I’d persuade my screaming subconscious. So studying outside was a huge help with the continuity of revision for me. That and the enticing appeal of spending all my money on coffee.
Okay, update – 2/01/2021 –
I wrote this last week. Things have changed yet again and we’ve had a sudden lockdown until the end of the term. No exam either, for now. Frankly, it is somewhat demoralising, as I was waiting to just get this exam over and done with. As a result of this second lockdown, the academic year will be extended to cover the time lost. There are no other options if we want this pandemic under control and a much-needed return to our normal lives. It’s also a bit amusing that in the case of another pandemic or a health crisis ever happening in a few years (God forbid), we won’t be awarded the choice of sitting it out. It would be us on the frontlines as doctors. No hiding away behind being a ‘medical student’. 🙂
It’s the second day of 2021 and unsurprisingly, the virus has entered the new year with us. The physical and psychological effects of the pandemic have undoubtedly taken a toll on everyone. At this point, we’ve either caught the virus or know someone infected and recovered or sadly passed away. The fact that we don’t have all the answers concerning this virus is surely unsettling. I must admit I’ve resorted to searching “What does a Covid cough sound like”, on YouTube and worrying if my fever was indeed considered “low-grade” – completely forgetting that having the common cold is still possible. Besides, although you may be healthy, the fear of being the source of infection to immunocompromised family members is burdensome.
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I’ve learnt a lot of lessons this year that I could carry for a lifetime. We’ve endured so much devastation and loss that I often found myself frustrated with the fragility and ephemerality of life. But it is also through my faith that I found comfort and solace. The two-week university break eventually turned into a four-month hiatus and we returned in October to resume classes. Now once again, everything is halted for the next seven weeks.
To say that things are going to be different this year would be ignorant. Nothing has changed since the end of 2020 and the start of this year; the pandemic seems to be here for the long haul. However, I believe the course it takes is dependent on the distribution of the vaccines and how seriously we follow the safety protocols. And that’s enough to provide me with a glimmer of hope for now, but I’m not betting on it.