It’s becoming the “hot potato” and I don’t want to end up in hot water for discussing it in one of my posts. But I keep on seeing and hearing and reading about face masks and other PPE, so it is never far from my mind. Even last night on the BBC news there was a report discussing whether the UK government should make face masks mandatory (which has already happened in some other countries.)
At the end of a long day at work, I pass three supermarkets on my way home. Once or twice a week, I nip in and buy some groceries to walk home with. It’s normally quiet at the end of the day. I had a shock last night when I realized that the staff at Marks and Spencers have better PPE than we do at work! My mum always said that M&S were good employers.
Over the past few weeks, it has been a challenge for authorities and the media to strike the right tone when it comes to communications and directions regarding the …you know. Panic is not good. But recognising that we have a real challenge, and that there are measures we can all take to protect ourselves, our loved ones and everyone else, and to ease the enormous pressure on health services, has been repeated over and over again.
Right from the start, this situation reminded me of my training when I worked as a steward at an indoor arena. Twice we had to evacuate thousands of people at full capacity events due to bomb scares. We had to communicate directions clearly without causing panic. People were wonderful. They obeyed the instructions. Everyone was safe.
At the end of the day, I think that the vast majority of people have realized that the …you know… is a serious challenge for us. I think the vast majority of people want to cooperate with directions because they love life and they love their families. Whichever country we live in, we will have seen that directions have changed from week to week, and will likely continue to do so. It is important we understand and trust that those directions are well motivated and that we cooperate with them.
I posted a little fictional story last night about a character named Mike who donned himself up in home-made PPE to risk venturing out to the supermarket.
Now…I meant to write a non-fiction waffling post about this very recent phenomenon of people donning PPE in order to go and obtain necessary food and medication. I am starting to wonder at what I am seeing.
I work for the NHS. At work, we have to wear PPE. We are in contact with lots of members of the public. As soon as I finish work, I can’t wait to get the face mask and gloves off. They are so yucky to wear all day. It has never crossed my mind to wear PPE outside of work.
Now, I don’t want to knock anyone choosing to wear PPE. It’s clear to me that those who are doing so feel safer for wearing it. That is fine. There is nothing wrong with wearing PPE, even if you are going out to the shops, so long as you use it properly. I deeply appreciate that people are doing everything they can think of to protect themselves and their loved ones (which additionally will take the pressure off the NHS).
I think that PPE in some cases (not all cases) has the potential of becoming a false friend. The prime example I have in mind is a patient who I think may be missing the point of all the instructions that have been repeated over and over for the past few weeks.
First of all this particular patient is almost eighty. (Here in the UK, anyone over seventy was advised to self-isolate, stay at home, and ask others to go shopping for them or to collect prescriptions.)
This patient, has decided to leave their home and wander into a busy London high street in order to shop for groceries and has then decided to come to the medical practice where I work in order to ask for their repeat medication, which incidentally is not due for three weeks. That could have been done over the phone, via email, or by post. It could have been done by a representative.
But what made me most anxious is seeing what the patient did. The patient was wearing latex gloves and a face mask. But before my eyes, the patient coughed and spluttered into the gloved hands and then removed the face mask to wipe their mouth with a tissue. The patient then used the same tissue to wipe their eyes.
Now please believe me, I did everything I could to stop this occurring, save leaping over the desk and seizing the tissue. I was dramatically waving my hands and calling “No, don’t….!!!” It was traumatic to see what happened and I have been worried about that particular patient ever since.
It saddened me for so many reasons. There are many volunteer groups that have sprung up in this area. It is lovely to see people doing shopping and collecting prescriptions for those who have been told to self-isolate. I am perplexed that a few of our older patients don’t trust anyone to collect their medication on their behalf.
I am seeing too many people out shopping who are in their seventies and eighties. I was grieved the other day when I was queuing to go into the supermarket and a lady who looked well into her eighties was sitting on the bench next to the queue smoking. It’s really hard to see. In fact I am finding myself becoming provoked by anyone I see smoking. I saw a chap near the tube station remove his face mask and then light up a cigarette. He kept his latex gloves on. I was baffled.
Anyway…I feel I should start taking my new little camera out with me (I bought it in the sale to take to Australia, which seems extremely unlikely now) I have seen the most bizarre PPE donned on shoppers during the past week or so.
One lady who was wandering around in short shorts and flip flops was wearing marigolds (washing up gloves) and a diving mask and snorkel.
A lot of people are using scarves as face masks. I must admit, I appreciate that. If people are wearing face-masks to go shopping and medical staff cannot obtain what they need for work…well, that would not be a good thing.
I have seen others in what look more like gas masks. I remember painting with some horribly noxious external paint and having to wear these huge respirators to prevent us breathing in the horrible fumes. I have seen people walking around wearing those kind of respirators.
It makes me start to feel a bit self-conscious. So far in the UK, we have not been told to wear masks every time we leave the house. I can see that in some countries people are being told to do so. Of course I wear PPE at work. But before we all became aware of the …you know… I saw a lot more patients than is normal. We had a month of complete madness before any instructions came from the government on self-isolating, social distancing and of course – hand-washing and not touching your face.
During those few weeks I had patients coughing and spluttering all over me. I am almost convinced I must have been exposed to the …you know… during that time. I am also convinced that many of us with public roles, who may not have had any symptoms ourselves – doctors, nurses, receptionists, cashiers and sales assistants, transport operatives and many others – could easily have been vehicles for spreading the virus during the time before any restrictions came into place.
I am very very glad of the measures the government have put in place to protect all of us. I feel safer going shopping when numbers are restricted in supermarkets (although, to be honest, as I usually go shopping after work, the supermarkets are normally pretty quiet).
Hmm…but we do not know what tomorrow, or next week, will bring. Maybe I will have to start wearing PPE outside of work. If the government asked us all to do that, then of course I would. At the end of the day, we have all been asked to make changes to our normal way of life.
I have mixed views on PPE outside of an obvious medical need. If there was an unlimited supply of PPE, it would not matter. But in my mind, it is important to make sure that the supply to the NHS and care workers is not impeded by public demand. I do understand why people might feel safer having PPE on. I would not criticise that. But please use it properly, otherwise it becomes a false friend. But it is very very important to remember the main ways to protect ourselves and our loved ones are:
- NOT TOUCHING YOUR FACE
- SELF-ISOLATING IF YOU HAVE ANY SYMPTOMS OF THE VIRUS
- SELF-ISOLATING IF YOU ARE OVER SEVENTY, PREGNANT OR HAVE UNDERLYING MEDICAL ISSUES/CONDITIONS THAT MAKE YOU VULNERABLE
- SOCIAL-DISTANCING FOR EVERYONE ELSE – HERE IN THE UK, THAT MEANS ONLY LEAVING HOME TO COLLECT GROCERIES, MEDICATION OR ONCE A DAY FOR SOME FORM OF EXERCISE. It would take me a long time to compile a list of all the things we should not be doing, but I think there are only a small minority who are doing those things.
*Note – I think it is understood that self-isolating means ether using delivery services or asking others to fetch your groceries or prescription medication. So please, please do ask. There are lots and lots of people (even strangers) who care about you and do not want you to take risks – please trust them.
I need to add – smoking needs to stop – now – please.
I know that all of my other NHS colleagues are grateful to the vast majority of people who are showing they love life and are cooperating with the measures the government has put in place for the protection of all of us.