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Vaccination is 'light at the end of the tunnel'

Front line: Dr Clemmie Stubbs has been treating Covid-19 patients in the UK (Photograph supplied)

A Bermudian doctor working with Covid-19 patients in the UK said the vaccine was “a light at the end of the tunnel” that will enable the island to eventually return to normal.

Clemmie Stubbs, who works as an anaesthetist in the intensive care units of a number of hospitals in the Midlands, also said she felt proud of the way Bermudians had tackled the pandemic.

Dr Stubbs, 34, said that when the virus first broke out a year ago, there was a great fear of the unknown.

She said: “It was quite an anxious time, mostly because we had no idea what to expect. We feared being overwhelmed by the numbers of patients needing intensive care, not knowing how best to treat them.”

She said that operating theatres were turned into makeshift ICUs – because most surgeries were cancelled anyway.

Dr Stubbs, who attended Saltus Grammar School, said the most surprising aspect of the disease was that patients could appear quite normal, even though they were desperately sick.

She said: “I would arrive at the bedside of a patient with worryingly low oxygen levels and find them sitting comfortably with none of the usual signs of respiratory distress wondering what all the fuss was about.

“I admitted one such gentleman in his 70s to the intensive care unit, but by the time I returned to work for another shift I was told he had died.

“That was the thing I found most alarming in the first wave – that a patient who was so unwell could look so comfortable and have a normal conversation.”

Dr Stubbs said there was a dip in cases in England last summer, but the country was hit by a second wave towards the end of the year – by which time, a UK-variant had been identified.

She said: “We had to open up a second and then a third ICU area to cope with the number of patients. This time we knew more about what we were dealing with and there were new drug treatments out.”

“But I did feel a kind of dread, however, as I put on my personal protective equipment [PPE] to assess the first patient of this second surge.

“What I experienced this time around was that the patients were younger and seemingly healthier than the previous ones needing ICU. I saw patients in their 30s, 40s and 50s dying of the virus, despite our improved knowledge and skills.

“I also saw a lot more complications of the virus. Patients would often require prolonged periods of respiratory support, their lungs would become brittle and difficult to get oxygen into and carbon dioxide out of. They would be difficult to ventilate and this would occasionally lead to a collapsed lung. Bacterial and fungal chest infections were common, as well as blood clots and kidney failure.”

Dr Stubbs believes the most distressing aspect of the condition is that, for safety reasons, patients are denied the chance to see relatives.

She said: “This is for the safety of the other patients, staff and the family members themselves who won’t have been fitted for PPE.

“The unhappy exception to this is when a patient is deemed ‘end of life’. We do try to facilitate video calls with family members, though this is a poor substitute for holding their hand and seeing them face-to-face.

“The other problem with no visiting is updating families on the condition of their loved ones. This is now done mostly over the telephone. It can be really difficult conveying bad news when you’ve lost all of your non-verbal communication for doing so.”

Dr Stubbs contracted the virus last April, but suffered only mild symptoms and was soon able to return to work.

“It was a relief to at least put that ‘unknown’ behind me,” she said.

She described the vaccination as “a kind of light at the end of the tunnel”, but understood why some were reluctant to take it.

She said: “There is particular scepticism among the Black community in Bermuda and in the UK. This isn’t unreasonable given the long history of poor medical treatment and appalling practices which have negatively impacted Black people throughout history.

“Unfortunately, Covid-19 has been found to have disproportionately affected people of colour, which cannot be fully explained by our physical differences and is therefore yet another example of structural racism that still exists.

“Ultimately it is an individual’s personal choice. Their decision should be based on a balance between the risks and benefits of that intervention. My opinion is that the risks of this vaccination are far outweighed by the benefits to the individual and to the wider community.”

Dr Stubbs said she felt “safe and proud” when she made a trip to Bermuda last December.

“All of the mask wearing and testing was so reassuring, despite the unpleasantness of those repeated nasal swabs,” she said.

“I hope more people feel confident about taking the vaccination because I believe that is the next step in tackling the virus and making the island safe again.

“But the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of healthcare workers and the public in general is something we’ll be dealing with for a long while, I imagine.”

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Published April 13, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated April 12, 2021 at 5:41 pm)

Vaccination is 'light at the end of the tunnel'

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