Smoothie in hand, Megan Lockwood joins her colleagues in a morning huddle to discuss the plans for the day, such as the patients schedules and their needs. Lockwood’s smoothie remains untouched throughout the huddle: it’s hard to drink a smoothie with a mask on.
Once the huddle is over, Lockwood walks to her office, removes her mask, and begins to drink her smoothie as she looks over her schedule. More often than not, Lockwood’s day consists of treating cancer patients who have suffered damage to their head or neck.
However, after a COVID-19 outbreak caused Edmonton’s Institute for Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine to close in June 2020, Lockwood began to lose her connection with her patients, causing her mental health to suffer.
As Lockwood opens her computer to conduct her first virtual appointment of the day, she remarks on how silent the halls outside her office have become.
Pre-pandemic, Lockwood assisted with helping place hearing aid implants to allow people to hear again. She also assisted with helping people learn to swallow again and created prostheses for people who are missing eyes, ears and noses.
“I feel like I’m part of a bigger goal,” says Lockwood on the work she does.
But the bigger goal for Lockwood shifted during the pandemic.
Working in a reconstructive clinic during a global pandemic means every day is a little different. For Lockwood, she works with oral cancer patients who need rehabilitation.
Lockwood received the news that the clinic was closing after an outbreak occurred at the Misericordia Hospital which left three patients dead and many others infected. Sitting in a COVID-19 update meeting, Lockwood and her colleagues began making plans for closure.
After the meeting, she gathered her belongings from her office and “went home for the weekend,” a weekend that quickly began to feel more permanent. Her two cats quite suddenly became her only coworkers as Lockwood’s house temporarily became her office.
Although Lockwood agreed it was in everyone’s best interest to close the clinic, she was left wondering what her job description would now entail.
“Do I have job security? What does this look like? How long will this be going on? We didn’t have any answers, and we still don’t. We just take it day by day.”
Instead of rebuilding jaws, Lockwood was assigned to help with pandemic relief in the hospital and perform tasks such as screening employees for COVID-19.
As patients and hospital employees entered the hospital, Lockwood would ask them COVID-19 screening questions to make sure they didn’t have COVID-19 symptoms before entering the hospital.
Lockwood held the thermometer up to each patient and watched as the number would flash on the tiny screen. As she handed a mask to her patients, Lockwood lectured them on proper mask-wearing and hand washing etiquette.
“Any other way that we could be helping, we would be helping,” says Lockwood about switching from dental surgery to screening people entering the hospital.
Although Lockwood “knew it would only be temporary,” she felt as if she had a purpose by giving pandemic relief and “filling a hole and helping with what we can.”
Lockwood’s clinic has since reopened, however, her day-by-day tasks still look a lot different since the COVID-19 outbreak. Lockwood sees patients over the phone or within the clinic that now operates at a limited capacity.
“I enjoy feeling like I still get to help people. It might not be in the capacity I want right now, but I’m still feeling like I’m doing something and I’m achieving something.”
Instead of managing a busy patient schedule, Lockwood now spends more time cleaning rooms and screening patients, which has “completely slowed down how many patients you can see.”
“It’s difficult when you want to help someone but feel like your hands are tied because you can’t see them in person,” says Lockwood. By no longer being able to work with her patients in person, Lockwood’s mental health began to suffer.
Despite wanting to help the clinic in any way possible throughout the outbreak, Lockwood struggled with feelings of isolation.
“I have been working in the clinic for so long with the patients all the time, so much stimulus every single day to working from home and now doing stuff by virtual care, it was very hard.”
For Lockwood, “patient care is what fulfills [her] the most.” However, now that she has to see her patients immersed head to toe in personal protective equipment, Lockwood says she feels like she cannot connect with them.
“Being so close with these patients, you get a very close bond with them. When you get a bond with them, you want to do everything to help them. Obviously, that was limited by what we physically could do based on the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic.”
Having that bond with her patients taken away, Lockwood’s mental health began to take a toll. Lockwood recalls feeling helpless because “so many patients need stuff from us, and there are so many patients who want to come and see us,” but Lockwood’s clinic wasn’t able to help in the same capacity as before the pandemic.
Lockwood, a self-proclaimed “do-er”, had to realize that “this is not my fault. This isn’t something that I can change. I can’t make this go away,” in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Lockwood realized that something she could change was her outlook on the situation. She has chosen to view the experience as a growing point for her and her mental health.
“I think it’s interesting how something like this will shine a light on something you need to work on.”
Lockwood has “now used a lot of the tools that [she’s] learned in therapy,” and it has made her stronger.
“I feel like I can express myself and talk about it and still feel heard even if I don’t have the physical presence of other people around me.”