My personal experience during the global CoVid-19 Pandemic

2 April 2020

by Melissa Meyer Schoeman
Occupational Therapist

“Am I allowed to feel this?”

At first, “The Coronavirus” was something other countries had to be concerned about and then it got closer, too close for comfort… too close to home.

Initially the subject was a mind over matter topic to me. I was cautiously aware of it and processing what to do about it. On the one hand, I saw my employer initiating processes to protect the hospital, the patients and the staff in a very calm and collected manner, which was needed to reduce any possible anxiety. On the other hand, I saw media statements that alerted me the opposite: panic!

Personally, I had another angle to consider. Being 7 months pregnant with my first baby during a global pandemic. My first instinct is to protect my unborn son, which means protecting myself because I am carrying him into this world.

When the lockdown was announced, it was a confusing time, as mental health forms part of essential services, meaning, I must work. I must prepare myself to the possibility of being infected while pregnant. Can pregnant ladies use the medication used to treat the virus? I didn’t know and I felt both concerned and rather confused.

Myself and my family did not take this well at all. I felt conflicted between my loyalty to my employer and my responsibility towards my family and unborn child: Take leave, protect your baby and respect your family’s wishes or work, because the patients and your colleagues will face many new challenges and might need you during this time.

I felt guilty for having feelings. Was I allowed to feel feelings? As Occupational Therapists we are trained to think rationally and ethically towards our patients. To swoop in during crises and to serve the public. As a member of my family, I felt pressured to do the opposite, put myself first to ensure that I protect my son.

Eventually, it was arranged that I take leave for the lockdown period. Again, I felt both relieved and guilty.

On the first day of lockdown, my employer phoned me with unexpected news. I was unknowingly exposed to a patient who tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. I had to be tested.

This was terrifying. My biggest concern: what if I unknowingly infected my family? Especially my sister’s 6-week-old baby. Hello, feelings of guilt!

Phoning the CoVid-19 hotline, listening to instructions like not being in contact with my family for 14 days, not sharing a bed or cutlery with my husband for 14 days, being tested by someone wearing a biohazard suit… this was all very traumatising to me.

My initial test results came back after 3 days, thankfully I tested negative. I must be tested again on the 07th of April 2020 due to the window-period of the CoVid-19 virus.

Now I can take this time in isolation to process what happened and deal with my trauma. This is an opportunity for me to practice what we teach our patients. Reframe what happened, practice mindfulness and prayer. Journal about my feelings and use this time to refocus on sending positive hormones to my baby. I am allowed to be both human and an Occupational Therapist. To have feelings and rational thoughts. To be a work-in-progress and a masterpiece at the same time.

I am allowed to feel this, and by feeling this, I will heal from the trauma and emotions caused by this.

In analysing my emotions and feelings, I sense grief that include many losses. I experience anticipatory grief for the changing roles in my family and South Africa, fear of financial changes, sadness for a pending baby shower impacted by this virus called Covid-19, my 30th birthday to be spent in quarantine and even a loss of experience, was I in a position to remain at work and experience the full impact on the workplace and patients.

I know that I will be able to process all of this over time. Yet, for now it is still a battlefield in my mind as it is in our Country. I will grow from this and be stronger thereafter, as I hope many of us would. Ultimately survival remains the most basic and fundamental need. As defined by Freud as “Thanatos” preserving life and gratifying basic needs. I suspect that as a mom-to-be, this is what I instinctively felt required to do to preserve the life of my unborn son.

As for the future: I won’t be able to hide from this virus forever, I know that. Eventually I will have to return to work. For now, I am taking it one day at a time. “When thinking about life, remember this: no amount of guilt can solve the past, and no amount of anxiety can change the future”.