The Lockdown Diaries 7: Unwell? This Is Why You Must Come Forward
People with suspected conditions are not coming forward for treatment because they are now frightened of hospitals, despite doctors urging them to seek attention. This post is for them.
In March I found myself propelled into a situation more serious than facing a virus – overnight I managed to hit the ‘Extreme Risk’ register on four separate counts just before Lockdown began.
After a GP consultation, my scan was cancelled. Hospitals suddenly shut down wards. I’m NHS because they’re better than private clinics for serious illnesses (any private doctor will tell you so) but suddenly every doctor everywhere was in a meeting.
Several NHS medics tried to admit me but it was my local GP who finally managed it, tracking me down to warn me that there was a real danger of getting left outside the system. I was diagnosed with a rare cancer requiring urgent treatment.
The UK was on its way to becoming the centre of the epidemic in Europe, and London the centre of that centre, and King’s Cross – the busiest crossing point in the entire country – the centre of that centre. So to be diagnosed in the bull’s eye of an epidemic was unnerving.
The NHS had to rethink their protocols from scratch. Everyone will tell you that the NHS is brilliant at triage. I was admitted at a time of astonishing upheaval. From online articles and brochures you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s a guardian angel of cancer ( a ‘navigator’, apparently) who’ll organise your regime, treatments, prescriptions and mental healthcare. Right now no such person exists.
You cannot be passive through the process. You must be pro-active, aware, ready to adapt and on the lookout for system failures. Familiarise yourself with the physical layout of your hospital; you’ll be seeing lots of different parts of it. Virtually every family I know has someone who works or has worked in the NHS and has advice.
The NHS does not prescribe excessively; they’ll suggest simple over-the-counter remedies rather than throw antibiotics at you. I can’t be given painkillers because they mask coronavirus symptoms. No punches are pulled; one nurse told me, ‘By Week 3 we’ll be your worst enemy. You’ll be in pain and want to kill us.’
My biggest worry was beginning daily treatments at a busy hospital in many different departments; chemo, radiotherapy, white-cell injections, bloods, pharmacies and so on. But within days there were protection systems that worked, with ID checks, sanitisers, masks and gloves in place (not always, but it was rare that a nurse wouldn’t pull a spare mask from a pocket and say, ‘Have one of mine’).
Physically getting to the hospital became a challenge because I don’t own a car. By my third trip I no longer had any fears about entering the hospital as a high-risk patient. The process was messy but not chaotic, and improved every day. Instead of receptionists, bar codes. Instead of crowded waiting rooms, spaced areas.
The government’s bad start on PPE (which continues, with 100,000 faulty gowns sitting at a Turkish airport because they were ordered without checking safety standards) caused many deaths. Along with much of Europe it failed to foresee a care homes crisis, but appears to have learned from the false start.
What it has shown us is that most private outsourcing is wrong and useless. I spent days on phones and email trying to get a code by which you can have food delivered. By the time it eventually reached me it didn’t work. The private delivery companies had all closed their lists. So my perfectly healthy neighbours can access deliveries by lying about their vulnerability while I am shut out.
As Lockdown eases slightly in the UK, people are largely heeding instructions, with some neighbourhoods edging toward a new kind of normality. The Queen’s speech reiterated the safety message and helped to reaffirm the need for caution. I suspect she is heeded more than any politician.
After treatment yesterday we walked in the woodlands next to the hospital (at the site of ‘The Lonely Hour’ murder) and felt calm. Almost happy.
It’s too early to tell whether the NHS system has worked for me. But if you’re not in it, you are not being diagnosed and the problem will worsen. Be a part of it, no matter how scared you are, and make the call. Get it started today. Confrontation can only bring peace of mind.