Tag Archives: coronavirus

How To Get An NHS Doctor’s Appointment Today

Well, it’s a nightmare. It’s a battle. It’s hit and miss. It’s a protracted and exhausting procedure that I’m sure puts most people off bothering.

Today I suddenly broke and realised I can’t continue living the way I am – every day in pain and agony from my hip, back, knees, and head. Something isn’t right. I can’t cope with the pain any more. And why do I have all this pain anyway? What is WRONG with my hip, my back, my knees..? And why do I get a headache every single day and migraines most day? Why do I wake up every morning with a splitting headache? I honestly can’t take it any more. it’s making me a bad mother and a miserable human being. I need to make a doctor’s appointment.

BUT… Gone are the days when you simply pick up your phone, call the surgery, and book an appointment. Gone are the days when you can go online, select a day and time from the list, and make an appointment. No, no. You can’t do anything as simply or easily any more. Why? I do not know. Perhaps it’s because they’re using the coronavirus pandemic (that isn’t a pandemic in the UK now) as a continual EXCUSE to keep patients away so doctors can have an easy working day, but if so, this is a stupid strategy long term. We are all so ill and suffering, and we’re only getting worse and worse alone at home, making our injuries or diseases more complex and harder to treat every day that slips by that we don’t have any medical attention.

But back to my story. Having decided I need to see a doctor to find out what on earth is wrong with me, I went straight to my GP surgery’s website where I discovered that unfortunately I can’t do anything today or tomorrow because it’s the weekend and, naturally, the doctor’s are closed. You can’t phone, text, email, or fill out a form – they are shut, closed, offline. This is extremely inconvenient.

Meanwhile I’m resigned to the fact that, even on a weekday, I won’t be able to see a doctor face-to-face because… Coronavirus Excuse, so Monday (in two days’ time) is the earliest I’ll be able to fill out the electronic consultation form. I will hope against hope that the vicious triaging guard dogs allow the form to be seen by a doctor, and then hope that a doctor, any old doctor (I never see the same one twice) replies and sends me an email to say that I have permission to phone to book an appointment with him or her, by phone. It definitely won’t be a face-to-face appointment straight away because Coronavirus Excuse. I will then get on my knees my knees and pray that the appointment they make for me isn’t scheduled too far ahead in the future (and not at a time when I’m already doing something important – because I get no say at all about when my appointment will be. If you don’t accept the one they offer you, you get the feeling that there won’t be another one and you’re made to feel utterly ungrateful). It could be up to two weeks away. When I finally do get that precious telephone appointment, which will obviously be without any eye contact or body language or any physical examination, I will have to ensure I convince the doctor about how much pain I’m in every day, and how I can’t go on, and desperately need help. (Why does it have to be that I’m absolutely desperate before I seek help?) After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Most likely they’ll offer pain killers but no exploration as to what’s causing the problem. If I’m extremely, incredibly lucky, I may manage to somehow convince him or her to allow me to come into the surgery and sit down opposite them and have an actual real, life face-to-face appointment. This would be like some kind of miracle, a similar feeling to winning the lottery. If they examine me, they will be shocked at how much I’m suffering and FINALLY, I might actually get some help – hopefully a referral to a specialist. But in reality, a face-to-face appointment with a doctor is extremely unlikely.

This is what it’s like these days in the NHS. No exaggeration. It’s easier to get a hairdresser’s appointment, your nails done, a virgin media technician or even a plumber to come to your house. Massive problems are being stored up for the future and patients will be dying in their thousands because doctors – the first port of call for us ill and suffering people – are trying their best to keep us away as long as possible.

I’m usually proud of the UK and England, but right now I’m losing that. The GP service is not fit for purpose. The NHS is failing its people. God help you (me?) if it’s cancer.

What Does A Slipped Disc (Herniated Disc, Prolapsed Disc) in Your Back Feel Like?

The pain of a slipped disc in your lower back is a pinching, sharp, burning kind of pain. I describe it as “high-pitched.” It’s not an ache, or a pulsing a pain, it’s more of an intermittent sharp pinch. You can tell it’s nerve irritation and not anything to do with bones or muscles. For me, the pain of a slipped disc can’t be relieved by changing position. It makes no difference if I’m lying down or standing up, the pain is just as bad, resting doesn’t make it go away. If anything, resting makes it worse. Walking and moving feels better, sitting down in a chair increases the pain.

I use a hot water bottle on my back but when the pain from the prolapsed disc is bad it doesn’t really do anything. I could use ibuprofen but I don’t want to drug myself. I don’t like using medication to dull the pain. The pain is there for a reason, and I’d much rather be treated so that the pain doesn’t arise in the first place. When a slipped disc doesn’t get better over years or decades (as in my case) what are the treatment options? I wish I knew. I wish I was under a consultant. I wish I was receiving treatment.

