A new strain of virus have been reported and was apparently causing deaths in countries like China, Hong Kong and Vietnam. A recommendation was made for doctors who were seeing feverish patients to don N95 masks in addition to other universal precautions.
I was a junior (very junior) doctor in a surgical unit. Honestly, I was never surgically inclined and this was just one of those postings I had to pass through. In fact I was near the end of the posting and celebrations were round the corner.
The news of the new deadly viral strains were causing some concerns but no one seemed to really care, definitely not the nurses. When I questioned them why they were not wearing masks when treating febrile patients, they laughed in my face.
"Why, you scared is it... hahahha......"
Is China, HK and Vietnam really that far away? I asked myself.
One night, I was asked to see a febrile patient with abdominal pain. He had a travel history. I asked the ward staff for a N95 mask. The nurses refused. I asked to speak to the nursing officer.
"Aiyah, its just appendicitis. Why you need the mask?" She said, attempting to dismiss me.
I insisted on the mask and threatened not to see the patient if not given. She could have called my bluff but she relented begrudgingly and not before making threats about how my Consultants would hear about this.
After slapped the mask into my hands and she couldn't help adding, "You better keep this with you for one week. This very expensive mask!"
None of us would have known that this very nursing officer would be the one who will soon be going after doctors who did not follow infectious protocols as the pandemic exploded in our face soon after.
In the next week or two, the new viral strain was named Severe acute respiratory syndrome SARS) and the very first cases appeared in Singapore.