Covid-19 Diaries A Visit To The Hospital

07 December 20

Posted at 5:41

Lister HospitalLister Hospital Stevenage

It’s the 7th December 2020, tomorrow the first vaccinations against Covid-19 will be administered to health workers and the over 80 year olds in or visiting some designated hospitals. The first day of what will be months of vaccinations in order to cover the whole population, well those who wish to be vaccinated.

Today I had to visit the hospital for some, hopefully routine, blood tests. I’ve visited the Lister Hospital for blood tests a number of times over the years. Thankfully none have shown up anything serious but for instance I insist on a PSA test for prostrate cancer every year having a close friend with the condition, thankfully caught early enough for treatment, and a number of other friends and acquaintances who have either died from or are suffering with the condition.

I’ve always found attending the hospital for a blood test an unpleasant experience. It is always so busy! So busy in fact people who I assume are regulars get there up to an hour before the pathology unit opens at 8 o clock. They are issued a number and at eight o clock they can sign in by numerical order to sit in the waiting room. This practice means that anyone arriving at 8 o clock or just after joins a crowded waiting room with a hour or two wait for the thirty second job of having blood samples taken. The waiting room queue is therefore very long all day. The first time I went there I arrived around 8 am and joined the crowded waiting room not then being aware of the early morning number allocation system. The second time I went I actually arrived about 0730 and still found myself being allocated number 31 which I could use half an hour later to join others in the waiting room.

Remember these experiences were ages ago and pre pandemic. Never the less I found them stressful. First of all many of those in the crowded room looked visibly ill, not a surprise I guess but off putting when bundled together like sardines. Of course nobody wore face coverings so there was coughing and spluttering, groans and moans and often some frayed tempers. The phlebotomists would enter the waiting room from the cubicles, pick up the next patients papers and call out their name. Due to the crowded nature of the room, shuffling, stirring and muttering often the name was unclear, tow or three people might get up and move forwards, others would tut and mutter as it was not their name. The name would now be called again for clarification but as the noise level in the room had now increased the cycle was repeated. This served to increase the frustration and aggressive body language and expression of those present.

Based on my previous experiences I was not looking forward to going there today. Add to that concern the fact that I read just this morning the virus is caught in hospital more than any other location and you can imagine I was not keen to go at all. This wasn’t just a precautionary visit so I knew I had to attend. I could not be bothered to get there at the crack of dawn so I went at a reasonable hour, about ten o clock, armed with a good book plenty of hand sanitiser and of course a mask, prepared for a very long wait. Waiting and queuing has become acceptable during this pandemic.

On arrival the hospital appeared to be quite quiet, maybe because visiting is prohibited during the pandemic. I made my way to the pathology area, it used to be called phlebotomy I wonder why it changed. A nurse type person was stood at the door with a clip board, I enquired whether pathology is where I get a blood test. She said yes and asked me to join a queue, which was just three people, in the corridor. I say queue, it was just three people at that point, each with a seat at least three metres apart. The nurse took my paper work and checked my details. I glanced through the door to the waiting room where there were no more than ten people, spaced out in the room that usually held upwards of sixty. More people joined the queue and the nurse ran a one out one in system to the waiting room. Within minutes I was ushered in and allocated a seat. The room was peaceful, everyone masked but even with masks their eye expressions and body language was calm and happy. When names were called out they were loud and clear, partly due to the quiet room and partly because the caller was masked up so have to raise their voice. I commenced reading, the latest Wilbur Smith, and was somewhat disappointed to have my name called within fifteen minutes, just as Mungo St John was about to murder his grandfather. The phlebotomist was very pleasant, appeared happy and calm in her work. I shared with her my trepidation about coming there and what a pleasant surprise the whole experience had been and how impressed I was with the process. She was pleased with the feedback. On leaving I wondered if the Covid safe system only worked because far less people are presenting for blood checks and what the consequences and causes of that might be.


Covid-19 Diaries Second lockdown and vaccine announcement

10 November 20

Posted at 4:25

Beamish and MasksBeamish Living Museum

The image captures two realities of late summer 2020 in the UK. Wearing masks is compulsory as is social distancing (resulting in queues for everything). Both are intended to limit the tramsmission of the virus.

This photograph was taken in early September when along with some friends we took a weeks break on the Northumberland coast. We still had to break some rules to do that (six of us lived in one cottage for the week, strictly speaking that was not allowed at the time). We had to journey there in three separate cars. Eating out or visiting a pub or café was something of a chore and impersonal. We probably felt more comfortable in our cottage self catering and isolating in our, albeit illegal, bubble. Bizarre when you consider it. We did though enjoy the wide open spaces, the wild beaches and national parks. We had fun together as friends, something that had been all but impossible since February.