But of course, you can’t get anywhere near a doctor or specialist these days. GPs aren’t minded to refer anyone, and triaging means that you rarely get through to a doctor anyway. The excuse for not seeing patients and keeping them at arm’s length is coronavirus, which doesn’t make sense because there’s barely any around now and we’re all vaccinated anyway. The severe triaging that goes on at GP surgeries, ensuring patients aren’t able to see doctors face-to-face, is a national disgrace. The protracted battle to get an appointment is exhausting and stressful and must put so many people off even trying. Which is the case with me. I have three or four problematic things wrong with me that I would love to get treated but I’m not even trying to get a doctor’s appointment. It’s a waste of time. They won’t see me. It’s a telephone appointment anyway and that goes nowhere. Lets hope I don’t have cancer, like so many others, who aren’t getting seen by the medical profession. We just live in discomfort and wait for a time when GP surgeries are forced by the Government to be welcoming to patients again.

Three Months of Grim Winter Lockdown Easing, at Last

The children are going back to school as this long winter lockdown finally begins to ease. In the UK, cases of Covid-19 are now low, most vulnerable and older people, including myself, have been vaccinated. I believe the chance of any of us getting the illness, and especially of getting it so severely that we need hospital treatment, is very low. At the moment I feel positive, more so than at any time in the past year (apart from perhaps July/August 2020).

I’d be happy for our children not to have to wear masks all day at school. I think it’s still a wise policy for adults in confined spaces, but for kids to have to wear them every day, six hours per day, is too much, and probably not even necessary. Let them be free, I say. I very much doubt my kids are going to give me, or anyone else, Covid, especially since they’ll be doing lateral flow tests every week.

Peace of Mind

I am three weeks on from my first Covid vaccination jab. From this time forwards the protection is working. My body has learnt what to do with the virus if it gets into my system. It gives me a great feeling of confidence and security when I’m out and about. I still wear my mask and wash my hands regularly of course, but there’s the knowledge in the back of my mind that if I were unfortunate enough to contract Covid-19 again, it wouldn’t be severe and I almost certainly wouldn’t need hospital treatment. Isn’t that astonishing? The virus only came into the human population in December 2019, and 12 months later we have a highly effective, widely available vaccine. It’s truly incredible.

I wish to God that the world would work just as fast on climate change. In my mind that is an even greater disaster than Covid and we don’t seem to be doing much about it.

Anxiety About Having It

Since being with Albert as he died, I’ve become more and more anxious thinking I might either have coronavirus or will get it soon. I didn’t know I was going to be sitting in a small room with a man dying of Covid before it actually happened. I’ve never done anything like that before in my life. It was a sudden event that happened without warning. I was given a blue paper mask, gloves, and an apron and told to go inside and sit with him quietly, maybe hold his hand, and keep him calm.

LUCKILY, so luckily, I’d had a conversation with my ex-husband, Paul, the day before, who’d asked about the PPE I would be wearing at hospital for my volunteering, and when I told him about the mask and gloves he said, “what about your eyes? You need protection for your eyes too.” I hadn’t thought of that, and it was a good point.

So just as I was about to go in and sit with Albert I said, “what about a visor, can I have one of those?” The nurse looked surprised and turned her head from side to side as if she’d no idea where any might be and why anyone would ask for such a thing, but I’d seen a small supply of them on a nearby trolley so was able to point them out. I strapped it on and went in.

Inside, Albert was moaning and lying in bed on a CPAP machine, which I subsequently discovered is an aerosol generating procedure (AGP), for which I should really have been wearing a FFP3 mask. But no-one was wearing that type, we were all using just the blue paper masks, even the nurse who hugged his body to her chest as we struggled to change the sheets on his bed.

I feel let down that I, as a volunteer, didn’t have it explained to me that I should be using a better mask than the normal paper ones, and that I wasn’t provided with one, or told to get one. I was just shoved in the room with my standard non-aerosol preventing paper mask. The same as everyone else.

I spent 50 minutes sitting a metre away from Albert, close enough to be able to hold his hand or stroke his leg. There was a window open behind the blinds so the room was aired, but you can’t see those tiny little aerosols – they’re so miniscule hundreds of them can fit on a human hair! And the gusts of storm Christophe were swirling in through the window, round the room, up into my nose and lungs, and back out through the window. I worry I breathed in many Covid aerosols through my paper mask that day. So now I’m just sitting here, hour after hour, waiting for symptoms to emerge.

