47 COVID-19 tests and still on the road: The life of a travelling surgeon

A trauma and orthopedic surgeon has been splitting his time between work in three New Brunswick hospitals and his home and family in P.E.I. And he's got dozens of COVID-19 test results to show for it.

'Like I learned in the military, you adapt and overcome. We're adapting and overcoming'

Dr. Josh Mayich uses FaceTime and letters to keep in touch with his wife and three sons in P.E.I. while he is treating patients in New Brunswick. (Submitted by Josh Mayich)

Dr. Josh Mayich has been tested for COVID-19 47 times. 

He works as an orthopedic trauma surgeon at three different hospitals in northern New Brunswick but lives with his young family in Mount Albion, P.E.I. 

Roughly half of each month since June has been spent away from home, having his temperature taken daily and sometimes being tested for the coronavirus. 

When he heads back home to Prince Edward Island, he told CBC's Laura Chapin in an interview for Island Morning, "I get my isolation order on the other side of the bridge. I drive straight from the bridge to the testing centre. I get my first test and I isolate in a basement apartment from my family until my test comes back negative, and essentially I'm housebound until I leave again. 

"So I'm essentially in isolation constantly." 

Mayich and his wife have sons aged 11, 10 and eight years old. As well as operating on ankles and feet, he is co-owner of the Island Hop Company, based on a 16-hectare farm in Mount Albion. So there are many reasons to come home from New Brunswick each month.

But getting an all-clear on his first test after arriving back on the Island doesn't count as a get-out-of-the-basement-free card. 

"I'm not in a rush to go hang out with my family. My preference is to keep others safe," he said. When he gets the result of a second test, conducted seven days after getting home, that makes him "more confident that I haven't picked up COVID-19."

Careful during Atlantic bubble

As a rotational worker, Mayich has spent more than half his time since the start of the pandemic in one form of self-isolation or another, except for the few months when the Atlantic bubble brought freer travel.

He works at hospitals in Bathurst and Miramichi, which have been relatively clear of the coronavirus, and Campbellton, which has seen several cases.

He said the worst thing he can imagine, for his family and his hops business, would be to bring COVID-19 to P.E.I. The Island has seen 110 confirmed cases since the pandemic began. No new cases were reported on Tuesday, though six others were still considered active.

"On top of just keeping my family safe, there's a lot more to it than that. There's a cultural element to this as there is to any pandemic. 

When the bubble was open, I still wasn't in a hurry to go running around shaking hands and slapping high-fives.— Dr. Josh Mayich

"When the bubble was open, I still wasn't in a hurry to go running around shaking hands and slapping high-fives."

Mayich's three young sons interact with their father by Facetime and letters while he's gone, and he said they understand the pandemic will eventually come to an end and let the family have more in-person time. 

"Like I learned in the military, you adapt and overcome. We're adapting and overcoming," he said.

"I think if you interviewed my eight-year-old, he'd say, 'This is vewy, vewy challenging.'"

The 11- and 10-year-olds "are both very smart, insightful little dudes," he added.

"My dad has always said: 'You know, kids aren't stupid; they're just little.' So they've figured this out and they know that it's not forever."

Supports needed — and perspective

Mayich is a medical ethicist by training, and believes people need to retain some perspective though they may be chafing at public health rules such as the requirement to wear masks when interacting with others in public places. 

"We've had it very, very, very, very good in North America for a very long time, but this is not [what] life looks like for a lot of people. And we're starting to get a taste of life without essentially unlimited freedom."

He also thinks it's crucial to have supports in place to help people come to terms with the changes. 

"You know, there needs to be positivity out there. We're Maritimers, that's who we are … We care about each other.

"Be patient, be kind, yeah, but also be informed. It's important."

Mayich, right, teaches another surgeon how to put on postoperative splints, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Submitted by Josh Mayick)

More from CBC P.E.I. 

With files from Island Morning


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