Emergency room doctor details the mayhem of Covid-19

13 May 2021 - 11:05 By Margaret von Klemperer
'Saving a Stranger's Life' covers Anne Biccard's experiences as an ER doctor in the age of Covid-19.
'Saving a Stranger's Life' covers Anne Biccard's experiences as an ER doctor in the age of Covid-19.
Image: Supplied

Published in the Witness (10/05/2021)

Saving a Stranger’s Life: The Diary of an Emergency Room Doctor
Anne Biccard

After 30 years of working as an emergency room doctor in Johannesburg, Anne Biccard, like the rest of the world, was suddenly faced with the Covid-19 pandemic and, although used to being on the front line of medicine, she was parachuted into mayhem.

Pandemics may have been on the radar of scenario planners, but no-one could really foresee the reality.

The book covers her experiences from March until August 2020, dealing with the first rumours of a new virus, the first lockdown and the first wave of infections.

There are moments when the reader needs a strong stomach, but the writing is engaging and often the stories Biccard tells are very funny, in a dark kind of way.

It seems before Covid-19 changed people’s habits, a fair number of patients turned up in the emergency room for bizarre reasons.

One woman announced she had swallowed a weasel, but serious questioning elicited the fact that it was a weevil.

There was the patient who wanted to see “his” cardiologist. When contacted, the doctor showed a distinct lack of enthusiasm as it transpired their previous interaction had been when the patient had tried to run over the doctor.

Something that shines through the entire book is the dedication of the medical staff as those who arrived at hospital changed from emergencies, real and imagined, to Covid-19 patients.

The pandemic may have started slowly, but Biccard charts its progress and the growing loss of faith in the government’s handling of it.

By July last year, the full horror of what was happening had hit home, and Biccard admits to her desire  and that of many other health care professionals to quit and get out of it all.

Coping strategies are many and varied. For Biccard, it is getting home to her partner and their rescue dogs and walking in the countryside.

What shines through the funny stories, the poignant episodes and the horror of what she is living through is her dogged determination to do what she can.