To Go Or Not To Go

On the morning of the appointment, I still hadn’t made up my mind whether I was going to attend or not. I’d spent the evening yoyo-ing from one decision to the next. I should go, I shouldn’t, I should go, I shouldn’t. I debated it in my head whilst watching TV, I debated it in the early hours when I awoke, and I debated it the next morning over my boiled eggs. After six months of having my Pulmonary Hypertension monitored from afar, my consultants had now decided they wanted face-to-face PH clinics in hospitals to return. And I was one of the first up to go. Scary!

Back in March, when the pandemic began, my doctors cancelled all face-to-face routine appointments, and postponed all tests and procedures. Instead check-ups were carried out over telephone, queries answered via email, and patients took responsibility for monitoring themselves. It was one of the many silver linings of lockdown (read the blog). Even after shielding was paused, my consultants were reluctant for hospital visits to return, and so Autumn appointments with my PH and respiratory and transplant teams were all booked in as virtual online ones. Much to my relief.

So when my PH team unexpectedly rang me, saying they’d now decided to return to face-to-face meets, I was nervous. On one hand, after a hiatus of six months, I knew that my body needed to be checked and tested, so any potential issues could be sorted before they escalated. And with flu season fast approaching, now was probably safer than the upcoming months. Furthermore, with a vaccine not guaranteed, and the virus going nowhere, I needed to adapt and find safe ways to attend hospital, as avoidance isn’t a long term solution.

But I didn’t want to go. I was nervous. Oxford Heart Centre is bang in the centre of the main hospital, meaning I would need to navigate corridors of people just to get there. Plus it is normally big and busy. The waiting room seats tens of patients, and heaps of staff are always busying around; so social distancing would be hard. Furthermore as it has no windows, I’d be breathing in other people’s air for three or four hours! And to top it off, they needed me to do the six minute walk test (6MWT). I’d score atrociously if I did so whilst wearing a mask (I can only walk very slowly wearing a face covering), or risk catching the dreading virus if I did it mask-less to achieve a fair and accurate result! I could’t decide what to do.

In the end, I put my trust in the hospital and got in the car. And thankfully my worries were unwarranted as they’d implemented many changes to make it safer. Phew! 😀 There were fewer people in the main hospital building: there were no groups as all patients had to attend alone, and the car park was only half full. Signs on the floor of the corridors showed direction of travel, and all doors had been opened. There were Covid rule reminder posters everywhere, and everyone was following them by wearing masks and staying apart. At the heart centre, the receptionists were behind screens, and we had to wash our hands on arrival. There was a new one-way system in place, and they’d taped off most of the seats in the waiting room to keep people apart. Thankfully they’d drastically reduced the number of patients they were seeing- at their busiest, there were five folks waiting. Staff were all masked and gowned and gloved up, and the same person did multiple tests to reduce contact with others. My bloods were done in the centre, instead of sending me to the main hospital phlebotomist, and I was finished in two hours- half the normal time! And the dilemma with the 6MWT was solved by completing it at home with my own oximeter! 🙂

I also had my own strategies to keep safe. I stayed in the car until my appointment slot to reduce time in the hospital. I wore my mask and visor the whole time, and donned clothes that could be removed without displacing them. I washed my hands whenever I saw a sink, and showered as soon as I got home.

And I’m really pleased I went. 🙂 After six months of self-monitoring, it was reassuring to have it all confirmed with clinical tests. Amazingly, wonderfully, thankfully, my body is still doing great. My super heart is coping admirably and looks completely normal. And I walked my furthest distance yet -490m- on the 6MWT (previous best 460m)! Wahoooo! Well done wonderful body. Thank you for another super summer of solar powered Sarah, and thank you for staying healthy and stable during the first coronavirus wave! Fingers crossed for the next six months.

Living with a terminal illness during a pandemic is scary. Hard. Daunting. Many a time I’ve wanted to shut my door, stay home and avoid places of risk. But as tempting as that option is, I need to find safe ways to live and survive in this new corona world. And as a chronic illness patient, that survival relies on attending hospital visits! Tests and check-ups and meetings and appointments and procedures keep me alive, so they need to continue… but in the safest possible way. Yes, hospitals are risky, but the benefit of continued medical care, far outweighs it. 🙂

I need to remind myself of that, next time I’m debating whether to go! 😛

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