My anxiety is getting the better of me. I’m imagining I have a sore throat or feeling breathless. I did this last year in April, and then the symptoms actually did turn out to be Covid. I don’t want that to happen again now, but there’s really nothing I can do about it. I was exposed to potentially huge amounts of aerosols of Covid-19 three days ago, and I can’t take that event back. All the nurses had no better protection and that is their daily job. Have they all been vaccinated and feel confident? Have they all had the virus and are now immune? Or are they just too busy, too caught up in their job rushing from one thing to another to worry about what kind of mask they’re wearing? Or are they not provided with any? I think this last is the most likely reason, and if so, that’s really not good enough.

My plan for me is to continue living my life, keep away from people, wear my mask, wash my hands, stay out of contact with everyone until next Friday, when I will take a Covid test. By then it will have been ten days since the exposure and if I’m going to get it, surely that will have been enough time for sufficient viral load to amass in the back of my nose and throat to show up in a test? I really don’t want a false negative test result.

If, when (yes, I must think when) I get a negative result back from that test I will give myself a reward, out of pure relief. Perhaps I should spend the next seven days deciding exactly what that should be.

In the meanwhile, just to comfort myself, I bought a pulse oximeter from Amazon (to arrive tomorrow) so I can monitor my blood oxygen levels. This evening Jack said he had a sore throat and I think I also have one. But lets hope it’s either a normal cold coming on or our imaginations.

Please God!

Update on Albert

This morning I went back to the hospital to volunteer, and to enquire about Albert. I didn’t sleep well last night and my whole body ached. Staying with him during his last hour or two of life had affected me more than I thought it would. I found out that he died not long after I left the room.

That’s one man. One man in one room on one ward in one hospital in one town in one county in England. And this tragedy is being repeated throughout the world. It’s devastating and unbearable if you allow yourself to properly think about it.

Goodbye, Albert. Though I’d never met you before, and we only spent 45 minutes together, I loved you and I’ll never for get you. Those moments were intimate, desperate, and anguished, but you’re in a better place now. Your suffering is over.

Our vulnerable and frail elderly don’t deserve to die like that. Nobody does of course. Euthanasia would have brought his suffering to an end a lot sooner. It’s a great shame that he wasn’t allowed to “die with dignity” and avoid the days of terrible pain he endured without hope of recovery.

What I don’t understand is that if I, a complete stranger, was able to sit and be with Albert in his final moments, why couldn’t it have been one of his relatives? That might have been a lot nicer for him.

These Covid times, the whole of 2020 and into 2021, are wretched indeed.

Witnessing The Struggle

This post is for ALBERT.

Albert is an elderly, frail black man with dementia, lying in a hospital room by himself, struggling for every breath, coughing up thick phlegm, unable to communicate, suffering so much and dying of Covid. He is in his last few hours or days (if he’s unlucky). He can’t speak. He’s half out of his mind and quite terrified.

He is there now, still in that dreary room with all the blinds closed, with nothing to see or do except fight the internal fight caused by his lungs being almost totally filled up with gunge and his organs slowly failing.

I sit here and type at my desk, writing this blog as a catharsis, as a way to get Albert some witness to his suffering.

This was my first shift as a Covid volunteer. I have no medical training but when I found out that my local hospital was close to being overwhelmed and was extremely short-staffed, I thought I should offer my services. I myself wouldn’t want to go into hospital and there be no staff to look after me. At least a volunteer is better than no-one. At least, if nothing else, I can sit and give comfort.

I think I did that today. As Albert grunted and coughed and wheezed, I held his hand and stroked his leg and talked from time to time about ordinary every-day things. I told him there was a storm coming and the wind was strong and we’d had rain over night. I described the view outside the window that he couldn’t see. I told him what people were doing right now – preparing lunch, boiling rice, cooking sauce, washing up, walking to the corner shop to get the newspaper, taking their dogs for walks. But about half the time we sat in silence too. I didn’t want to continuously chatter. He continuously groaned though.

Once I held his hand, but he gently pulled it away out of my grasp. He didn’t want that. Another time he held out his other arm towards me, moaning a bit. He didn’t form any words so I wasn’t sure if he was trying to tell me anything specific. I noticed that a bit of the sticky tape on the back of his hand where the cannula was had come unstuck, but I didn’t know whether that was something to mention to a nurse or not. Although if I had wanted to mention it there was no-one within reach. Outside this little room everyone was busy. Nursing staff were gathered from all over the hospital and not in their usual stations. People didn’t know where gauze was, or where the visors were kept.

Albert felt cold to my touch, very cold. I told him this, and searched around the room for an extra blanket and heaped it on top of him.

