I visited The Real World today so that I could attend a hospital appointment for a routine check up on my kidneys, Bob and Dave. The visit came after more than five months of (near) isolation at my cottage and marked the first time I’ve been into the city since before my isolation began. And I admit that the experience was a little surreal and slightly upsetting. (But I survived.)
The trip began with a big decision: Do I (1) travel by bus (90 minutes via two buses); (2) walk (7 miles, about 2 hours); or (3) take a taxi (£20ish each way and about 15-20 minutes)? My initial thought was to walk as it looked like nice weather, but it ended up raining, so I called a taxi.
The current guidelines mean that the taxi driver opened and closed the door for me and that I wore a mask the entire time. The drivers are also meant to wipe down the seats after each fare, although I can’t say for sure if that happens. Still, this part of my visit to the real world wasn’t that bad and it gave me the chance to get used to the mask – and to not touching the mask whilst I was wearing it.
Once I arrived at the hospital and began walking towards the main entrance, past several people wearing masks, I felt a strange wave of emotion come over me. I felt almost as if I could cry, but it wasn’t really a “crying” sort of emotion I was experiencing. But I was very aware that I was walking into a new world with a new (temporary?) normal.
On entered the building, I hung back to watch how others were interacting and moving through the space. People seemed to be entering and exiting with confidence, many stopping at one of the many hand sanitising points. So, I mustered the confidence to join in on the practice and quickly rubbed sanitiser on my hands before walking down the corridor towards my destination.
I found myself keeping my arms quite close to my body with my hands almost clutched in front of my chest. I kept to the wall as much as possible to ensure I was staying as far away from others as possible. Then, when I entered the department, I paused again to survey the room and the behaviours of others. Only then did I cautiously approach the front desk to announce my arrival.
From there, I was directed to have a seat in the sparsely-furnished waiting area. I chose a seat as far from any high-traffic areas, but I was called by the nurse to have my weight and blood pressure recorded before I was able to settle in. Once I returned to my seat, I was called back to see the doctor, so I was pleased that I didn’t have to wait around too much.
After my meeting with the doctor, I was taken immediately for blood work then I made my way to the pharmacy down the hall to collect a fresh supply of tolvaptan. As with entering the kidney department, I entered this area with hesitation, watching first before approaching the desk. It was straight forward though, and by then I was starting to understand the general process. Basically, it was the same as before but with more space in between people.
When I left the pharmacy, I returned to the main hospital corridor to make my way towards the taxi rank (again, walking with my arms close to my body and my hands clutched in front of me). But as the small shop was open, I thought I would pop in to see what “shopping” in the real world was like. Here, I noticed social distancing stickers all over the floors, along with arrows indicating a one-way system. I also noticed that the pastries and breads were all pre-wrapped, where in the past there were tongs for selecting what you wanted, and you put it in a bag yourself.
Like the rest of the day, I was very unsure of what the practice was in the shop. I didn’t know if I could pick up a package and read the ingredients, and if I did touch something, I didn’t know if I was then obliged to purchase it. There wasn’t any signage to answer these questions for me, so I just tried not to touch anything. But I managed to select a few items, so it was a successful stop at least!
Once I returned home, I took my mask off to wash it. And then I let out a sigh of relief, pleased to be back home in the safety of my cottage.
Throughout my visit to The Real World, I had the sense that others were more (outwardly) comfortable with the strangeness of it all and I wonder if that’s because they have been participating in The Real World the entire time, or at least for a longer time than I have. I could also see how I could become accustomed to such a strange way of being if I had to. (But there’s no reason for me to risk it just now!)
I won’t have to be back at the hospital for an in-person appointment until next March, so I am hoping that things will have begun to “normalise” by then. Or, at the very least, maybe I will have had enough real-world interactions by then that I feel less anxious and overstimulate by the experience.
But for the sake of my soul, and for the whole of society, I hope that those clever scientists can help us to move beyond this crazy COVID19 pandemic so that we can return to (the good bits of) normal.
How about you? What have your experiences of The Real World been like?