Fasting during Ramadan

By Sobia Akhtar, junior doctor, emergency medicine

15th May 2020

Ramadan!

The time of year when Muslims fast from dawn until dusk has once again arrived!

I am a junior doctor in Emergency Medicine and this is the first time I have fasted during a health pandemic. While not in full PPE I am wearing a face mask, a disposable apron, and gloves when I have contact with a patient.

I set off for my evening shift with a little trepidation as I had an intense feeling of déjà vu, which always occurs for me in the run-up to work shifts during Ramadan. The same worries came back to me such as “How will I cope? What if I get really hot and dehydrated with a face mask on? And maybe my worst fear… what if I…..faint?!” The rational voice in my head was telling me it’s nothing different to what I have done before- I have fasted for 7 out of 8 years working as a doctor, and I have also fasted whilst assisting in long theatre cases.

“You’ve got this!” the rational voice told me.  Thankfully, that voice was right.

I have felt slightly more dehydrated with the face masks on but to be honest it has been barely noticeable. I am lucky to have a fantastic set of colleagues who have been very supportive in ensuring I get priority for my breaks given I have a ‘set’ number of hours in which I can eat.

I think this is key for other colleagues marking Ramadan – to be able to get breaks when you need it.

Getting your break on time is so important in order to re-energise. My advice to colleagues, especially junior doctors and those who are new to fasting, is to inform your colleagues you are fasting and at the start of your shift tell them when you will need your break.

In my experience, everyone has always been supportive.

I’ve also been lucky that all my shifts have been either late or night shifts which have meant I have been able to eat and drink for a reasonable number of hours. We do 9-hour shifts in the department I work in, whereas other specialties such as medical and surgical specialties have 12-hour on-call shifts, and fasting can be more difficult during these shifts in my experience.

But there was one year which was especially difficult. Once, when I was a foundation doctor I was working a weekend on-call for Medicine. I was a newly qualified doctor so I was still getting to grips with the job. I was on a 12-hour shift providing ward cover, which involved providing cover for all the medical wards, reviewing patients, and completing tasks such as fluid and medication prescription. Back then, electronic prescribing wasn’t used in the hospital I was working in, which meant physically walking to every ward to complete such tasks.

By the end of the shift, I was absolutely exhausted and parched, with a splitting headache from dehydration. By far that was the most difficult Ramadan I have observed at work.

COVID-19 has affected us all in many ways, including during Ramadan. This Ramadan, in particular, has been a strange one. The fasting hasn’t been difficult; neither really has fasting at work. The most difficult part has been not being able to see loved ones. It is a month where I would have traditionally spent a lot of time with my family and friends, broken our fasts, and prayed together. My parents and grandparents invite us over every year and to not receive an invitation this year was tough! As was seeing pictures of my mum’s delicious food on WhatsApp and not being able to taste it! I am blessed to have my husband and son though, as some people are completely alone which can be so difficult at a time like this. Also, having work colleagues who are your family when you can’t see your own makes a world of a difference.

Given Ramadan is a time for reflection for many of us observing it, I think it makes sense to take a moment to think about the effects of COVID-19: those who have lost their lives to the disease, the grieving loved ones they have left behind and those of us who continue to fight the battle on the frontline.

It’s highly unlikely we will be able to see our friends and families on Eid this year, which is a bitter pill to swallow after a long month of fasting. However, I have so many things to be grateful for for my health, family, job, and much more! It’s a good thing we have two Eid celebrations so hopefully, we can make up for lost time next Eid!

Eid Mubarak to all my family, friends, and colleagues.

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