After 45 minutes a phlebotomist came in to take some bloods and noticed the cannula wasn’t in the back of Albert’s hand, and that, in fact, the IV fluids had been discharging onto the bed and he was lying in a pool of cold, wet sheets. How hadn’t I noticed?! I was horrified! Was that what he had been trying to communicate when he was reaching out his hand a couple of times? I have no idea. I put my head outside the door and asked for a nurse to come and help. She was busy typing on a mobile phone and said she couldn’t do two things at once, but she would come soon. I understood.

I felt so sorry for Albert, who was now lying without covers in the freezing cold. The window was open of course. Ventilation is extremely important, I was grateful for that. But it is winter, and if you’re lying in water in a thin hospital gown it must have felt bitterly cold.

It wasn’t long before the nurse and I were rolling Albert over, yanking the wet sheets out from under him, and tucking a dry one in place. A fresh sheet and blanket were put back over him, but privately I didn’t think that would be anywhere near enough to keep him warm. He was skeletally thin and could have done with a duvet, but that wasn’t going to happen.

Not long after that, with Albert all the time moaning and struggling for breath, I doffed my PPE (visor, mask, gloves, and thin plastic apron) into the appropriate bin, and washed my hands in the sink up to my elbows. Outside, nurses were hurrying to and fro, busy, so busy, tasks piled high. I walked round the corner and stood in the corridor against the wall watching the commotion, thinking of Albert, now completely alone, fighting his last fight, probably still freezing cold.

No-one paid me any attention. No-one had any time. I didn’t know where the task force leader was, or who was the most senior nurse to ask what I should do next; but honestly, I didn’t want to do anything else next. It was a baptism of fire and I felt a little overwhelmed. Soon I went to the staff room, collected my things, and headed off to the redeployment hub to tell them I was going home. We had a quick debrief, which I found helpful. They were very sympathetic – for everything, for the whole situation, for me, for Albert.

I went home, had a shower, and made up my mind to hug my children closer than usual this evening. Covid is cruel to the elderly. I hated seeing this man’s suffering. Apparently he has great grandchildren. But he has to lie and die alone. Relatives aren’t allowed in the ward. It’s heartbreaking..

I’ll think of Albert for a long time. My next shift is tomorrow, and if I get sent back into the Covid black ward I’ll ask after him, see if I can sit with him again. I’ll let you know.

People: Wear your masks. Keep your distance. Help prevent people like Albert from suffering and dying.

The Cooking Problem

It’s Day 2 of the January national lockdown and I have cooked ALL the dishes and ALL the recipes, and now I don’t know WHAT to cook for the seven meals the kids will require tomorrow.

We’ve already had:
Pasta
Risotto
Pizza
Salad
Vegetables
Frittata
Sausages
Baked potatoes
Cold meat
Fish fingers
Curry
Chinese takeaway
Baked beans on potato waffles
Scrambled eggs

School lunches may not be very nice (especially with the lack of a salad buffet) but at least I didn’t have to dream them up day after day.

Looking in the fridge for inspiration I see:
7 x mini yoghurts
One block of cheese
A few vegetables

I’ve already spent ALL my money on ALL the food, but I’ll have to go to the supermarket yet again tomorrow. I’m going every other day and spending about £50. This can’t go on!

Basically, It’s Lockdown 3.0

Our area is now in Tier 4, a newly created extra strict Covid safety tier that means there is a stay-at-home order, and we can only meet one other person, outside. Christmas is cancelled. The new mutated version of Covid-19 is up to 70% more contagious than the first, which is very alarming, so I accept we need to follow the rules and keep safe.

We are now living in Narnia. An everlasting winter has descended. To keep our spirits up and get us through the festive season we’re going to pull together as a family, stay inside, watch films, and play board games. I’ll order our groceries online and we’ll go for one walk or bike ride per day. I’ve bought a skipping rope too, so I’ll be popping into the back garden to get my heart rate up, hopefully once a day. I’m organised. I’m prepared. We can do this.

Trump is History!

Or will be as soon as January comes along.

The American people have come to their senses and voted for Democrat Joe Biden to become the 46th president of the United States of America. Thank goodness. Proper Covid measures can at last be brought in to protect the people (mainly from themselves) and the US can now rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and the WHO. Nasty, aggressive, policies brought in by Trump can be reversed and deleted. What a relief. Democracy is back in America. Everyone I know is delighted.

Meanwhile the UK is on Day five of Lockdown 2.0. We’re doing okay. I’m taking the children for walks at the weekends and they’re still going to school during the day, so nothing much changes for us, which is good. No eating out though. No going swimming, visiting the shops, or meeting up with friends. No getting professional haircuts. Paul and I did Jack’s hair with clippers in the kitchen on Saturday, and to our surprise it came out very well. Saved us £10! We may continue with this after lockdown (if he’ll let us).