As you all probably know, I work in healthcare and have a chronic illness. So, you'd probably think I would be an A+ patient and have all of the knowledge to be able to go to my doctor's office during the pandemic. I would have agreed with you prior to the COVID outbreak, but like most, I was very hesitant to go back into a clinic. This was despite working everyday to set up proper precautions to ensure spaces were as safe as possible. I had a virtual visit with the doctor, but postponed my colonoscopy (because who really wants one) and skipped a few months of B12 injections for fear of exposure.
Recently, I started going back to my doctor in order to keep my health on track and would like to share my experience for anyone else that may be hesitant, curious, or just looking for a laugh.
About five weeks ago, I started to feel the effects of not getting my monthly B12 and decided it was time to brave the clinic. A few days before, I got my appointment confirmation and completed the screening online to ensure I didn't have any symptoms. For anyone that has a patient portal available to them through their doctor, I highly recommend signing up. It will save you time and phone calls, while making the lives of the staff easier. After I completed all of the safety checks online, I was ready to go, or so I thought!
It was a Wednesday morning. I admittedly was a bit scared. I drove to my gastroenterology clinic, clad in my mask and rubber gloves. I was aware I would have to get screened at the door, but thought I could use my employee pass to get in. So, to set the stage, envision this; I walk in, phone and keys in hand, glasses on, ready to show the screeners my phone pass and just walk by. Here's what actually happened:
Upon entering the specified doors, I am asked if I am there for an appointment. I say yes, but I'm an employee. Apparently, my employee pass doesn't matter because I'm here as a patient. BUMMER. The screener hands me a mask to put on. I am not prepared. So here I am, trying to shove my phone and keys in my purse that is jam packed. My glasses fall off my head and the half of my face that is exposed, turns bright red. I pick up my glasses, freaking out that they touched the dirty floor. At this point, I'm making a complete scene. I put on the mask, which looks like some sort of ancient contraption (see below). I put it over my own mask because I don't know if I'm allowed to take the other one off. As soon as I do, some gentleman in a corner tells me it's upside down as he chuckles a bit. So now I'm flipping the mask around, my hair going all over the place, as five people just stare at me. I'm positive they broke out in laughter after. When the mask is on correctly and the screening is done, I breathe an embarrassed sigh of relief. I hope nobody recognized who I was.
To everyone that says I'm book smart and not street smart, you may sadly be right.
Next step is the actual clinic. I walk in, finding the front desk person. There is no one else to be found. I confirm my identity while keeping my distance, and then wait. I'm too scared to sit, so I stand. I get called back quickly and the nurse proceeds to take my vitals. Basic demographic questions, check. Temperature, check. She then puts on the blood pressure cuff and I place my finger in the oxygen indicator. At this point, I'm hyperventilating a bit. I'm still embarrassed from the masking process and am nervous that I'm getting sick just being here. So, when the blood pressure machine starts beeping like something is wrong, I'm not surprised. The nurse asks me to take deep breaths because my blood pressure is not normal. My oxygen is at 94%, "too low for a young healthy girl". I wanted to scream, why do you think my blood pressure is high?! I'm nervous to be here, just made a fool of myself and have two masks restricting my oxygen. Give me a break, lady!
After the initial panic attack and slight irritation, I get my injection, have a surprisingly nice conversation with the nurse, and leave the building. As soon as I'm back in my car, I strip my masks and take in a deep breath. My hair is a complete wreck, but I have survived.
That first experience set me up for my second visit today, which I am proud to announce went much smoother. No mask mishaps, no embarrassment and normal vitals. I did have a slight weight gain, but hey, calories don't count during COVID and I need to fill out my chicken legs!
So, to everyone that is hesitant to go back to the doctor or needs some advice, here are my lessons learned. First, like I mentioned before, register for a patient portal if it's available. Not only can you check-in ahead of time, answer screening questions and pay your copay, but you can also view your lab results, doctor's notes, future appointments and more. It's extremely beneficial, especially now when we spend so much time on our phones and computers.
Secondly, don't wear the mask they give you over yours, unless you really feel most comfortable that way. It's hard enough to get air flow with one, so two will only make it worse and raise your anxiety, like it did mine. You can have a brief second without a mask while you switch them out. Just make sure not to sneeze or cough, lol. Do put the mask in your purse or pocket to keep it safe. And on that note, refrain from bringing anything more than what you actually need (keys, insurance card, credit card). It will only get in the way.
Be aware of your surroundings when you are there. You will likely see signs everywhere, so adhere to them and follow the arrows, look to minimize how many people you enter an elevator with and avoid getting too close to people when you can. Many chairs in waiting rooms are not supposed to be used so if they are turned around or taped off, don't use them. Physical distancing is still very important, especially in small spaces.
Although it's tough, try not to be nervous or scared. Remember that your doctors, PAs, nurses, etc. are very well trained and everyone is aware of the guidelines to ensure your safety. A doctor's office is probably safer than a lot of other public places. Me, like many others I'm sure, are delaying their care out of fear of exposure, but that will only lead to more damage in the long-term. If you can have a visit virtually, perfect, but if you need to physically see your doctor, do it please!
If you are fearful of going to the doctor or a procedure alone, ask if you can bring someone with you. Some institutions are now allowing visitors if certain criteria are met. It never hurts to ask and could make you feel more comfortable.
Be thankful for everyone you encounter during the process. It's just as nerve wracking for everyone working in the hospitals and practices. While we are only there as patients for a short time, they are there day in and day out. A thank you goes a long way. To all the healthcare workers reading this, thank you.
Lastly, remember to laugh when you put a mask on upside down or drop your glasses on the floor in front of an entire lobby. Be easy on yourself. This is still new to all of us. We just have to get through each day and find something to smile about.