23 March, Kandy, Sri Lanka

By Thilini Rajapakse

Curfew was lifted at 6am yesterday, so I took Dog for an early morning run.

Dog was surprised but very enthusiastic about this arrangement, after a whole weekend spent forcibly at home. 

There was still a coolness in the air as we both huffed along, with Dog making frequent stops to closely investigate fascinating lamp-posts, and me using those stops as an excuse to take a break. 

Lumbering early-bird vehicles overtook us.  There were a few brisk house-owners near their gates, all busy.  We exchanged nods in passing and a camaraderie – ‘Short curfew break; must rush!’

The run was a little shorter than usual, which disappointed Dog, but I had also to go to the hospital in the morning. 

It was the best-ever Monday morning drive to hospital; no traffic! Even the Gannoruwa roundabout was pristinely clear. 

At the hospital, things felt normal and familiar, though much less crowded with patients compared to a normal Monday.  Last Friday, not everyone wore masks; but now almost all staff, and most patients, were wearing masks of various descriptions – paper, cloth, folded scarves, patterned handkerchiefs – it was as if a weekend under curfew had really brought home the possibility of infection.

In the ward, things were busy as usual. Nurses were giving medication, and a junior doctor was already seeing patients.  Most non-urgent patients had been sent home, and only a few remained in ward.  The nursing officer in-charge bustled up, hand-sanitiser on offer.  All well, she said.  We are coming to work, of course.  Again the sense of camaraderie, and also a sense that this is our job, we will do it

I wondered how the junior doctor was managing her domestic situation. She had family at home – how was she going to get provisions during this brief curfew break, and come to work at same time?   But when asked about the home front, she just said, it’s ok.

Mrs M. was better and ready for discharge.  She was from Mannar and worried about how to get home in this situation.  She was tearfully thankful for getting better, but worried about her children in Mannar.  How do I get home, she repeated, and her mother, who spoke only Tamil, stood by smiling, not following the conversation.

An elderly man had been admitted with features of acute alcohol withdrawal.  He was smiling, very tremulous, orientated, and acknowledged taking a ‘small drink’ now and then.  His son, a neatly dressed young man, hovered anxiously outside.  He is a good man, he said.  He is a man of good standing in the area.  Yes, we have told him to reduce the drinking, but… Shrug. Will he be alright? What do we do now, with curfew and everything?

Everything seemed to be going smoothly, but there was a tension. 

The junior doctor was suddenly worried.  She had seen a patient earlier, who had complained of non-specific body aches.  He had no other warning signs, had seemed ok, and was sent home with medication.  Now she had just realised that the area he came from had a patient diagnosed with corona.

Could he have had contact?”  She asked.  “What should I do? If I go home my parents and children are there…”

Going back to the Consultant Room, I walked in on a heated discussion about the difficulty of getting elderly parents to restrict their movements. Last week I told my mother – give me your list, I will go shopping for you.  And she said, I have always done my groceries, I can do it now! …and there were servants listening too – so how to fight?  So she went.  There were nods of agreement. 

Dog seemed happy when I got back home, and gave me a bright eyed, shall-we-go-for-another-walk look.  Corona-curfew for the next 48 hours, I explained to her, to which she gave me a very dubious, dismissive look and walked away.

Please note patient details have of course been changed to protect confidentiality.