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COVID-19 Series - Rachael McConnell

Rachael McConnell attended St Hilda's from 1987-1991. She works as an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Dunedin Hospital.

"Greetings to all! I hope you are all keeping safe and well in your “bubbles”, wherever they are and however they may look. Mine is back here in little old Dunedin, North End where I spent the first 2 weeks, like most New Zealanders, locked-in, at home and contemplating how fast and how much things have changed over the space of only a few weeks! In early March I happened to be signed off my usual job, working as an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, to have elective surgery – well before Covid-19 really took hold in our part of the world. I was keenly anticipating a quiet 4 weeks at home recuperating and enjoying just being a Mum to my two sons, aged 15 and 12 - who would attend school as usual, leaving me resting, recuperating, reading, partaking in some binge watching of the apocalyptic - Handmaid’s Tale (harking back to my English novel studies at St Hilda’s, no less). However, it was not to be. Less than 2 weeks into my recovery I found myself at home, along with my adolescent sons (!) and anticipating a return to work amongst a truly novel worldwide catastrophe for humanity, and especially for healthcare delivery.

It was hard to get my head around

initially. Constantly bombarded by images on TV, stories on social media, as well a steady stream of communication within the DHB (yes I was checking my emails!), I did find myself becoming a little anxious for myself and my colleagues. The prospect of our health systems being overwhelmed with sick patients, and not enough resource to save lives, was really very very scary. I know it is causing its own suffering, but I was relieved when the decision came to lock down.

I’ve been back to work for almost 2 weeks now. The overseas data has been quite reassuring regarding the consequences of Covid-19 for pregnant women. Unlike the flu, pregnant women tend to fare well. There is no way to extend a human gestation, so in many ways it has been business as usual for us. A lot of energy and work has gone into designing practices and systems to protect our patients, but also our scarce health workforce, so we keep them well and at work able to deliver healthcare for women. I’ve been doing telemedicine clinics, where we keep our patients in their own homes as much as possible, consulting them by phone and only bringing them into hospital for urgent procedures or investigations. We are emailing and faxing. Colleagues are meeting by Zoom. We are working with our Anaesthetic colleagues to protect safe and timely delivery of caesarean section in an emergency, even in a Covid positive environment. We have ringfenced areas in the hospital and theatres for Covid positive patients to be cared for separately from others to reduce the risk of spread. We remain hopeful that these areas will remain empty, thanks to our Prime Minister’s decisive action.

Women have been very supportive and understanding. Many are making sacrifices, especially in gynaecology where unfortunately many with benign conditions, will wait longer for their care, and this is not likely to be recovered quickly. We will work so hard to make up lost time but even before this event there was a sense of frustration that we cannot help more women in gynaecology.

If there is anything positive to be taken from all of this, I think it will help us re-think the way we deliver care in the future. Telemedicine, especially in pregnancy care, definitely has its place with great potential for reducing the burden of accessing care, especially for our rural women.

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that, its an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before” Rahm Emanuel

Meantime, stay home. Wash your hands. And know we will be there for you.

Dr Rachael McConnell, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, RANZCOG

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