This is not how I pictured my 5th year at medical school would go.
I was a lot more aware of the virus than my other friends at Edinburgh University because of my worries for my parents who were living in Hong Kong. My fellow students seemed to be blissfully ignorant to the havoc the coronavirus was wreaking on the other side of the world. Life continued as normal, and no one batted an eyelid.
When the first few cases came up in the UK, my parents and I discussed what I would do if it got worse, what the plan would be. In the end, we decided that we had to just wait and see. By the end of March, we could all see that things were beginning to spiral out of control and at that point I decided it would be best for me to return home, especially as my university was surely going to close, and was in the first steps of winding down.
Flying home was like something out of a movie. Everyone was taking extreme protective measures— from the people who wore hazmat suits, to those of us with masks— no one was taking any risks. I did think the hazmat suits were a bit excessive though. There was one man I saw who was still wearing his metal watch on top of the suit. I wanted to point out to him that the virus can actually stay on metal surfaces so all his efforts and the sweaty hot flight he’d have to endure in his hazmat suit would be all a waste, but I thought this observation probably wouldn’t be appreciated.
As a medical student, I was very aware of the damning consequences of mass hysteria caused by incorrect information and I just hoped that worldwide governments would soon come to their senses and give out simple guidelines that were easy to follow. Too many times my mother had sent me Whatsapp messages forwarding me posts she’d seen about the virus that had false information. Once I actually read them, many turned out to be completely unfactual.
Once I got back to Hong Kong, I had to complete my mandatory 2 week quarantine. This was okay for the most part, but I already hated being stuck inside, as I had basically been doing that in my Edinburgh flatshare for 3 weeks beforehand because I wanted to be careful.
All the while, all of my university lectures and my work was still going on. This was a rather stressful time, as I had to finish up the research paper we had been working on with a professor. The time difference between the UK and Hong Kong didn’t help and I often found myself up at ridiculous hours in order to communicate with our patients. Also, since I was calling from Hong Kong, some people were not convinced that I was a part of the project because I wasn’t allowed to tell them my name or any of my information as this would ruin the study. This caused some extremely odd conversations that I had never expected I would be having.
The worst thing was that we had to do all of our exams from our respective homes— bear in mind these are your future doctors that we are talking about. I thought it was completely stupid that they weren’t delaying our exams like most other medical courses had, because it simply allowed for people to cheat so easily. For example, people were using this resource that allowed you to type in all the symptoms and it would diagnose it for you, giving you possible diagnoses to choose from. This meant cheaters would not have to spend any time actually diagnosing, and could concentrate on the rest of the questions instead.
I have to go back to the UK soon to start my year of clinical placement. I’m excited to see what this brings, but I’m also aware of how things may be very different to how they used to be. I guess all I can do is work to the best of my ability, and keep in mind why I started this whole journey in the first place: so I could help people.
Written by: Abi Brooke