BY NICOLA MOSTERT RD 14 MAY 2020

It has been more than 6 weeks since I last saw a patient face to face, and lockdown was announced in South Africa to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, and we were ordered to STAY HOME. As a small business owner, I can certainly feel the sands of the hour glass seeping away at a slow and steady pace on all my cash reserves ,and, yes, we need to start this engine back up again, so we can provide for our families to sustain whatever we have into our businesses, and in my case, my life’s work! Time has flown and now we are getting ready to open up our economy and living with this strange new normal and that is to prevent the spread of a highly infectious respiratory illness which is COVID-19. We see patients who are indeed vulnerable and we cannot be careful enough, not only as health care providers but as fellow humans. Yesterday I had the opportunity to start with face to face consultations in my practice, and boy has our world been turned upside down. The very existence of human to human interaction has been challenged. Having to wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth, resulted in the loss of the ability to reveal our facial expressions when communicating with the other party.

Facial expressions are important components of how we communicate and how we develop impressions of the people around us. The relevance of facial expression cannot be stated enough and hugely dominates our conversations, emotions and who we are.  Let’s be clear on this, masks are uncomfortable at best. Especially when you need to talk or say anything. To win this new normal we better adapt, amidst the biggest silent war, the globe has seen. This is the reason why policies and procedures have been brought into place in our practice, to adhere to our Department of Health guidelines of screening, social distancing, hand hygiene and covering your mouth and nose with a mask. I have never even heard of the term social distancing before this and often think now, what does this truly mean to us and how will we as a species change. We are made to laugh, to touch, to be close enough so that people can truly understand our stance and reactions when we are communicating.

I guess the biggest adaptation will be to offer a service as dietitians under these strict measurements, and still reach the desired outcomes with our patients. The emergence of tele-communication with video and voice has definitely changed our views on contact and engagement. It was always the vision of our practice to expand into the online world so that we could be able to offer our expertise to a wider audience, not only in South Africa but also abroad. Online consultations has become a great avenue for us to be able to have a session with someone with all the benefits that an actual face to face consultation offer. The only downfall is that we cannot do a body composition analyses on our advanced InBody Scale. (Which cost a fortune by the way!)

Which makes me wonder, how society is going to change in this process? Can you imagine? If this was the 1980s or early 1990s with only a landline telephone and one telephone line per household? Or, if you did not have that privilege, you could always go to the nearest payphone and pay with a coin, and in the late 90s, a phone card. (We used to call them tickie boxes.) I remember vividly that they always seemed out of order when you needed to phone the most, or walked the farthest the reach them.

Now, at least we can continue, as bizarre and weird it may be, with our daily activities, limiting face to face contact only when it necessitates and fall back on virtual contact with those who are most vulnerable to suffer complications due to COVID-19 infection. Only time will tell how we can improve our day to day activity within the boundaries of screening, social distancing, hand hygiene and covering our face and nose with a mask.

But for now, abnormal is the new normal.

Nicola Mostert RD