​”Experiences of working in Psychiatry during Covid-19″ – Dr Michelle Bowers


Dr Michelle Bowers started the MMed (Psych) programme in August 2019. Dr Bowers previously worked in Primary Health Care and was a Family Registrar but left following the birth of her 2nd child. She was a General Medical Officer for 2 years and most recently a Psychiatry Medical Officer at Eersteriver Hospital for 3 years prior to joining the MMed (Psych) programme.

Dr Bowers joined the MMed (Psych) programme because she always loved Psychiatry but considered herself more of a generalist. She only realised later in her career that Psychiatry is what she wants to be doing for the rest of her working life.

Dr Bowers is happily married for 12 years to Aiden and mother to 2 gorgeous boys- Connor and Finn ages 9 and 6. She is originally from Durban and her hobbies include wine, music and reading.


My time in COVID-19

I remember clearly being called into the consultant’s office- we needed to discuss something. Sounded scary right?

Internal Medicine had requested one of the Psychiatric registrars to assist them in the COVID wards- it is optional, but we need an answer now. This was Friday and to start on Monday. I was scared but said yes. I am lucky to have extensive general medical experience prior to starting the Psychiatry registrar programme.

I was very anxious on my first day; but that quickly resolved.

I spent a month working in the COVID wards. I was part of an awesome team from the consultants to the interns. Day to day – we were responsible for D9 ward – seeing all the patients and doing the relevant ward work. This was often not too busy as we could all share the load.

Our calls were exceptionally busy, however. The team (2 registrars and an intern)​ on would be responsible for seeing all the new admissions. This included assessing, clerking, and examining them, then doing all the required investigations (normally included swabbing which must be done in full PPE) and ensuring they received the correct treatment. An average call would involve anything between 16 000 and 23 000 steps; often with us transporting the patients ourselves. While not mentally taxing, understandably the calls were physically draining.

I absolutely loved my time in the COVID wards. I learnt so much in terms of managing a new disease; as well as getting a chance to refresh my knowledge on other illnesses. There was academic time in which journals were discussed so that we could all learn together. I loved being part of such a cohesive team and felt like a valued member at all times. I was also able to practice many Psychiatric skills – I picked up on delirium many times, was able to assist with anxious patients, staff, and family members and able to motivate people and assisting patients with breathing exercises.

My month in COVID was amazing. I learnt so much. I had an opportunity to contribute first-hand to the fight against this pandemic. I am a better doctor for it. I will be a better Psychiatrist for it.



Monday the 22nd – I went to work as per normal. I had just finished up my month in the COVID wards a week prior and was ‘back in the groove’ in liaison Psychiatry. I felt fine, except I did notice I was slightly short of breath when I ran up the stairs. And one of my colleagues from COVID said to me I look tired. I had leave coming up, so I ascribed it to that. I came home and had a Zoom session with my personal trainer – no problem.

Suddenly I developed chest pains, had rigors, and started coughing. Out of nowhere. I tried to convince myself it was nothing; that I was just getting a cold. I took some Corenza C and had an early night. The next morning I even managed to convince myself for a few minutes that I was fine. Then I started coughing… and my voice was gone. I was sick. I knew it was likely COVID. I didn’t want it to be.

I went to Tygerberg Hospital – got swabbed and marked the test as Ultra-urgent. Then I went home to wait.

My results came out that evening. I got such a shock to see ‘Positive’. Ah, the power of denial. I had convinced myself it was going to be negative.

The next few days were a bit of a blur. I was really sick; coughing, no voice, myalgia. I also didn’t want my husband and my children to get as sick as me, so I was self-isolating in a spare bedroom. My husband told me how scared he was – I had gotten so sick, so fast. However, I am healthy with no comorbidities, so I knew I was going to be fine.

And I got better. The last few days of my 2 week quarantine I was up and about – though still social distancing from my family and wearing a mask.

I missed the physical contact with my family the most. My boys and I hug many times a day. This was the hardest.

This is also the first time in my life that I have had an illness in which I have watched people die from. It is scary.

I am healthy,  and my family remained healthy and symptom-free.

I survived COVID-19.​