Going Into The Lion’s Den

It was the last place on earth I wanted to be during a pandemic. The last place. After four months of shielding, of staying home, of seeing no one. After 16 weeks of washing my shopping, quarantining my mail, not answering the door. After 113 days of doing everything I could do to keep myself safe and away from the coronavirus… it felt oh so very wrong to be voluntarily going into a hospital. A danger zone. A hub of illness and germs! But as I put on my mask and visor and scootered towards the lions den, I repeated the mantra “Short term pain, long term gain”. And crossed all my fingers that the lion wouldn’t bite! πŸ™‚

Since getting diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension, I’ve come to know the phlebotomists at my doctor’s surgery really well. πŸ˜‰ I see them a lot. Far too often! Over the past seven years, they’ve stabbed me with hundreds of needles and drained off countless vials of blood, to monitor the effects of my medication. Most tests only need checking monthly. But my INR level (how quickly my blood clots) can at times, need monitoring weekly, or even daily if it’s playing up! And as I’ve been too unwell to drive for most of my illness, someone has to take me each time. For the first couple of years, Phil had to be in his work building all day every day. And as we’d only moved into our new home six months prior, so knew no one local; my wonderful Dad would drive sixty miles to my house, to take me to be tested. So kind! πŸ™‚ But I would regularly need extra tests on top; so Phil would have to request ‘carers leave’ every time, to chauffeur me over. It was tricky. Early on, I found out that I could test my blood clotting level at home (without the need for big painful needles too! πŸ˜€ ) if I bought a self-monitor machine, and got my GP to supply the disposable testing strips. But my doctor claimed they were too expensive, and turned down my request. Booooooo. Each surgery is independent and can make that decision themselves. So for the past seven years, I’ve gone to them… and talked dogs and holidays whilst being jabbed!

But all that changed with the coronavirus pandemic. As previously explained (see the blog), my Pulmonary Hypertension consultant wanted me well away from hospitals and doctors, so gave me permission to only test my bloods every three months… except the INR check. This would still need doing. I obviously ignored the second part, and stayed well away from all tests! πŸ˜‰ For fourteen weeks! At that point, my GP, recognizing the pandemic wasn’t going to end any time soon, and I wasn’t going to conform and go in regularly like before… agreed to fund the strips for me! πŸ˜› I could self-monitor at last! However, they then broke the news that I would have to go into hospital to have blood tests and a lesson at the warfarin clinic, before that could happen! Doh!

But I knew the stress and worry and short term pain… would be worth it. πŸ™‚ With a strong possibility of a second wave and further shielding come Autumn, it was vital I set it up to allow me to stay well away from my GP for longer. So I donned mask and visor, and put on my brave face… and entered the lions den. And it was strange. Not normal. It was unlike any hospital visit before. The corridors were unusually quiet- I saw just three other patients in the whole building! All members of staff wore masks, and their social distancing was impressive… lots of strange maneuvering and dancing! There were posters about the coronavirus everywhere: ‘Keep apart, wear masks, don’t come to hospital, order a test, don’t sit near anyone, wash hands’. There were distance marker footsteps down every corridor, and gels at every door. And the department I was visiting was locked to stop randoms from bumbling in… I had to ring a phone and confirm I had no symptoms before I could enter. They’d already asked me these same questions the night before, when they’d rang me at home to check I was Covid free! The large waiting room had only a few chairs which were well spread out, and it was empty of patients, as they’d cancelled their drop-in clinics and were only booking in people one at a time. My lovely nurse -who was dressed in complete PPE- merged three teaching sessions into one, as quickly as she could- so I needn’t visit again.

It was all very odd. Weird. But actually those changes and differences were comforting and reassuring, as I could see they were actively trying to reduce virus transmisson. And as I also had my own plan and methods to keep safe, I felt really calm. What would be, would be. If I caught the virus, it would be down to pure bad luck… not my thoughtlessness or careless behaviour, nor their negligence. There is great comfort in knowing you’ve done your best, and you couldn’t have done anything more. I just hope the lions were sleeping! πŸ˜›

After that, I had to practice practice practice with my new machine at home (Β£300 if you were interested! :-/ ). Before braving my local GP surgery (yes I went in for the first time! Small steps! πŸ™‚ ) for a final INR test to check their venous reading, was the same as my little machine. It was. Thank goodness. And last Friday, I had an online consultation with the warfarin clinic at the hospital, so they could test me and finally sign me off. It was my first video appointment- and what a game changer. No wasted travel time, no parking fees, no hours spent in the waiting room. No need to get dressed, no need for a chauffeur… and no chance of catching the virus! It was so much safer, quicker, easier. I hope they continue to use video appointments after the pandemic is over.

So now it’s up to me and my little finger-prick machine, to monitor my blood clotting level going forward. It can play up as much as it wants now, demand all the extra tests it needs, and I won’t mind. ‘Cause from now on, they’ll be no big needles, no wasted time, no need for chauffeurs, and no lions den! Yay! Short term pain, long term gain. πŸ™‚


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