There’s no denying it: hospitals are scary. You know they’re there to help you, but just like the sound of a dentist’s drill, the idea of being poked and prodded in a building full of sick people – or being told you’re sick yourself – is enough to keep most people away.
This is usually bad enough by itself, but when you add in the paranoia-producing fear of Covid-19, things get worse. Why would you go anywhere near a place for sick people when one of them could be carrying the very virus responsible for a global pandemic? Together, these fears can bubble into a concoction strong enough to deter you from getting the medical attention you may need – so I’m going to try and alleviate some of your worries with an anecdote of my recent time at hospital.
After a call to 111 I was ordered into hospital in October due to serious (but non-coronavirus) related symptoms. I was worried about what kind of procedures I would have to go through, as many of us are, but ultimately I trusted the hospital’s judgement. What was scarier was the idea of entering a treatment centre during a pandemic, and this fear stayed with me for a while. I’d heard of the PPE shortages, and that hospitals were underprepared and overwhelmed. What if I’m sat waiting next to someone who is infected? What if someone is refusing to wear a mask? What if I walk past a contaminated ward by accident? What if I catch… it?
"Everyone I had seen wore their masks, every patient waiting had kept their distance, and every staff member washed their hands between patients - even while seeing them."
Luckily, I wasn’t left with too much time for these fears to stew, though they were simmering at the back of my mind. I was quickly seen, evaluated, and allocated to a ward for further testing. Everyone I had seen wore their masks, every patient waiting had kept their distance, and every staff member washed their hands between patients - even while seeing them. Temperature checks and hand sanitisation were part of the entry procedure, as was a quick-fire question list checking new patients for common Covid-19 symptoms. Of course, masks were mandatory, and any patient over 16 that could had to enter alone. The hospital was clearly taking every precaution they could, and I started to feel a little safer.
I continued to relax once I was taken to my own room for more tests. It was situated right in front one of the ‘standing offices’ for the ward, where all the patient data for the rooms close to mine was monitored by staff. It was also the closest ward to the A&E department, so ambulance crews would often come in and chat to staff while they waited for a call, or to inform colleagues on the condition of individuals they have returned with. My room’s large sliding door was mostly closed to keep me feeling safe, but open just a crack –so I could listen while I waited.
For the most part, I started to forget where I was, the mask I was wearing, and above all else, I even started to forget my fears. It felt like I was watching a hospital drama as I listened to the staff try and find a certain drug or talk about how long their shift had been – some staff members had been working for over twelve hours: the NHS deserve so much more than they get. Any doctors or nurses that did come into see me were polite, wore their masks, washed their hands as they came and went, and gave me absolutely no reason to worry. When they left, I just shifted my attention back to the big glass TV while I waited for the next visitor.
The word jumped out to me from the conversation outside my room. I immediately tuned in, and heard that a patient in the ward next to mine had tested positive. Measures were being put in place as they spoke, but my mind was boiling over. What could I do? It’s not like I could leave the hospital as I was, and I needed treatment from the staff… staff that now could be contaminated. Would I catch it?
The next person to come in wasn’t the doctor, but rather one of the catering staff. They wanted to know what I wanted for tea. I answered calmly, but I was now worrying even more. I knew it was irrational, but I couldn’t’t stop convincing myself that my food would arrive contaminated. When it did come, I was relieved to see it sheltered by a metal top (and plastic wrap where possible), and that its bearer had assured me it was sanitary before I even opened my mouth. I thought I would have had a hard time getting myself to eat it, but the only thing that ended up stopping me had been how hot the food was.
"For the most part, I started to forget where I was, the mask I was wearing, and above all else, I even started to forget my fears."
Shortly after, a doctor came in with my final test results. They knew what was wrong, and were well-versed in treating my symptoms. In fact, the resident specialist in that group of illnesses happened to be having her one day a week on the premises that evening. After a hand wash, she was able to explain what was going on and how it would be treated. With a full stomach, an understanding of what was causing my symptoms, and a clear plan laid to treat it, I felt myself relax as I was left again to the glass screen.
Finally, the doctor came in for the last time. I was stable enough to move back to the waiting room so the bed could free up, and once I had the medicine I needed I would be discharged – with regular check-ups. As I was escorted back into the waiting area, I noticed that I was passing the corridor that led to the Covid-positive ward. The public entrance had been blocked off with cling film, and a piece of paper reading ‘COVID: NO ENTRY’ was taped to it. The hospital really was doing everything in their power to protect its patients.
During every appointment I’ve had since, the hospital have had a small team on the main door, masked and armed with hand sanitisers. Each ward entrance has had masked guards standing by with temperature guns. Masks are mandatory for everyone able to wear them, social-distancing and one-way systems fill the hospital, and everything that can be sanitised is. I stopped feeling anxious about my visits, and I haven’t yet got ill - let alone contracted the virus.
My takeaway from this is that hospitals know that they house sick people and so prepare accordingly. Their staff are experts in health, and were taking every reasonable precaution to keep everyone inside the hospital safe, even before the pandemic. Now they take even more precautions. If you need to go to hospital (or even to your GP), go – don’t let the pandemic stop you. These are the best-trained people to keep you safe, and the chances are that if you’ve been given a physical appointment, you need that treatment. Going without will be a much higher risk to your health than that of catching Covid-19, and seemingly against all logic, a hospital is one of the safest places for you to be during a pandemic – if you have to be there.
So please, don’t let the pandemic stop you getting the treatment you need.