An appointment with Dr Merriman

A doctor's note from novelist Eileen Merriman, a haematologist at North Shore hospital.

At the hospital where I work is a critically ill patient infected with Covid-19 in our intensive care unit – younger than me, with no pre-existing medical conditions. And today I overheard a couple of doctors discussing an overseas colleague who has contracted Covid. This doctor didn’t even know they’d had it, but their antibody test was positive.

It’s a scary, sneaky disease. And yet fascinating at the same time. If I were to write a novel with the perfect virus, I’d design it in this way: the disease would have a long, asymptomatic preincubation period, it would not be universally fatal (unlike Ebola, which stupidly kills most of its hosts) and it would be extremely contagious. Very scary. Very sneaky.

As acting clinical director of our department, I’ve been involved in a lot of Covid planning meetings. Elective surgeries have been deferred. Medical students' exams have been postponed. My new work clothes consist of blue scrubs paired with my knock-off Converse trainers from Thailand. This week I donned PPE for the first time.

We’ve got at least two weeks of lockdown to go and we need to ride that out. If our numbers keep falling, then maybe, just maybe, we can eradicate the disease from New Zealand by keeping our international borders closed until a vaccine is developed. Am I being idealistic? Perhaps. In reality, it’s likely that we’ll cycle between alert levels for the next 12 months… minimum.

I sincerely hope, for the sake of our economy and mental health, that we can emerge from our lockdown once the four weeks is up. But if the numbers begin to rise once more, then we’ll go back to level four. At worst (as with friends in Spain and California), we won’t be allowed to leave our properties.

Many of my colleagues, especially those working in the frontline (emergency, intensive care, anaesthetics, and general practice), have chosen to socially distance themselves from their families. They’ve moved out of home, and made sure their wills and advance directives are up to date. Last weekend, my next-door neighbours offered me their caravan should the need arise. I didn’t laugh.

Life is… postponed. But lockdown isn’t as bad as I thought. I mean, I can still go for a run. I can still read and write books. And on the days I’m not doing virtual clinics from home, I get to leave the house, drive my car (albeit only 6.1 kilometres) to hospital. And best of all, I can talk to someone outside of my household.

This week I've stopped waking up with that split-second before I realise 2020 is shit/cancelled, so I guess I've accepted it for now. I’m just grateful I have a job, that the sun is still shining, and that my family are well. Last week, we came back from our Sunday walk to find an anonymous thank-you message chalked on our front doorstep. That meant a lot. Happy Easter, everyone.

Moonlight Sonata by Eileen Merriman (Penguin Random House, $38); A Trio of Sophies by Eileen Merriman (Penguin, $19.99)

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