FROM the time he was in secondary school, Dr Daniel Chong had wanted to be a medical officer battling dangerous diseases.
His wish came true when he started work at Tan Tock Seng Hospital's infectious diseases unit last November.
But in less than five months, his life has been turned upside down.
The 26-year-old works long hours in a protective garb, hardly sees his parents, wife or friends and eats the same standard fare every day.
Is the SARS virus more than what he bargained for?
Not at all, said Dr Chong on Sunday in a telephone interview with The New Paper.
“I chose to work in this unit, so I knew what I could be in for if something like this were to happen,” he said.
Yet, when he was paged to go back to work on March 14, he could not have foreseen all the changes that were in store.
A second-generation permanent resident, he used to live with his mother while his father works as a bank manager in Johor. Two days after he began working with SARS patients, he got his mother to move to Johor.
He had just registered his marriage to a teacher when the SARS outbreak occurred. They have not yet started living together and he sees her only once or twice a week.
“Although there is no clear evidence yet that somebody without a fever can spread the disease, I still take precautions like sitting a metre apart from her, just in case,” he said.
Dr Chong has also stopped meeting friends though many of them call him to inquire how he is doing.
In the hospital, too, things have been in a flux the last four weeks.
The staff have had to cope with different degrees of uncertainty – a varying number of SARS victims coming in each day in various stages of the disease, colleagues falling ill, patients who suddenly take a turn for the worse and anxious relatives and friends.
The first week, Dr Chong covered ward 13D, where all SARS patients were isolated. But as the numbers increased, more wards were opened to SARS patients and the doctors moved around.
“The work is being redistributed all the time as the situation changes,” he said.
He usually starts work at 8am and finishes about 6pm. Once a week, he does a 24-hour shift, from 8am to 8am the next day.
The work involves periods of calm punctuated by a flurry of activity when a patient with breathing difficulties has to be rushed to the intensive care unit.
Depending on the condition of the patients in the wards, they are visited once or twice a day by the doctors. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network
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