It started about a week ago with a text from my Clinical Nurse Specialist, inquiring if I’d managed to get my bloods done. To be honest I’d been avoiding it like the …….. well you know the plague. The thoughts of going out to the doctors after weeks of cocooning made a full waxing appointment coupled with maybe a few wisdom teeth being pulled seem a more appealing outing, but I had to get over my fear and venture out.

I started my prep (I know, I know) by dragging out my sewing machine and making myself a mask from the template being used for #Masks4AllIreland group on Facebook, I figured if they were good enough for the HCP’s they are making them for by the thousands then they would be the safest for me too. It wasn’t too difficult as I’ve done a bit of sewing in the past and it also gave me something to do for an evening.

This morning the big day arrived and I was up early which is most unusual at the moment and even stranger dressed in outdoor clothes, I did some mental calculations about what would be easiest to wear so I wouldn’t have to be pulling stuff off over my head while wearing a mask or that I’d be putting down on chair beside me while having test. Luckily the weather Gods were with me so I could wear a t-shirt without fear of getting perished and laid up with another nondescript illness like our mothers warned us about; although now I occasionally find myself unconsciously asking my offspring to avoid wearing non-aired clothes straight off the line or going outside half dressed on a night out, Irish Mammies can’t help ourselves!!

The dog was in a daze at being left out of bed while it was still nearly night time, well by our lazy lock down clock 8.15am is early……….he was even more puzzled whilst looking for an appropriate place on lawn to do his business I started my car for first time in nine weeks and just drove out the drive like it was somehow normal, I swear he looked at me and though eh whats she at!!

I don’t know what I was expecting to find beyond my exclusion zone but as I drove out of it I felt slightly nervous and slightly bold. There were no signs of the apocalypse we see in the movies, everything looked well pretty normal, there were fewer cars for sure but there was tractors and people out walking, the birds were singing, animals were happily grazing it was…..just normal.

When I got to town I did notice plenty of parking on main street, that never happens, I’m usually circling like a hawk waiting to pounce on a spot this morning I could have parked outside any of my favourite shops, except there wasn’t much point as it was weirdly like some kind of sunny Christmas Day where everything is shut and we all stay home. It suddenly dawned on me that all those weeks at home where I thought I was missing out on the world going on without me, wasn’t actually reality, I wasn’t missing out on anything because nothing is happening, everyone really is staying at home except for the handful out to do their shopping there was nada, no one chatting on the street, no one wondering round with cups of coffee in hand, no one rushing to the bank, it was weirdly empty this usually bustling place.

When I got parked at the doctors unusually again no problem, I donned my mask and set off into the wild like I expected to be attacked by a predator, Boris’s warning on Sunday of “Stay Alert” sprung into my mind, but I couldn’t see what I’m supposed to be fearful of and there is the conundrum we all face mentally, staying committed to doing the right thing in the face of an unseen challenger.

Once inside I didn’t feel so awkward as I wasn’t the only one now in a mask, things were decidedly different from the last time I breezed in the door and upstairs so casually without thought of what I was doing or my interactions with people I made on stairs, in waiting room and the nurse. Today I followed instruction gave my name waited for someone to take my temperature, went and sat socially distanced from the two other people waiting in this usually incredibly busy practice. I fidgeted while sitting there uneasy with this new arrangement and all the time aware we were not just distant in space but now also conversation as we all strangely avoided each others eye contact. I fidgeted because I was continually repeating to myself “don’t touch your face, don’t touch your mask”.

We were called back to the desk individually to obtain our PPE in my case just gloves the others presented with masks too. I was told what direction to go when I got to top of stairs. There I was greeted by my nurse in full PPE including face shield, to be honest I didn’t realise why but I let out a nervous giggle. It all seemed so surreal this new kit, suddenly I felt like I was the one posing the danger not the other way around, she led the way and held the door open for me presumably so there would be less surface cleaning to be done before next patient.

I was very conscious of not looking at her as she tried to find my now lazy veins, first arm just not coming to the party so I shuffled in seat and turned away again as she tapped at the second luckily this one decided to play ball. Normally I’m not squeamish I look on at whatever is being done to me in fascination but today I felt obliged to not face the faceless nurse, and as she was new I didn’t feel it was the time to start the usual friendly banter. It just felt too clinical, too mechanical, not either of our faults I’m sure just the situation at present, but I hope we don’t lose that sense of humanity with this new reality, this was just a trip for a simple bloods test, whilst it was less scary and daunting than I’d built it up to be in my anxious mind, it was harder to make the best of a bad situation as I normally strive to do on medical visits.

Whilst I’m very glad not to have felt at risk because of all the precautions I missed the easy interactions, from staff and the patients waiting room, now bumping into someone on the stairs seems a dangerous encounter. I started to think I was being paranoid, maybe my being cocooned has extrapolated the danger beyond reality, maybe not, this thing we cannot see that has changed our smallest of gestures is unfortunately here to stay, and whilst I am glad I didn’t let fear override my need to go get the blood test because its extremely important we all continue to attend necessary appointments or go for check-ups; I am very glad now to be back in my cocoon knowing that I am not missing a world going on without me, I am still part of the same reality as all of you for the moment; but I hope that as the emergence out of this phase into greater movement happens there is acknowledgement that for many of us this wont be happening, we will just continue to have small steps back out into reality before retreating out of necessity, because the danger this virus poses to us is too great.

Then the real mental battle will begin to unfold for chronically ill patients as we see everyone else resume a semblance of normal life getting to act like normal people act, we will still be cocooning or shielding, missing out on simple human interactions, experiences, pleasures, wishing desperately for one giant leap for mankind to find a vaccine………