Life in Lockdown

Dr Ronnie Moule has been a practising GP Obstertician in Castlemaine for 21 years.

Castlemaine Library’s Marion Yates is writing a series of stories about ‘Life in Lockdown’ as part of the Humans of Castlemaine Library Facebook group she curates work for and has kindly agreed to share these stories with our readers. In the sixth instalment she chats to local GP Veronica Moule.
Ronnie Moule
I have known Ronnie for 14 years. She is my GP, but she is much more than that! There are many layers to Ronnie’s story, but I wanted to try to uncover some of the human story of this extraordinary and generous community care giver during the Covid 19 pandemic. 
We talk about many things, often in my consultations; while she’s taking my blood pressure, or filling in my patient file, we’ll have rapid fire conversations about everything from the profound nature of the feminine and what it is to be a woman within societal structures, to the experience of the fight-flight response in a pandemic. 
Ronnie talks about her own responses to the public health crisis as a frontline health care worker with a mix of laser sharp analysis and curiosity. 
“My thinking is different in that fight-flight response state. My usual way is more a sitting and being-with state. This was quite a fantastic charged space to be thinking within. That was pretty fascinating!” 
“Four of the six positive tests in Mount Alexander Shire, were done at the Mostyn Street Clinic [where Ronnie’s practice is based]. The first case of Covid 19 in Castlemaine, that was my patient.” 
“So, that heightened thinking came in very early on for us, when all we could see was what was happening in the world, in places like Italy and New York, and the extraordinary case and mortality statistics.” 
“I was in hypomania; that finely focused thinking, and highly energised state, where you’re assessing every situation and logistical problem on the fly, in the context of this risk. It was very linear thinking, which was strange for me because I usually take more of a broader view. It’s an unusual state to be in.” 
“It was a question of here we are now managing with six positive cases. And then that thinking of what happens if 20 per cent of the population were tested positive? For us that would mean 1000 positive tests coming through our clinic. And how would we manage that volume?
And so, in addition to the processes we had to put in place, there was a whole extra plan to manage the contingencies.” 
The Mostyn Street Clinic put a range of processes in place early on, including the closure of the front door and redirection of patients to the back ramp where all patients could have temperature checks and be triaged as to whether they could come into the building. They also set up, and continue to conduct, a drive through test station in their car park. 
“We ran reception on the back ramp for 1-2 weeks. The car park was the waiting area. Some consultations were done in the car park, or clinic garden. We have been doing all swabs in patient’s cars – they drive in, we have a telephone consultation, then full PPE, wind down the window, swab, wind up the window and drive out.” 
“That first case – I remember that particular conversation – they were in the car looking forward talking and I was standing about two metres behind them just clarifying things before the swab. “I want you to talk that way, and I’m going to stand over here, so the droplets are going that way.” The physicality of it was interesting in the moment. The awareness of where my hands go, where I stand.” 
I’m familiar with the heightened fight-flight state Ronnie described – the power of the response to threat, whether perceived or real. It’s something we’ve all experienced in some way or another in our lives. I ask Ronnie if she felt fear at the onset of the pandemic. 
“There was a fear that if one goes down we all go down. I think it was 10 per cent – 15 per cent of cases overseas were healthcare workers. I didn’t feel that I would be a mortality statistic. But you never quite know the answer to that question though. There was always a bit of fear. But that was placed aside, and not at the front of my thinking.” 
“What was fascinating was that the hospital was exceptionally quiet. We were super, super, super busy at the clinic, the busiest I’ve ever seen in General Practice. And then everyone fled. No one went to the hospital. And then elective surgery was cancelled. And so, there was this staffed quietness, sort waiting, waiting, and wondering. 
“And there was this feeling: I don’t know how big this is going to get.” 
“But the storm actually hasn’t come. It will be interesting to see what does come. Certainly, there has been a bit of an increase in Victoria recently. It’s hard to know whether the tracing and quarantine of people effected will prevent a bigger outbreak.” 
Ronnie talks with her body: hands, shoulders, chest and face. She is a big thinker, and she articulates her thoughts with great clarity, but it is through her body that she gives fullness to what she is expressing. Her gesticulation is abundant and delightful – even on Zoom! 
“I think coming down from that hypomanic state, that always feels a bit vulnerable. But with that comes insight which I really love. I’m quite practiced at sitting in my vulnerability and it’s something that I do like to honour, and I tend not to retreat from that.” 
“Something I’ve realized is my dip came during the Telehealth period. I did consults like this [crossed arms, leaning back, terse expression]. And I realized how nourished I am with face to face meetings with patients, and how nourished I am talking like this [gesticulates abundantly!].
And how much I missed that. I think we can feel like we’re in a service industry and forget how much we’re receiving in that process, and I think that was really highlighted for me.” 
I relate, working in a service industry as a Librarian! I have missed in person connection with our community during the closures. I also relate to the hypomania and the crash, the huge drive and energy followed by withdrawal. I ask Ronnie what her sense is about people’s mental health during the public health shutdowns, and how she’s looked after herself. 
“There’s an enormous need for connection. We’re a bit desperate for touch and for connection in the same physical space as each other.” 
“And for some there is anxiety about the reopening. We know how to lock down, and sit still, and only go to supermarket once a week. But how do we step out? And what does our community look like? Have we had amazing insights? Or are we going to slot back into how it was before, and will we be satisfied with that or not?” 
“Self-care is really important to me. I do remember having a day where I lay on the window seat and I read a book all day. I did go to the secondhand bookstore and buy four books in case I got put into quarantine. I was stockpiling books!” 
“And dancing is foundational for me, to shift the stress in my body. The local 5 Rhythms group has been continuing online via Zoom. I’ve also be doing some Feldenkrais online; moments of dropping into myself and presence with myself. There’s something really slow and still about Feldenkrais, which has been a good balance to the crazy, crazy.” 
Ronnie is a highly skilled and capable doctor, she has a robustness about her, and incredible strength and determination, but what makes her extraordinary in my view is the fullness of the humanity she brings to her model of care. 
Much of Ronnie’s General Practice is centred around provision of birthing services in our region. It’s not an over statement to describe her legacy of care of local birthing mothers and babies over two decades as legendary, as well as profoundly nourishing of this community. 
“It’s a really extraordinary experience of being a woman [as a female GP obstetrician]; being present with women giving birth, when they’re more [uniquely] woman than anything else in their lives; where there’s no comparison to the structures we live within, and the outward masculine environment. To be stepping into that over, and over, and over again, is extraordinary.” 
“In some ways it’s receiving love over, and over again. Being present at this moment of love is extraordinary.” 
I see what Ronnie does as bold, love centred care, within a medical system which is largely intentionally devoid of emotion. 
Ronnie attended me and my son after his birth 12 years ago, when I became seriously unwell. She came into that sacred post birth space, in our home, where we had all been traumatised and destablised by my illness, with a calmness, love, and strength which helped to center us as a family and held us through some very dark and frightening weeks and months. 
“It nourishes me so deeply” Ronnie’s face is filled with emotion. There are tears in her eyes. 
“There’s something really profound about caring for people over time, that you’ve had such intimate, respectful, honest being with.” 
“How do we do that in healthcare? How do we keep that?”

Ronnie dressed in her jungle print home made scrubs during the Covid 19 pandemic, at the Mostyn Street Clinic.
Lisa Dennis
Editor of the Castlemaine Mail newspaper and senior journalist on our sister paper the Midland Express. Over the last 24 years Lisa been proudly reporting news in the Mount Alexander and Macedon Ranges communities.