Alumni stories

From the frontline

16 April 2020

Alex Dunn | ARLP 24

My name is Alex Dunn, and I am a member of ARLP C24.  I work as a doctor in regional QLD, in both the community and hospital settings, and like us all, have been impacted greatly by the COVID-19 crisis.

I remember right back at the start of my ARLP experience in Darwin, when Matt Linnegar drew a diagram showing expanding concentric circles representing the ripple effect that as individuals we could have on our families, communities, regions, etc. COVID-19 feels this this in reverse, where an international pandemic is driving nationwide change and impact, and ultimately affecting and being hopefully contained by our actions as individuals and communities.

As yet, there have only been a handful of cases in my community, but it has the feeling of when, not if our cases will increase.

In the primary care setting, many of our patients, particularly our vulnerable ones, are anxious. The majority of our consultations are now done remotely, so that our patients don’t have to come into the waiting room, and can continue to self isolate. This helps to keep both them, and the health workers safe. However, as this this becomes our new normal (by all indications it will for at least the next six months) I am concerned for the mental health of many of my patients. The emotional and financial strain that this is placing everyone under, coupled with the lack of many of the usually available supports is going to present a huge challenge. Also, for our elderly patients, for whom technology is so readily accessible, the lack of the weekly face to face interactions, be it card games, catching up with family etc is going to have a huge impact.

The crisis has also galvanized the local GP community, with social media being used as a platform to provide both clinical updates, and collegiate support. It also was the catalyst behind a front page spread in the local paper urging everyone to “Stay Home so we Can WorK’

In the hospital, I work in both emergency and anaesthetics. We are in pandemic mode. We have fever clinics to assess anyone presenting with COVID symptoms, resuscitation rooms sets up specifically to look after COVID or COVID suspected patients, and have set up wards to cohort potential cases. Our elective surgical cases have been dramatically scaled back in an effort to maximize both human and material sources. Our hygiene and PPE use is paramount. We are getting updates constantly on changing case definitions and testing criteria, best practice on management techniques and simulating how we would handle a deteriorating COVID patient.

 There are multiple streams of advice and information, and ultimately it is a case of determining what the optimal way is that we as clinicians can serve the needs of our community. We are all committed to being as prepared as we can be for whatever lies ahead.

It is a time of uncertainty and tension. We are all worried about our patients, our families, our colleagues and ourselves. You have to put your faith in others to do their job, and then make the best decisions you can with the information that you have at hand.

At home, my wife is a teacher and we have three small children. The oldest two are in school and are insightful enough to realize that something momentous is going on. We are working on keeping them informed, but not terrified, and to still give them a sense of normality at home. I have already been tested once for COVID, and we all had a premature stint of self isolation, with me in holed up in one section of our home away from our family. 

I find myself drawing back on many of my ARLP experiences that I was privileged to have. The chaos and uncertainty of the Kimberly, where we pushed out of our comfort and forced to make decisions based on what little information we had, with team members we were only getting to know, feels similar to my current situation. We had to “trust the process” and believe in the end result.

I don’t know what the end result looks like for this current crisis, nor by what measure success will be measured. However, I only need to look around what is happening in other parts of the world to see what I don’t want to occur in my family, community and country.

I never anticipated that the leadership and resilience principles that are core to the ARLP would be put to the test under such extreme circumstances. I am forever grateful to my family, cohort and colleagues for the lessons learned, and the skills applied.