How does an individual balance being a model, presenter, fitness enthusiast, Mr World Africa AND medical doctor?
We chat to Dr Fezile Mkhize about coping with a shift in daily routines due to COVID-19 and the impacts thereof, PPE and the act of charity.
Can you provide an insider's perspective on what the current situation is like in the major COVID-19 treatment facilities (i.e. hospitals) in South Africa?
FM: Over the past few months, I have been working at a smaller medical practice than the bigger hospitals, such as Johannesburg General and Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital. These are the main facilities that have seen the COVID-19 cases come in and would be the best indicator for the current situation. A number of my close friends who are also within the medical profession, work there and have relayed that there are now stringent screening protocols in place, in an attempt to identify potential cases and thus keep a measure of control over patient care and exposure.
This process is very important and is generally how lots of these illnesses that can affect multiple patients, are addressed. It’s that ‘heightened vigilance’ that is evident as we are trying to identify new cases early enough followed by strict quarantine intervals in appropriate spaces so that people can be treated. I think there is an awareness that there is going to be a peak in the infection cases with the subsequent months to come and that is why there have been measures that were put in place by the government to try, as best they can, to slow the rate at which we reach this peak as to not overwhelm the health system. We have a better understanding with regards to how the burden of disease increases thanks greatly to previous countries who have been grappling with it for a longer period than our own. We know that things are likely to progress just because of the inherent nature of COVID-19 and so it becomes so important to get public buy in with regards to prevention measures as to continue to flatten the curve.
The national lockdown has contributed to the increase in the stress and anxiety levels of many individuals, as a healthcare professional, what have you been doing to combat the build-up of stress after long shifts?
FM: I think everyone has a measure of stress and anxiety to some degree. We are in a time where there is a pandemic and, in my opinion, the biggest cause for stress and anxiety is the fear of the unknown. To combat and alleviate these feelings one should try and stay abreast in terms of new information such as counter measures etc. It has been such a great thing to be able to work with bigger organisations who are trying to implement online and virtual consultations as well as information hubs and this is how you can combat stress and anxiety - through knowledge. If you don’t know any reputable spaces, you can fall victim to sensationalism. I also try to use my own social platform to give information that highlights what one can do during this time instead of pointing out what one is not able to do. So, to round up, from my end it’s always about pushing the belief that this is a phase and a time to be alert rather than anxious. To be aware of what is going on and to understand, instead of fixating on what can happen. We need to find the narrative because there will always be someone that feeds the fire of uncertainty.
Any health and fitness tips?
FM: Health is actually such an incredible word and when we talk about it, we are trying to optimize a person holistically (physically, spiritually and mentally) and it is imperative that the mental aspect is not overlooked because that is essentially what is allowing people to get through this time positively rather than having them recede and crumble, falling into an anxious-stress cycle.
For me, mindfulness is key and thankfully, I have the benefits of having a partner who is a yoga instructor and who knows how to meditate and does so, quite consistently. Through this, I have built an understanding of how important being mentally strong is. On the other side of that, we talk about fitness and it is so important to mention that fitness feeds into mindfulness when trying to achieve the perfect balance. Push a moderate to intense workout for 30 min a day and take note of the importance of nutrition. Keeping hydrated and regulating your diet means drinking 2L or 6-8 glasses of water and eating nutritious food. By giving your body what it is predominantly made of (water) it assists in minimizing unnecessary food cravings that we tend to have whilst being in the comfort of our homes.
Comment on the effectiveness of wearing facemasks and gloves. Also, do you think that cloth masks are effective enough?
FM: The World Health Organization (WHO) has great content that shows which masks are effective under which circumstances, if you are coughing or feel that you could potentially get sick, wearing an appropriate mask will assist in stopping the spread of the infection. Cloth masks do not stop you from getting the infection, the best mask that would forms a seal around the nose and mouth would be the N95. Wearing the cloth masks assist in avoiding you from touching the mucus membranes on the face such as your mouth and nose and for many it acts as a reminder for a heightened caution and increased hygienic practice during these times. The infection spreads by touching an infected surface and then touching these areas. One of the highlighting factors of our country is our ability to make the best out of any situation and we see that through the impressive selection of cloth masks that have become trendy to wear. I think these masks are a good thing, but one must understand the role that they play. It’s not a failsafe to ensure that you never get an infection, but it is used in conjunction with all the other measures to prevent infection.
Will social distancing result in major societal shifts/trends going forward?
FM: With everything that has happened, looking at countries in terms of their economies and social effects caused by the pandemic, I think there has been an irreparable shift in how we as people need to engage. Thinking about social distancing and the fact that it underpins all the levels that we now have, we need to become more creative in finding new ways to engage with each other and achieve that sense of ‘community’ that we all crave and enjoy. That means that the onus is going to be put on people who work within the digital spaces- internet personalities, influencers and the like- to find the best mediums and ways whilst still adhering to the protocols now in place. I think that we are heading into a time of a paradigm shift with how we engage with each other because we don’t quite know what the next few months will look like with regard to the lifting of these rules. We are still learning so much more about COVID-19; therefore, I think that we are going to require some creative thinking to establish a new norm when it comes to interacting with one another.
How can individuals offer support to fellow healthcare workers or facilities during this time? Are there any particular foundations/charities that recipients can donate to?
FM: The essential workers are truly heroes during this time with security guards, police officers, cashiers and public servants all trying to ensure that the country is able to run whilst still fighting against COVID-19 as best they can. There are a number of initiatives that have been pushing forward even during these times providing for children and those in need. The initiatives that are closest to my heart are:
The SOS children’s villages and CANSA who have been doing such amazing work.