These Corona times are all about balance, finding the mid-point between lockdown and normality, fear and complacency, self-sacrifice and selfishness. It’s important to get the balance right. By taking care of ourselves, we take the pressure off the system, which is why it’s important to keep fit and healthy.
I remind myself of this on a grey, rainy day as I set off for a bracing run in the countryside. Ten minutes in and, despite being drenched, I feel like an Olympic athlete. How amazing that, even at my advancing years, I’m still as nimble as a gazelle. Not for me the slower pace of the Nordic walker ambling towards me with her two poles. As we pass, she nods towards the path ahead. ‘Slippery as marbles’, she warns. I smile patronisingly and springbok my way forwards.
But pride comes before a fall and, shortly afterwards, I lose my footing and execute a perfect chin-dive onto a boulder. Coming round moments later, I tentatively check my mouth. All teeth are intact, thank goodness. So, where’s this pool of blood coming from? I stagger upright, wrists already swelling, and fumble through my bag for something to stem the flow.
‘Are you alright?’ asks a fellow jogger coming up behind me. He looks conflicted.
‘I’m fine,’ I lie, to save him the difficult decision of whether to offer a Good Samaritan’s hand or stay at a safe, virus-free distance.
Then, staggering home, I clean myself up and assess the damage. I’m shaken, bleeding, bruised and swollen. But does that warrant medical intervention? I have work to do as well. On balance, I think I’m okay. So, I sit down at my computer, a pile of tissues wedged under my chin, and send a message to the family WhatsApp group for moral support.
As expected, there’s radio silence from Grunting Teen, an ‘It’s probably just a graze’ from the Nearly Beloved and, from Darling Daughter, an ‘Oh, mum, poor you,’ with a link to the NHS website. The advice is to seek help if bleeding hasn’t stopped after ten minutes. It’s now two hours since my mishap, and the waste-bin resembles the inside of an abattoir…
I phone the surgery.
There are no appointments available but a doctor will get back to me in the next four hours. They’re overrun with patients and have to prioritise. I suddenly feel weary and decide to lie down.
But there’s to be no rest. Five minutes later, I’m on an online consultation with the locum, who’s obviously missed his calling as a professional photographer. After making me strike numerous poses, he tells me to come and be ‘steri-stripped’ straight away.
Mask soaked in blood, I enter the consulting room, to be greeted by a figure from a sci-fi film – the GP, I presume – although it’s hard to tell under all the PPE. Ingrained to make small-talk, I tell the doctor how impressed I am by the video diagnosis and how this could be the future. But apparently, the success rate all depends on the quality of the image and, now he’s seen me in the flesh, the flesh is what he’s seen. My ‘superficial cut’ has been upgraded to a ‘gaping wound’, requiring a visit to A&E for stitches.
I return home, bandaged up. Grunting Teen is in the kitchen with his head in the fridge. ‘What’s for tea, mum?’ he asks, barely registering my appearance. Then the Nearly-Beloved comes through the door. ‘Do you notice anything different?’ I ask. He pales and in a panicked voice replies, ‘Have you had your hair cut?’
But at least he gives me a lift to hospital and acts as my interpreter at reception when I can’t face shouting out my name and address for the umpteenth time to penetrate the seemingly sound-proof Perspex screen. And it doesn’t matter that I forgot to bring a book because the entertainment is ‘in-house’. The fine-line between privacy and safety has been crossed. Before long I know all the intimate details of my fellow sufferers.
But there’s no opportunity for commiserating with them as I sit, vulnerable and alone in the socially-distanced waiting room, with no one allowed to stay and hold my hand. So, thank goodness the NHS still retains its balance of care and compassion. Despite looking like one of Grunting Teen’s classmates, the doctor is a pro, stitching me up like a first-class seamstress, checking nothing’s broken and making me cry with her kindness.
I finally arrive home to find flowers dropped off at the door, chocolates on the table and a multitude of good wishes on my phone. Sometimes the balance swings the right way.