Lifestyle medicine physician Dr Yvonne Chuon may not be dealing directly with Covid-19 patients, but she is well aware of the risks frontliners take.
Her husband is an orthopaedic surgeon who mainly does trauma and joint reconstruction surgery at Hospital Sungai Buloh in Selangor.
Since early March (2020), the hospital was converted to a Covid-19 centre; all cases except life-threatening emergencies had to be shunted to other government hospitals.
“That meant my husband and his team have to visit a few different hospitals where they had sent their patients.
“Still, some patients are not aware of the conversion and come to seek treatment, so my husband often needs to be at more than one hospital at the same time, which is impossible.
“While safety measures are taken, being and working in a Covid-19 hospital has taken a huge psychological toll on all the staff, who worry about spreading the virus to their elderly parents and children.
“Many medical officers at the hospital are employed on a contract basis, and are worried that if something happens to them, their families will be left hanging.
“Job security is a major stress factor among our junior doctors nowadays, adding to the anguish of Covid-19, ” she says.
Like most spouses, Dr Chuon gets a bit anxious when hubby operates until late at night before jumping into his car and driving back home.
The thought of infection terrifies her, but she knows it comes with the job.
Her predicament: “My husband roams the clinics and wards of this Covid-19 centre, then comes home to me. How should I sterilise him when he comes home?”
A typical evening in their household goes like this.
“I open the door and let him in with a sweet smile (ok, maybe not every day). I can’t kiss him as we consider him contaminated.
“He brings his work bag to the utility room and gets ready to take a shower in the second bathroom.
“Before he showers, knowing that a typical healthcare provider usually doesn’t get enough hydration at work, I hand him a glass of water and some fruit after he washes his hands.
“I make him drop his clothes in a pail where I soak them in sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) for a few hours.
“Baking soda has no special properties that kill viruses. I just do it as an extra step to a regular wash, which indirectly allows certain clothes to be separated before being washed with other clothes.
“After his bath, he sits down to a hot meal.“
Once he’s home, I can breathe a little easier – at least we are in a relatively safe and contained environment.
“I can’t say the same for when he’s at work, ” shares Dr Chuon.
The next morning, their day begins early with plenty of fluids and time meditating on Bible verses before some physical stretches and light exercise.
According to her, one of the downsides of clinical work is that you come home feeling that you have been exposed to germs.
The reality is that hospitals are places where people go to get treated for infections.
She says, “Even before the novel coronavirus emerged, superbugs like MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) were enough reason to have good hygiene habits.
“I’m not saying that we always carry germs with us when we go home, but since very early in my career, I found some peace of mind in wiping down my personal items, putting my clothes in the wash and taking a shower the moment I reach home from work.
”At her workplace, she limits her appointments to those that are absolutely essential to minimise her own risk.
“Of course, the cute WhatsApp stickers my husband sends me also brighten up my day!
”While the movement control order has been tough, Dr Chuon gives an analogy for Malaysians to think about.
“If I only have RM20 in my pocket this week, I should be careful what I buy, so I won’t run out of money and starve.
“I should limit my travelling, buying junk food and going to the cinema, so that I can reserve my RM20 for more essential things.
“In Malaysia now, our medical resources – like the RM20 in my pocket – are limited.
“So we should do our best to not use them up.”
As a lifestyle medicine physician, behavioural changes are the mainstay of her practice.
Her parting advice: “Apart from divine miracle, if anything is to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus in Malaysia, it will not be a new wonder drug or medical gadget, but simply a temporary change in our lifestyle.
“So eat at home, wash your hands and avoid crowded places to save your families and yourself.”