S'pore doctor & marathoner Mok Ying Ren shares his strategy to reduce Covid-19 risk at work

Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.

Mothership| February 17, 09:22 PM

A resident in orthopaedics surgery, Mok Ying Ren is also a 2-time SEA games gold medallist and seven-time Singapore Marathon Local Champion who holds the national record in the 5000m event. He is married to Belinda with whom he has a two-month-old daughter, Emma.

For about one week, I will be involved in seeing all suspected and confirmed patients of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) with concomitant orthopaedic conditions.

As I went home last week with the news that I had been rostered for this duty, I pondered its significance. I have a two-month-old baby at home, yet I have been tasked to work in a high-risk environment.

Photo courtesy of Mok Ying Ren.

Photo courtesy of Mok Ying Ren.

Admittedly, the risk that I will be taking is nowhere as high as my colleagues at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases or those down in the emergency department, and my exposure to the virus is minuscule compared to the healthcare workers in Wuhan.

Nevertheless, there is still a risk. I think anyone in my position would feel a sense of fear, so my mind scrambled for reasons why I shouldn't fear.

Great fitness means I should be healthy and less susceptible to falling ill… right?

For example, I tried to console myself with the knowledge of my fitness.

This has definitely come through my mind: "I was once the top marathoner in Singapore, my lungs must be so good! How bad can it be for me?"

But this sense of immunity was quickly shot down by medical experts in the news.

“It can take a young, healthy person and make them sick,” says doctor William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, interviewed by The New York Times.

“That’s clear from the healthcare workers and the young people in this paper.”

Low mortality rate

I also found myself seeking solace in statistics that favoured my survival: “0.2 per cent mortality out of China? 0 per cent in Singapore so far? Aiyah, won't be me one lah.”

But thoughts of the possibility of me bringing the bug home to Emma banished this in-denial thought.

Trust in how the government has been handling the situation

I also took comfort in the systematic way our government is managing the situation and how they are willing to foot the bills of the affected. I was also impressed with how they carried out contact tracing. These truly gave me much confidence.

However, my realisation that we are all human and fallible made me think twice. The reality is that anyone – including myself – could easily make silly mistakes that may unknowingly put everyone at risk.

Furthermore, the nature of this virus is so unpredictable with people staying asymptomatic for weeks.

After much soul searching, and reading up about Covid-19, the inevitable conclusion I come to is that much is still unknown about the virus (even The New York Times said the same!). Schaffner was again quoted at the end of another article saying, “In God we trust” – I couldn't agree more with him!

Rationally, indeed my hope for my security and safety has to come from something not within myself or external circumstances, but from a good God who can be trusted. Yet I will approach my duty with both faith and practical actions.

As I work, I plan to take necessary precautions.

Taking precautions

One of my precautions will be to use hospital gowns when seeing suspect patients, from which I can change, shower and return home in my own clothes. This will prevent myself from unknowingly bringing any virus out of the hospital and back home.

I will also wear all necessary protection such as N95 masks, goggles, gloves and gowns when seeing my patients.

Even though it is still unknown if the virus is airborne, I think it is wise for us in close proximity to be more aggressive in our protection.

Frequent hand hygiene and washing will also be of utmost importance not just for us but for the public. I will be reminding myself to use the alcohol hand rubs before and after each patient contact.

These are my plans to keep my risks low, though not at zero.

There is only so much I can do and I will also need to find a balance between taking care of my family and completely isolating myself during this period.

As I go through this week, my ultimate assurance lies in someone greater who is in control.

This article was adapted from the initial publication on Thir.st.

Top photo courtesy of Mok Ying Ren