Socio-economically, the world may be on a stand still due to the coronavirus pandemic. But in the medical world, healthcare workers are being called to the frontline as the world goes to war against COVID-19.
The magnitude of the problem, obviously, is something that we have never seen before. While governments and healthcare systems worldwide scramble to properly handle the issue, doctors (practitioners and medical students alike) are being called in to fill the manpower shortage.
Ophthalmologists are not spared either. In India, even though ophthalmic clinics are not seeing regular patients and only emergency cases will be attended to, young ophthalmologists have been called to help with COVID-19 patients in overwhelmed hospitals.
Speaking at a webinar organized by the Young Ophthalmologists Society of India (YOSI) in collaboration with Entod Pharmaceutical (Mumbai, Maharashtra India), Dr. Annu Joon, assistant professor, Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar Medical College, New Delhi, India, and executive committee member of YOSI, shed light on her experience on the frontline and shared necessary precautions and tips.
“All of us are facing this COVID-19 crisis and are all concerned not just about the contagion, but also about a lot of misinformation around us. Ophthalmologists are not immune to Covid-19, it has encompassed the medical community and fraternity in all aspects,” she shared.
Dr. Joon emphasized that if social distancing and other quarantine protocols are important among the general public, the gravity of the matter is even more critical at the frontline (i.e. between a healthcare practitioner and patient, and between medical colleagues as well) where cross contamination is highly likely. “We need to be cautious at every step. Do not panic while on COVID-19 duty . . . greet each other with Namaste instead of a handshake,” she said.
Turn COVID-19 Lockdown into Ophthalmic Education
On the other hand, if you find yourself staying at home (and with lots of time to kill), use the time to catch up on theory and practice with surgical videos, which can be found on various sites online according to Dr. Diva Kant Misra, vitreoretinal consultant at the EyeQ Super-Specialty Eye Hospital in Lucknow, India, and general secretary of YOSI. During his webinar presentation, Dr. Misra recommended various websites and other online resources that young ophthalmologists can check out during their own respective “quarantine or lockdown times.”
Further, Dr. Kharan Bhatia, assistant professor and consultant, Regional Institute of Ophthalmology, Sitapur Eye Hospital, Sitapur, India, shared numerous outstanding websites that serve as repositories of ophthalmic surgical videos that young ophthalmologists can learn from — not only in terms of studying surgical techniques, but also in creating surgical videos themselves.
He also recommended tools and tricks (i.e. software and hardware) that are most suitable for this purpose. “The process starts with a good recording,” highlighted Dr. Bhatia. “You should shoot with editing in mind, like showing only the necessary steps and speeding/slowing the important sections,” he added. Practice makes perfect, he said, and it seems like the time of COVID-19 lockdown, now is the best time to accomplish just that.
Speaking of time, the time that we have right now, according to Dr. Akshay G. Nair of the Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital in Mumbai, India, should be used positively. Time spent during COVID-19 lockdown should be spent with discipline: “Now, more than ever, is the time to optimize your social media presence and online marketing in ophthalmology,” he said, addressing the young ophthalmologists during the webinar.
“Everything is online now, even choosing your doctor . . . and you have to market yourself and be responsive,” added Dr. Nair. From [creating] your website to social media, target your audience, he emphasized. “Instead of delving into politics on social media, better focus on your profession.”
In addition, Dr. Nair reminded the audience that social media, when used properly, is a very productive marketing tool— especially for young ophthalmologists who are just establishing a clinical practice of their own.
It’s the ophthalmologist’s clinical practice that is most severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic— this is all happening now, in what is supposedly a peak practice season for eye doctors in India, Dr. Digvijay Singh, director and lead surgeon at Noble Eye Care in Gurugram, India, and the president of YOSI, reminded the webinar audience. “True ophthalmic emergencies are rare and infection rates in ophthalmologists create fear,” he said.
Post-lockdown, noted Dr. Singh, would even be more challenging to young ophthalmologists especially. “Gearing toward a ‘new normal’ in a young clinical practice would be more difficult,” he shared. “It’s not that we cannot survive . . . just be positive. The world still exists and your prime focus should be your practice. Collaborate with other practitioners in your locality and maintain contact with your patients,” he advised.
Mental Health Matters Most
While the first speakers delved into what young ophthalmologists can do to fully maximize the potential of the COVID-19 time on their hands, Dr. Soumya Nanaiah, cataract and refractive surgeon from Kodagu, India, saved the most important topic for last: physical and mental health during a lockdown!
We’ve all seen how the general public went crazy on TikTok, heavily binged on Netflix and went overboard with other ‘silly nonsense’ as displayed by social media and the internet, just to escape the elephant in the room that is COVID-19. At some point, young ophthalmologists and ophthalmic residents will eventually “get sick” of learning from or creating surgical videos and catching up on theory. After all, like the rest of the general public, they are humans too!
“The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it an anxious and uncertain time,” said Dr. Nanaiah. Worrying about one’s family and friends while providing care for patients during a time of social distancing and self-isolation, can bring about stress and burnout, to say the least. “Having a lockdown routine that is closest to your normal routine would help,” she said.
Starting an at-home exercise routine would be most helpful, she emphasized. “But, if you do yoga for example, do not compare yourself to what you see online. You don’t need to injure yourself in the process,” she advised.
Also, comfort eating will get synonymous with stress eating in the time of COVID-19 lockdown. Dr. Nanaiah warned that we have to remind ourselves to eat right at all times, and that there is a difference between being hungry and being bored. “Get in touch with nature [even if you have a small garden or even just a balcony], avoid working in bed and obsessing over endless coronavirus coverage. Make use of technology to maintain community and social connection,” she advised.
Furthermore, Dr. Nanaiah emphasized that if you feel extremely anxious and you feel that you cannot function, seek out professional help. “Whatever your problems are, talk to your family and friends, to your peers and seniors…when people reach out to others, something good comes out of it. Do not fight this alone, we are all in this together. For most people this is a lockdown, but for us doctors, this is a war,” she concluded.
Editor’s Note: The YOSI Webinar, COVID-19: Toolkit for Young Ophthalmologists, was held on April 15, 2020, from 3.00 to 4.30 PM, India Standard Time. The live webcast was attended by 4380 participants across all platforms (webinar link and Facebook Live). As of April 20, the total views of the webinar video have reached 7500.