A distant childhood memory is in my mind. I’m recovering from either mumps or chicken pox – I can’t remember which – and I’m about seven or eight years old. I’ve reached the point where I feel fine, but the medical advice – followed to the letter by my parents – is that I should stay indoors for a few more days. Outside, in a quiet square of modern houses where there’s no traffic and no risk to the many children who live nearby, friends are playing. On their bikes, with their footballs, maybe just running around. The sounds I can hear are of carefree, innocent, childhood fun. And I can play no part in it. You can probably see where this is going.
Turning to the present crisis, and the moment has arrived when some people, even most people, can take tentative steps forwards. Leaving aside the debate over the clarity of the messaging, one thing stands out from all of this – if we’re self-isolating or shielding, nothing changes. I made a point yesterday of seeking out the 50-page document and going straight to page 22 – ‘protecting the most clinically vulnerable people’. It reads as follows: “Those in the clinically extremely vulnerable cohort will continue to be advised to shield themselves for some time yet, and the Government recognises the difficulties this brings for those affected. Over the coming weeks, the Government will continue to introduce more support and assistance for these individuals so that they have the help they need as they stay shielded. And the Government will bring in further measures to support those providing the shield – for example, continuing to prioritise care workers for testing and protective equipment.”
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been seeking out new information about your own particular situation every day. That means, in following the advice we’ve being given, we’re doing so from an ever better informed position. I’ve already written about the conversations I’ve had with the rheumatologist and nurse I most often deal with at my local hospital, and that has led to the happy conclusion that I needn’t shield….I can self-isolate and behave with great caution when I go outdoors. That is what I have done over the last eight weeks, and it has served me well. We are, ultimately, our own bosses in all of this…..and the more we learn, the better bosses we become.
Think of everything we know now that we didn’t know in mid March – the importance of hand hygiene, how often we touch our face without giving it much thought, the droplets we spew into the air when we cough or sneeze – and that’s before we consider the new terminology that’s crept into the language. Imagine a conversation taking place in January that included references to ‘furlough’ or ‘social distancing’. No, me neither. In other words, we’re learning a lot…..but, on the basis of yesterday’s document, we need to know more.
What does ‘more support and assistance’ mean for people who are shielding? How do you identify the ‘help they need’? What are those ‘further measures’ you refer to in reference to those who are providing the shield? Beyond the text, I want to know this – where is the mental health support for the shielders, what advice can you give to someone shielding who is in a relationship but doesn’t live with that other person, how much are you continually monitoring the risk levels that shielders face?
And on a clinical level, what more is known now about particular drugs – in my case immuno-suppressant ones – and the risk they pose? What, for example, has happened to people on my kind of drugs who’ve been unfortunate enough to get this virus? How have they fared? Have they been more adversely affected? Are there sufficient numbers of people who fall into that category for any conclusion to be arrived at? Have other health issues played a part in the medical outcomes?
I’m impatient, you’re impatient, we’re all impatient. I’m going to spend some time this week trying to seek out answers to some of the questions I pose in that previous paragraph, because more information there would make a huge difference. The phrase which has my shoulders drooping most profoundly from page 22 of the government document is ‘for some time yet’. I’m not sure all of us will manage that. We need to inform ourselves, seek answers from trustworthy sources, and adjudge risks. After all, it wasn’t long before that seven or eight year old ventured outdoors again and got on his bike.