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Mark Downing

Mark Downing

Infectious Disease Physician

A lot of people look to me to have the answers. That’s one of the biggest challenges right now, particularly with an emerging infectious disease: we don’t have all the answers. I do have a framework that helps put a process in place for next steps, but a lot of health care workers naturally feel uncomfortable with ambiguity. My impulse is to want to say something to reassure everyone, or give them a black and white answer. We’re in a much better place now that we know so much more about Covid-19. Journals have had time to catch up and publish the research and evidence that guides us.

I remember biking home from work months ago and hearing people cheering and clanging their pots and pans. That meant a lot.

Something I miss is having lunch in the physician’s lounge. It was my primary way of connecting with my peers, with my friends. We don’t do that anymore. I think I can count on one hand the number of physicians who have left St. Joe’s for a better opportunity. There’s a really strong sense of community here.

My grandfather was a minister and missionary, and he was always so eager to connect with people from both his congregation and people in the community from of all sorts of faiths. He always brought out the best in everyone. I took a lot away from his example and try to apply it to my practice. I live in the St. Joe’s neighbourhood and I like when I see my patients out and about. I remember biking home from work months ago and hearing people cheering and clanging their pots and pans. That meant a lot.

I took some time this summer to recharge. I joke that it was both the most normal and weirdest vacation I’ve ever had. We went to our family cottage in Nova Scotia, where my wife and I are originally from. We spent time with family at a safe distance while quarantining. It was good, but hard. It was so difficult to spend time with both my mom and my child, and they didn’t get to hug each other. I don’t know when I am going to see my family again, so it was really important for us to do that. Usually around this time of year, we start talking about Christmas and making plans.

That’s the hardest part; the uncertainty of where this is all going to go.

Dr. Mark Downing is the Associate Medical Director, Infection Control at St. Joseph’s Health Centre.

As told to Jennifer Stranges. Photos by Yuri Markarov. This interview has been edited and condensed.