Marie Benoit’s Diary: Chronicles of a dentist caught in the pandemic

Dr Klaus Vella Bardon is a dentist and has a twin brother. There is also a younger brother, eight years their junior. They had an idyllic upbringing in St Paul’s Bay, throughout the Fifties, where their father was the village doctor.

 Klaus graduated in Malta in 1970 and then studied at the dental school of Dundee 1970/71. He opened a clinic in Malta in 1972 and worked in Libya and did locums in Abu Dhabi for a brief period. He found that the vast expanse of sand and sea had a great impact on his spiritual maturation.

His wife Susan and himself have been married for over 44 years and they have been blessed with four children.

He has worked on various committees and associations and is now involved with Life Network Malta.

Klaus loves music and is a skillful player of the accordian. He is also a regular and followed contributor to the local press.

How were his lockdown days?

“As news of the Coronavirus pandemic intensified, my wife Susan and I were visiting our daughter in Ghent, Belgium. We were enjoying mild late winter weather in early March and most of the days of our short ten-day holiday were remarkably sunny. Due to their central heating, living indoors in Belgium is much more congenial than it is back home. Although at the time, Belgium seemed totally indifferent to the pandemic, Susan was getting alarming messages of the looming pandemic from Malta on her smartphone. I persist on using a basic cell phone and thus live in blissful ignorance unlike so many others who spend every waking minute scrolling through the endless information that floods the Internet.

On a positive note, together with our daughter, we were able to visit a Ghent museum and see the splendid exhibition of Van Eyck as people had started to cancel their bookings. There would otherwise have been no chance of visiting this highly regarded event as it had been booked up for weeks.

The gravity of the pandemic struck us very suddenly as Susan and I were on our return trip to Malta on the 12th of March. We were hoping to travel home before any measures were taken. We were hit by the new measures as we were trooping down the tunnel towards the awaiting Air Malta plane. The passengers were all ordered to stop and wait. Wait we did for almost two hours, standing up in close proximity. A young Italian stood in front of me and being aware that Northern Italy was starting to be really badly hit by soaring mortality rates, it was rather worrying. No official bothered to show his face. The reason was obvious. They were scared out of their wits and were awaiting instructions as we stood and waited. It always amazes me how people will meekly put up with inconvenience when gripped by fear of the unknown. I was furious, and when we were cheerily greeted as we went aboard the plane without even an apology, I could not resist a few strong comments. We were told there would be no cabin service on the way home. That was no great loss for me.

We arrived in Malta at 23:45, just fifteen minutes before the requirement of a two week quarantine came into effect. Despite being 72-years-old, I still work as a dentist and feel relatively fit. My son and his friend now own and manage the dental practice that I had started in June 1972. Being on the frontline exposed to people’s saliva, dentists are particularly at risk and draconian measures were taken immediately. We are a small dental group practice, yet all the staff over sixty were given marching orders to stay at home until further notice. Malta was suddenly in lockdown and Belgium followed suit a few days later with my daughter and her husband having to close down their small family-run restaurant.

Suddenly, I found myself marooned at home with Susan for an indefinite period. My youngest son, who still lives at home, was on the final run of his last year at University leading to a degree in Linguistics and Chinese. I ended up seeing much more of him than I had ever done before. Malta was in a state of panic as no one really knew what to expect as we were inundated with grim news from abroad. Susan lives up to the Boy Scout motto and is always prepared and like Robinson Crusoe made sure we were equipped for the siege. I found myself with plenty of time to read, watch long television series and find time to pray the Rosary, a habit that is indulged in less and less in the modern lifestyles that cram one’s day with endless activity. As I read well into the night and early morning, my usually disciplined schedule went haywire. Luckily, I have a Concept 2 rowing machine, so I got down to a daily routine of half an hour of stiff exercise clocking over 6 km daily. It is a superb physical training system as unlike treadmills it has no carbon footprint and unlike jogging you do not place stress on the joints. It also involves most of one’s body’s muscle systems. The improved physical fitness boosted my morale living up to the maxim ‘Healthy mind in healthy body’. I strongly feel that the gym is the best treatment for low spirits and depression.

Another bonus was to be able to have lunch with the family on time and have the freedom to indulge in leisurely chats. This is a luxury, I only had on weekends. Also, Malta was largely deserted so Susan and I escaped to what is left of Malta’s rapidly diminishing wilderness and indulged in bracing treks along the coast of various locations in Malta. The particularly cold weather of the dying winter made such forays all the more enjoyable. It was gratifying to see farmers at work despite some looking well advanced in age. Thanks to our largely aging farming community, a neglected and dying breed, we are still assured of a fresh and local supply of fruit and vegetables. On the downside, going outdoors one was hit with the disruption of endless roadworks and construction that, all in all, has accelerated its uglification.

I am happy to have now returned back to work, albeit on a much restricted basis as Covid has made working much more hazardous, demanding much higher standards of management plus an enormous increase in the use and waste of disposables. I am pleased to be able to attend Mass again and partake in the sacraments. Three times a week, I even man the door with a temperature gun, as the Church has a very strict regime when allowing people to go to Mass. All in all, Covid has been a game changer and the authorities are faced with the unenviable dilemma of balancing health security against the pressing need to get people back to work and return life to normal.


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