Surviving COVID-19 In the Caribbean

The sudden arrival of COVID-19 took the world by surprise back in March.  There was talk of this new flu-like virus and then within days panic set in and life started to change.  Borders were closed and there was talk of drastic measures being implemented to slow the spread of this virus.

In St Lucia, a small island in the Caribbean, everything seemed to happen overnight but at the same time in slow motion.  I remember the WHO organisation declared a pandemic on 11th March, the Physiopedia team then set into action to develop pages for the COVID-19 Physioplus course.  All this time I was deeply involved as the Content Manager and was reading of the major health crisis facing the world but even so it all seemed so surreal.  As all of this was happening around me life seemed to continue here as normal until the 17th March.  I remember the day well, it was the day my son was supposed to visit from the UK, we had been planning the trip for months and then all of a sudden there was chaos.

On 16th there were rumours that St Lucia was closing its borders to the UK but no official channels confirmed this, as far as we knew my son would still be arriving on 17th March, all fingers and toes were crossed.  All was on track until 6 am and then came the devastating news the borders were closed.  The COVID-19 pandemic had finally made its impact on St Lucia and everything seemed to snowball from there, I know we don’t have snow here but a sandball really doesn’t explain the speed and impact of how things changed over the next few days. Suddenly COVID-19 was the topic of conversation and there were only 2 confirmed cases on the island but by the end of the week the Island declared a state of emergency and everything was slowly coming to a halt, it was no longer business as usual.

I have spent the last two months learning how to adapt, and most importantly stay calm.  I am by nature somebody who likes to ‘be doing’ and all of a sudden I had to adapt and change to the new normal, the unknown.  I was no longer able to go into the clinic and treat patients but unfortunately people’s needs did not change just because the world was dealing with a pandemic, people still had pain.  But there was a solution to this!

For a few years physiotherapists and physical therapists around the world have been using Telehealth to treat their patients in in the comfort of their own homes and rural area that had limited services.  It was not something I thought could work for me, I like to observe my patients close up, looking for deviations in their movement patterns and to be hands on to assess muscle tone.  Initially I thought the lockdown and restrictions would be just for a week but when I realised normality was not going to return any time soon I had to investigate Telehealth as an alternative to my regular way of providing services.  Many patients were reluctant to try out this new way of therapy but for those who did it was amazing, for them and for me.

Although the whole process of Telehealth is time consuming the actual experience was beyond expectation.  For me I found myself observing deviations in posture and movement so much easier and asking the client to perform stretching and strengthening exercises and then retesting movement for quality and pain was much easier than in sessions.  They seemed more compliant and eager to repeat movements over and over until we got it right and the pain went down.  The emphasis was now on them and not me and the results were awesome.  On a personal level it was a really uplifting experience working from home without having to use my hallway as a waiting room, something I never thought I would be able to do as a Physiotherapist.  If you want to learn more about Telehealth Physioplus have just released a course especially for you!  You can find out more about the course here.

I decided that this change to my whole routine might actually be a good thing.  I was still able to treat clients (although not as many as I would like) it also enabled me to slow down and embrace the art of reflection – I was learning the art of being in the NOW!  These were all things I had been promising myself for years.  As physiotherapists we spend years developing our clinical reflection skills, it is, of course, something we do daily in our working environments, but personal reflection I found out was a totally different thing and something that although I dabbled in I was not as disciplined and focused as I should be.  I often review my goals, my learning experiences and the direction of my growth, however, with so much time on my hands, I realised I tend to let the tide take me rather than be the captain of the boat.  It was an exhilarating realisation and I have spent more time on planning  my goals and mapping the direction of my growth.

I also had more time to do the things I enjoy, I spent time reading, doing courses and of course being involved in Physiopedia and learning lots of new skills.  I learnt the ins and outs of Powerpoint and even started to dig into the world of bootstrap, but that is a story for another time.  St Lucia has now lifted many of the lockdown restrictions and the phased re-opening should see most businesses open by early June, but we still do not know the future.  For me I am taking things slowly and although it is business as usual for me now the picture is looking very different; I am making sure to make more time for myself and easing back into the world of reality from a different direction.  But this new reality is far from what I ever envisaged.  Those clients who were happy with their Telehealth sessions no longer want to continue, despite the many benefits they saw, they want to come into the clinic.  But the clinic is not the same and I wonder if it ever will be.  Although the phone is ringing people are still wary of the new normal and the number of people we are seeing daily is less than half of what it was pre-COVID.

At the clinic where I work the new normal means wearing masks and gowns,  less hands on and taking extra time to clean and disinfect between patients, but the most noticeable change is the quiet waiting room that now has the strong aroma of hand sanitiser.  As we try and settle into a different way of working the news is no longer dominated by the number of current cases but talks of vaccines, travel and the possibility of a second wave.  We all dream of going back to our version of normal but is that a dream that no longer exists, only time will tell. For now I will accept the things that I cannot change and focus on the things that I can.