Psychiatrist Dr Joe Cassar, like his daughter Dr Fabrizia Cassar, both front liners in the medical field ended up casualties courtesy of the coronavirus. While Dr Fabrizia Cassar tested COVID-negative, Dr Joe Cassar tested COVID-positive. Ironic, remarked Cassar the elder, given that the one with the direct contact with the original patient had not been himself.
Dr Cassar described how he had decided to get swabbed, almost on the off-chance. He described himself as over scrupulous where it comes to following instructions, always obeying meticulously to the last detail. Being the one to ferry Dr Fabrizia to the swabbing after she received her marching orders from the Contact tracing team, Dr Joe Cassar, ever cautious, decided to get swabbed.
That fateful phone call
“I remember it was about ten in the evening when a colleague at the Public Health called me and said ‘Joe, I have good news and bad news’. I told him to start with the good news. I had a funny feeling that my daughter was going to test negative while I would test positive,” said Dr Cassar. And so it was. Strangely, however, Dr Cassar’s COVID-19 experience was an asymptomatic one. Life on a health basis was business as usual. “I spent two weeks in quarantine without symptoms. I felt nothing,” said Dr Cassar.
Physically, all may have been fine and dandy but mentally, he said, the experience was harrowing. The nights were a tunnel of dark thoughts spun by a mind over-fed on information relating to situations and outcomes of persons as reported in the media. Dr Cassar was constantly waiting for symptoms to appear, for a cough to start, taking his temperature four times daily. He said that mentally he entered into the ‘sick role’ in spite of not feeling ill or presenting any symptoms.
New intimacy with God
Dr Cassar said that from the moment of the fateful phone call, he said that he decided to live this experience ‘positively’. A not negligible challenge given that his quarters were confined to a room 4m by 4m and a bathroom. “I used to walk 1,300 steps per day in that space,” said Dr Cassar who is an avid runner.
“I can say that the experience was positive because I found a new intimacy with God,” said Dr Cassar. He added that while prayer was always part of his life, the excuses one makes in daily life fell by the wayside, resulting in an enriched spiritual life. As a practising psychiatrist, he also retained a virtual clinic, adding that he did not reveal his COVID status as his patients, already vulnerable could possibly be exposed to greater stress. He added that the concerns of the doctor can never be passed on to the patient.
And he is also reading more. Dr Cassar said that his confinement led him to appreciate the literary characteristics of British PM Boris Johnson. He said that in this area at least, after having read ‘The Churchill Factor’, Johnson deserves hats off.
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