This afternoon I had my first post-hospital virtual clinic. Normally this would have happened on the ward, a few weeks after discharge. But Covid-19 temporarily shuttered the CF clinic at my hospital, the Royal Brompton and Harefield, and all but the most essential contacts were put on hold as the Brompton became one of the elite frontlines in the fight against coronavirus.
All in all, the experience was a good one: a clinic visit that would normally have taken a couple of hours, plus the same again in travel, was all done and dusted in around 20 minutes. Almost as soon as it was over, the hospital pharmacy called to confirm my prescriptions: these would arrive in the post in the next couple of days. The cherry on the cake – no long wait at pharmacy either! Here’s hoping that innovations like this, which were being researched but have have been fast-tracked by the pandemic, can become part of standard clinical care, not only for CF but other chronic conditions too.
But the really big news was that my doctor said I could go out once more. Not to the shops, or to travel, or to work; just into the open air. I have to take every precaution, and I must stress that this advice should not be interpreted as wider guidance for anyone else on the vulnerable list; everyone’s case will be different. But in my doctor’s judgement the risk is negligible in an open space, and the benefits to my well-being far outweigh that. In fact, she said, I should go out.
I had asked in hope, much more than expectation, and I had asked for an honest answer, laying the ground for a no, even wishing for one. Part of me didn’t want to know it was OK. At home I’m safe, and there’s no risk assessment to make. Having the option to go out again would require decisions, would complicate things.
But instead the answer I got was, ‘Go outside. Get some vitamin D. See the sky.’ Of course, I need to be careful. I should go somewhere open, away from people. Don’t talk to anyone, stay more than 2 metres away from people. Wear a mask if I have to go past a group of people. Get a T-shirt, suggested my sister-in-law, with the words ‘Stay the Fuck Back’.
I’m going to walk down to the Thames, I reason, along the path to the Barrier. I’ll go early in the morning. The day before, Liz can do a dry run to see what conditions are like, I suggest, saying everything I can to show I am treating this unexpected possibility with appropriate care. The main areas of concern will be the junction at the end of our road, by the station; and crossing the Woolwich Road.
When I’d finished the video call I hung up and took a breath. I went upstairs to Liz and, half-whispering, as though it was too fragile to be spoken out loud, I told her the news. As she hugged me, tears welled up. I hadn’t expected such a strong reaction in myself. I’ve been handling lockdown pretty well, I think, but I realised I had been bottling up more than I knew. Something rushed in, the taste of a different air, a coolness, a memory, and it all caught up with me. Quickly we made plans. I hedged at first, tried to avoid this new reality. But we soon started dreaming of a day – not long away – when my family could show me all the secret places they have been visiting these last few weeks.
For now, I’m just taking one walk, on my own, down to our grubby, unloved stretch of river, with its weeds, its disused piers and its dusty scrap metal yards. It will probably blow my mind.