That limited freedom now seems like a distant memory as we are now six days into a further months lockdown. Different from the first lockdown in that schools and universities have remained open. It also doesn’t feel as serious as the first lockdown but all forms of hospitality and all non-essential shops are closed. Hospitalisations and deaths are rising again although deaths are not yet at the level seen in the Spring. It is Autumn now though, the days are shorter, the weather damp and chilly so it feels tougher.


Over the last few days there has been reason for hope and optimism. First of all in the USA elections Donald Trump has lost the presidency, to the joy of the vast majority globally. At this point Donald is not about to go quietly, he refutes the outcome and is using the legal system to query the result. The same legal system of judges that he has packed with his own cronies over the last couple of years. So the world looks on in anticipation. It is unlikely he will be successful but over recent months we have become used to the unlikely actually happening.


Yesterday we received the second good news, a Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer has exited phase three of its testing with positive results. As ever the media has reacted disproportionately implying that it may even be rolled out by Christmas (it won’t be). I suppose it is nice to have some good news but we really do have a long way to go before we get out of this pandemic. Just last week it was discovered in Denmark that Covid had first of all spread into their vast mink population but now had mutated into a form transmitted back from mink to humans. The mink are now being exterminated (as happened in Spain earlier in the year), travel from Denmark to other countries, well at least the UK, is banned. Mink are bred in three or four EU countries for export to China for the fur trade, banned for instance in the UK years ago. So animals, or animal products, from a species that has been infected with Coronavirus and has mutated a strain back to humans is being exported to a country where a mutated form of Coronavirus jumped from animals to humans kicking off this whole global pandemic. There is an irony there!


Of course the vaccine developed is unlikely to have an impact on a mutated version spread to humans from mink or any other animal.


Covid-19 Diaries 20th May 2020

08 June 20

Posted at 12:28

Schools out

It is now ten days since the prime minister's announcement of some potential easing of the lockdown. The daily graphs we are treated to at the press briefings continue to show a positive trend albeit painstakingly slow. After the announcement of a three phase plan to ease lockdown restrictions much more detail was forthcoming although it is fair to say there is still confusion with what is a complicated message. There is much debate continuing around the high percentage of care home deaths and whether some may have been avoided but care homes have been knocked off the top news item by the possible return to school for some children from the beginning of June. It is really difficult to understand the pros and cons not least because there are those whose position is political as opposed to in the interest of the public. The debate is set to continue but so long as there is evidence of the pandemic lessening along with progress in testing and tracing I believe some classes in some schools will return in early June.

There certainly has been a noticeable relaxation now people are allowed out more and that there is a gradual return to work for some. It is clear that change is gradual and that the idea of small steps still shows noticeable change. Assuming there is no indication of a second peak I think a month from now there will be a lot more retail open, I think sport and leisure activity will have increased and I think open air cafes and even pubs may be offering a table service with strict social distancing. That is not a major topic of conversation at the moment but when some schools are back I think it will just follow.

There has been a lot of news this week around the impact of the pandemic of the economy and jobs. Steep rises in unemployment, very low inflation and concern about businesses both big and small. None of it a surprise but a stark reminder when presented in sensational headlines. Some opening up of the leisure industry along with the ability for people to spend a day or two away from home (not possible at the moment) will provide help for the leisure sector which has hit young peoples job prospects the hardest.

There is also constant talk of when professional football will return. Personally although a fan I think it is madness to even consider at this point in time.

Red kite

I include a photo of a kite taken a few hundred yards from my home. I am a keen wildlife photographer. It has been noticeable with so many people walking in the countryside as a result of lockdown how interest in wildlife has grown. It is not a bad thing at all. There is much good that has come out of lockdown. In general people seem more friendly and supportive to each other. Lockdown has broken down many barriers in communities as people have had more time to consider what is really important to their's and their families wellbeing. We appear to be at something of a crossroads now where people are reconsidering their priorities and making changes to their lifestyle which were perhaps initially mandated but now of high importance. Some working from home, replacing travel with technology, greater use of bicycles and of electric vehicles. A realisation at last that morbid obesity that ravages our society does directly impact are ability to survive viruses from Covid-19 to the more common seasonal flu and even colds. There is a much higher level of interest in supporting local businesses and even perhaps a desire to be free from everything we consume coming from China.

When I say we are at a crossroads the general public appear to be reaching these conclusions but our political leaders both national and local - fuelled by a sensationalist media seem hell bent on returning to days of old. I'm sensing that there is a chance that the 'tail will wag the dog' and we will see something of a paradigm shift. I'm hope full anyway.