Weekly Update from the Bellingen Covid-19 Clinic: Dr Trevor Cheney

By October 19, 2021 In Focus 6 Comments
Dr Trevor Cheney gives his weekly report from the Bellingen Shire Covid-19 Clinic

Dear Bellinger Shire, 19 October 2021.


I watched with curiosity a brief article on TV recently about a certain person locked up in a remote quarantine facility.  He was stuck a long way from home, but found kindness and acceptance in those of the region who were essentially his captors.   His diary is being translated.  He was a German sailor locked up on Bruny Island off southeast Tasmania at the start of World War 1.

If you haven’t been to southern Tassie or Bruny island, it is definitely worth planning for next year.  Ah, the bracing southern air with natural mussels and fresh abalone on the waterfront!

The point that caught my attention was not that a delightful old German bloke was translating the handwritten olde German – which even a lot of current Deutsch citizens would struggle to understand.

Of interest was that a young fella was locked up in a quarantine station harking from the end of the 19thcentury.  A reminder that plagues are not new to human history, and neither is the concept of quarantine to protect the greater population, and to focus the care of those needing it in a safe place apart.  And that plagues do come but then go.  Sadly, until modern times, they came at great cost of life.

The situation also pointed out the reality that all people have the same stuff under their skin, with the same needs and values, just different expressions, or clothes. Our separation is manufactured.  It dissolves with compassion.

It reminded me of the contrast in a news interview some years ago.  A group of blushing young women were speaking with sighs and a sparkle about their “boys” in a certain group.  They discussed who was the most handsome. Who was adventurous, who was a leader in the band.  It was amazingly stereotypical fandom.

Except the boys’ band was not into music.  They were members of Islamist terrorist group Lashkah-e-Toiba, a militant Islamist terrorist group operating out of Pakistan and Afganistan since the late 1980s. They have been involved in bombings in Mumbai and according to Wikipedia are the most prolific of publishers of literature on Jihad.

Seeing news from Afganistan and members of the Taliban, it struck me that many of those fighters looked so much like people I have known, and not obviously ethnically distinct from Bob from Barcaldine.   They all had Mums who on the whole mostly love them, and I imagine mostly Dads who were proud of their boys, and families who will grieve them. No different, except from the passion of ideologies they follow, because of the harms they believe done to them before.

Ideas, ideologies, and words inspire, enthuse, drive people to achieve, yet misplaced can enrage, incite, embolden people to violence and murder.  It has ever been thus.  No great world movements or religions are innocent of using conflict and the “other” to push their agendas (including Christianity in Europe and South America, Buddhism in Myanmar, export Capitalism from North America and export  Socialism from China and Russia).

However, I must admit going through Uni with refugees from Iran who lived their Baha’i faith was pretty humbling.

The point of this ramble – on the grand scale of human history – is that separation, tribalism and demonising the “other” has profited a few, but mostly been the source of massive misery and violence.

It has been scary to see language reminiscent of conflicts and catastrophes rhetorically thrown around in the division that has been caused by contested messages about the Covid 19 pandemic, and the worldwide response  -which includes vaccines now well established as saving millions of lives and preventing social catastrophes.

(It’s what sucks about “preventive” medicine – so unsexy .  It is always easy to get urgent funding to save someone in extreme states, but so hard to get recognition for the lives saved and disease prevented in advance– because by definition – you can’t see those achievements.  You can’t see disease that didn’t happen. You can only extrapolate from the natural history that has been studied, and what would be expected to happen if you do nothing.)

It has been very sad that some folk have been lured and terrified by certain cults with their manufactured warnings that the end of the world as we knew it ,with a grand decline to global totalitarianism of the “one world government”  … had started.  The warning signs claimed were the restrictions put in place by state governments to try to slow or stop the spread of Covid19.  So now that those restrictions are being reversed, in response to high rates of vaccination, I hope that the same folk will feel relieved and no longer the outsiders, and see that our governments will stumble on in their often clumsy and imperfect way, but without the grand conspiracy.

In the meantime it has been really tragic to learn of families and friends being terminally split on this issue.  Fortunately in Australia we are mostly dozy enough to not start shooting each other on a political issue.  But we have had some really angry citizens.  As a community we need to meet each other NOT with really angry responses.  Let’s practice conciliation as the vast majority of the population is now vaccinated, and we head towards a summer holiday time with freedom to catch up with families, without carrying dangerous disease around.

Perceived injustice, persecution, or being left out/left behind can rapidly accelerate to anger, indignation, and permanent rifts.  It happens in families, towns, regions, and at the level of warring nations.  A wise scholar of history once said “ Wars don’t change the world, they simply punctuate the fact that the world has already changed and we hadn’t adjusted to it yet.”

But we don’t have to consolidate conflict.  Another of my favourite axioms was on a bumper sticker – “Resentment is like you swallowing poison and waiting for the other guy to die.”

And as we see those vax numbers rise, the rate of mortality and hospitalisation is dropping in NSW and Victoria.  There is a huge, confirmatory relief.

Yes, we can admit we have had a very small number of people with petty much self-limiting adverse reactions, but we haven’t had masses turned into lizards.  Though a gecko dropped onto my boot as I left the other night – I wonder if he was telling me something?

In your medical practices we are nearing the end of the big vaccine push for the region and the state.

Meanwhile I have been participating in a survey called “45 and Up”.  It is one of the world’s biggest long term studies on the process or health inputs into ageing (erk!) with 230,000 participants in NSW.  They have released an interim statement re the pandemic effects, which show that this year 16% of people over 45 have missed planned medical appointments, 16% of women have missed breast cancer screening, 32% believe their money won’t last and 32 % reported deteriorating mental health. Mostly it sounded better than I expected, except for the last 2.

So, how is the mental health and resilience of those in your life over 45?

There is room for us to be better, but it needs personal effort and governments can’t do it for us.

I mentioned the ubiquity of change recently.

Now the pandemic moves into an endemic phase, as GPS we will also be refocussing.  The pathology provider Sullivan & Nicolaides has stepped up to take over the running of the local Covid testing clinic at Watson St in Bellingen from 25 October – next Monday. They will run from 1300 (1pm), Monday to Friday, and will provide that service till the start of December.  This will allow us as GPs, nurses and administrators to focus back on our core responsibilities, and catch up a little.


I need to clarify a recent announcement you may have heard on the News from ATAGI – the body making the scientific decisions re vaccinations.   We will now be offering a third dose in the Primary Course of Covid 19 immunisation for anyone with blood cancers, solid cancers under treatment, immune suppression, or immune deficiency diseases, and a few other conditions.

This is because the research shows that these people do not get as good an immunisation response from the vaccine ( but are more vulnerable to the  disease).  A third dose lifts their immunity closer to the general population.  This is good news for hundreds of thousands of folk with immune suppression who have been silently terrified as restrictions lift. Ideally the third dose should be 2-6 months after the second and preferably a P or M vaccine– no matter which brand you had initially.

To be clear, this is not the “Booster” concept we have heard about, as in Israel or Britain.  It looks like we all will be offered a booster next year before winter, possibly combined with flu vaccines.  There’s a bit of a way to go on evidence, cost and supply availability yet.


As always please check any detail with your own GP, who really is sick of  “wars” on disease, or the pandemic, or ignorance, or whatever, but who just wants to help you stay well or get your problems treated in time, in the best way, which includes collaboration and good communication.

‘Cause, as always, this is just one perspective (with fingers crossed for us all for the Chrissy holidays).


Dr Trevor Cheney


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