It’s 5 April, 2020. The country is in lockdown. Waiting. The pandemic hasn’t quite reached our shores but I feel a need to rise to the occasion, offer my services at the front line instead of faffing around as I have been, writing a book about being a doctor while doing little of it, and teaching others how to do it while wondering if I still have that sharpness in me, that quick pattern recognition, that diagnostic edge, that confidence that I know what I don’t know, drug doses at my fingertips, that glorious feeling that I can do all of this and simultaneously manage the unexpected, the macabre, the lost and the uncertain.
I had imagined myself as a pandemic doctor giving unction to the dying in virus-infested houses, but in reality I have spent the week doing telephone consultations at my kitchen table in my socks.
I want to be heroic, as doctors are meant to be, but actually I’m terrified at the idea of exposing myself to a lethal viral load while tending to those coughing and hoiking and drooling. Me, with no mask and no drugs. I have read the grueling stories of doctors in Italy and New York. But this is New Zealand and already some good keen bloke is in his shed making plastic face shields with his 3D printer and attaching these to small helmets and delivering them free to doctors around the country. I have one and I feel safer.