Coronavirus: Front-line Fighters

Coronavirus: Doctor treats, comforts patients in open-air 'consultation room'

Dr Dale Lim checking a child patient with suspected flu symptoms at his clinic on Thursday. Besides assuring his patients, he has also assured his family that protection measures are in place.
Dr Dale Lim checking a child patient with suspected flu symptoms at his clinic on Thursday. Besides assuring his patients, he has also assured his family that protection measures are in place.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The open-air corridor underneath a block of Housing Board flats in Whampoa would not normally be put to use as a doctor's consultation room.

But these are not ordinary circumstances, as evidenced by the N95 mask imprints left on the face of 47-year-old family physician Dr Dale Lim, after he removes it to talk to Insight.

The mask and outdoor consultation area, where he sees patients with flu-like symptoms, are just two of the many measures in place following the spread of the coronavirus here.

He has also equipped all his staff with masks, and has his clinic disinfected frequently.

Patients wait in the well-ventilated corridor of the HDB block, sitting 2m apart from each other, and must declare their symptoms, travel and contact history and have their temperature taken before being admitted.

Those deemed potential carriers of the virus are seen separately from other patients, who consult the doctor inside the clinic.

But Dr Lim, who has been a doctor for over 20 years, is not doing all this out of fear of the virus.

"It's for patients' benefit. I want them to be confident, knowing that when they come for their healthcare needs they won't get infected by another virus," he tells Insight.

It is not just patients he has to reassure. His wife and nine-year-old son are concerned for his safety - and theirs - so he constantly reminds them that the protection measures put in place are sufficient.

He also takes precautions such as changing out of his scrubs before leaving the clinic, and washing them separately from the family laundry.

While reassuring everyone else, he keeps himself calm by staying informed about the virus and ensuring he has proper measures in place.

 
 

Dr Lim is also strengthened by his experience during previous outbreaks, such as H1N1 and Sars, which hit Singapore in 2003.

He says that back then, the lack of information about the virus was so bad that he slept with an N95 mask on during the first few nights of the outbreak, as no one knew how Sars was transmitted.

Information about the new coronavirus is being released at a much quicker rate than information about Sars was at the time, which helps him keep calm, he adds.

"Sars made me more prepared because we learnt how viruses can spread.

"Having used (protective equipment) during that time, I'm confident that it will work."

Any apprehension that he may have about falling ill during this period stems from concerns that it might impede his ability to care for others.

"I don't want to fall sick because I want to continue helping patients," he says.

 
 

Dr Lim has had to work extra hours daily to ensure the additional safety measures are in place, and to read up on the virus after work.

He has been unable to attend church for the past two weeks as he is too busy, and had to distance himself from his friends.

But he is keeping his cool: "It's during times like this, when help is needed more, that doctors should step up.

"We're called to duty."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 16, 2020, with the headline 'Doc treats, comforts patients in open-air 'consultation room''. Print Edition | Subscribe