A conversation with Kim De Muynck

As a pneumologist Kim De Muynck stands in the middle of the Corona storm. With knowledge, practical experiences and in full protective gear she and her colleagues are fighting fear and virus. During battle she got infected with Covid19. ‘The isolation was extremely difficult’, says Kim. ‘And today I’m still suffering a total loss of my smell and taste senses.’ Even though she tries to be positive. Patience is the answer. For doctor and patients.

First of all, how are you doing during these weird times?

Actually, I’m sort of relieved that the world is standing still due to Corona. Strange times bring new opportunities! But the lockdown and the many changes in the hospital are starting to take their toll. I so long for some quality time with my friends and family, without talking about Corona. But we have to hold on and try to avoid a second wave of infections coming our way.

What was your first thought knowing the Corona epidemic was coming and you would be in the line of fire, standing up to the virus and helping patients? How did you mentally prepare to take on this challenge?

When the Corona epidemic first started, I knew as a pneumologist I would be in the middle of the storm. It was like I had to go fight on the front line against an invisible enemy in World War Three. Since this is our first, but certainly not our last, epidemic we did not know what to expect in terms of size and severity. This obviously brings on a lot of fear, which was also very present the first couple of days. The anxiety of getting infected or to bring the disease home to my family.

By reading and studying up on the virus, combined with numerous meetings with my colleagues, we were able to see and treat the first Corona patients coming our way. In full protective gear, from head to toe. This definitely helped release some of that initial fear. Sharing knowledge and practical experiences are the best remedies towards fear and the unknown!

Since the beginning of the lockdown at exactly 20PM people come out and clap for the medical staff. Do you feel addressed or empowered? What does this mean to you? Do you clap yourself when you are not working?

The daily clapping every night happens on our courtyard in Brussels and sometimes ends in a real casserole concert. This really gives me a feeling of solidarity. Something Belgians don’t really excel in, unless it’s for the Red Devils during the World Cup. It really affects me and it, for sure, gives me a boost. Even though doctors and nurses aren’t the only ones standing in the front line. I do clap along sporadically, but it does feel kinda weird.

Belgium – unlike Italy – had a heads up and got to prepare hospitals for what was coming. How do you experience the measures professionally?  Are there measures that are still missing according to you?

We were extremely lucky we had time to prepare ourselves and not be flooded on day one. The measurements are constantly changing in the hospitals which brings some chaos along. Flexibility is key.

The medical field has changed drastically to adjust to this epidemic. Which measures will stick or hope won’t stick once this is over? 

Before the crisis I shook hands with patients when they came on consultations. Even though I knew this could result in infections, I did feel socially uncomfortable to not greet my patients. I don’t think this habit will ever return, and I’m relieved about that.

Word is out that a second (and third) wave of Corona might follow later this year. Do you think there will be even more / bigger adjustments coming to cope with possible future epidemics?

The next couple of waves won’t have the same effect as the first one. We’re now better prepared in the hospitals. I do think the lockdown measurements will get more stricter, and this will weigh on the people.

Does the fact you had and survived Corona “ease” your mind? Did you change your approach when resuming your work with corona patients? 

I was never as ill as the people that were hospitalised. But I can imagine the fear of not knowing how it will evolve and to be isolated from your family.

I understand you are feeling better and back at work now but you did get infected with Covid19 in the line of duty. What was the hardest part about being infected? Knowing and having seen what the virus is capable of doing, the isolation, the symptoms, … Are you completely recovered now?

The hardest part was knowing 100% you are infected with the virus, since not everyone could get tested around that time. Not knowing what plans the virus had with you made me very anxious. Corona or Covid has a very changeable and unpredictable disease course: from mild to very serious symptoms and sudden declines after a stable period. Being a pneumologist, I know the damage it can make. The isolation from my family was very straight forward, as it was discussed even before I got infected. Nonetheless, it was extremely difficult. Also, because you’re anxious you perhaps already infected a family member.

My Covid symptoms were, in the end, not that severe. I only experienced a heavy sinusitis and a total loss of all my smell and taste senses. The last one still hasn’t been restored and really gives you a loss in terms of life quality. I do try to be patient and positive that it will return eventually. It’s true that you suddenly appreciate something once it’s gone.

I haven’t been to any doctor or hospital since the lockdown but I know for sure that a visit to the grocery store, pharmacy and even school has changed a lot since Corona hit. What will a future visit to the doctor / hospital look like?

During the lockdown there were this so called tele consultations. We’re looking into this idea to continue it for certain diseases. There won’t be any physical greetings between doctor and patient. You’ll have to wear masks when you feel the lightest symptoms. And we have to introduce approachable testing for Corona.

Any tips / comforting words for our readers?

Patience. Patience. Patience. And, positive thinking.