Welcome to the sport where each week we chat about mental health and wellbeing: this time, a chat about hospital appointments.

Hello and welcome to Wellbeing Matters, a weekly spot for a natter here on Film Stories. Everyone is welcome, virtual hugs for free.

We’re all aware that there’s a pandemic going on, and that things are not normal. Accessing medical care, whether it be routine treatment of emergency, has become a strange experience. I’m undergoing a fair number of diagnostic tests at the moment, and thought it might be helpful to share a few things I’ve experienced along the way.

Please note, I’m not a medical practitioner, and if you have any acute medical concerns or symptoms you should contact your primary care providers or emergency services as quickly as possible.

Like many people, I’ve been locked in a home-based bubble during most of the pandemic. I have a jitterbug heart, and had been due to undergo routine testing and treatment pre-pandemic. All my spring hospital appointments were cancelled.

While it was understandable, it was also quite distressing. I knew I had an underlying illness affecting my heart, but I couldn’t access diagnostic treatment. I couldn’t easily access my GP for reassurance. I was in limbo. And I doubt I was alone. Thousands of people have been excluded from what would normally be routine treatment for four or five months.

As my symptoms worsened (in part due to being unable to exercise as normal through lockdown), I received a phone call from the hospital which talked me through my concerns, and came up with a conservative symptom management plan. If you find yourself in limbo, it may be worth contacting either your GP or your hospital contact to ask if you can do the same. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it did help set a framework to manage both symptoms and fear, and gave me a clear point of contact.

In August I took the decision to reactivate my hospital outpatient appointments, when the service reopened. It was frightening just contemplating physically entering the hospital. I’ve not been in public buildings or crowds since March. The prospect of being physically examined or having bloods taken by someone not in my bubble was daunting.

I need not have worried. My hospital has been excellent. There are sanitation units at each entry point. Temperature checks performed by strange machines that beam into your eyes, or staff poking devices in your ears. There were never too many people in one place, with waiting rooms well ventilated and seats cleaned as soon as someone vacates them.

Some things it might be helpful to note:

  • Do use the sanitation points and free masks at entry points, wash your hands. Latex gloves were available if wanted. Keep the mask on over both nose and chin both inside, and in the public areas outside
  • Do observe the social distancing measures that might be in place, such as one-way systems and two metre distancing at check in points, in queues. The door you may normally use to enter may now only be in use for people leaving the building
  • Read any correspondence about your visit before going, and observe the measures suggested in there. For me, this included attending on my own (no emotional support husband allowed), or not turning up early for appointments (I did this and was scolded and sent outside to repent in the cold)
  • If you are concerned about any aspect of going to hospital or your local primary care centre, call and talk to them in advance to see what measures are in place. Everyone I’ve been in contact with has been very helpful, and most of all, reassuring.

Take a deep breath, steady yourself. Medical appointments are stressful in normal circumstances. Watching my own heart jitterbug on a screen added a surreal dimension to it. I have another four appointments over the next month, but hopefully at the end I will have a much clearer idea of what’s wrong, and how to treat it.  That in itself will bring huge relief to the anxiety I’ve been experiencing.

Everyone – from the cleaners, receptionists, porters, cardiac investigation staff, nurses and doctors – were thoughtful, respectful and professional. Do your bit, and accord them the same courtesy. On leaving my last appointment, I heard one member of staff at a sanitising station confiding in another colleague about how she’d been reduced to tears by the attitudes of people the previous day, when asked to wear masks. Don’t be a dick. We’re all trying to get through this best we can.

Finally, if you are feeling unwell or have concerns about any aspect of your health, but are unsure about how to navigate the system right now, don’t be discouraged. Keep trying to get support, to get answers. If you are struggling, perhaps ask for support from a patient advocacy service, such as NHS PALS.

Thanks for reading, stay well and take very good care of yourselves.

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