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Things to do in a mask

I have previously written about things not to do whilst wearing a mask – running for a train, and crying. Generally speaking, whilst I certainly feel safer doing my supermarket shop in a mask, most things are a bit of a pain whilst masked-up, especially when wearing glasses and in the cold.

However, this week I have finally found something which I believe is improved by the wearing of a mandatory face-covering.

The routine mammogram!

I didn’t want to go, of course, but I reckoned I would be in and out of there pretty quickly and I might as well get it over with, particularly as they had called me up and twisted my arm (more of that at the appointment – aargh!).

The instructions insisted I should not enter the building until five minutes before my appointment start time. Having practically galloped the 1.9 miles from home (inevitably, I had left too late), I was glowing on arrival and glad of a few moments to calm down (and notice with satisfaction that there were, indeed, no parking spaces to be had so my evangelical non-driving habit was vindicated) before donning my mask, removing my glasses to avoid fogging, and climbing the stairs to the poorly signposted room. And no, I don’t think it was my lack of spectacles that meant I couldn’t see the signs – but who knows.

I peered through the glass. Just two NHS staff inside. I ventured in and stood right back against the door to answer the usual questions about who I am and where I live etc. At least here I was not shouting my personal details to a room of random other people, as in the chemist’s a few weeks ago.

With no further mucking about, I was immediately ushered into the room with the dreaded tit-squeezing machine and instructed to remove my top half. And it was here that I realised the benefit of wearing the mask. It removes some lower peripheral vision. This conveniently meant that I had no visual prompt that I was naked: no glimpsed awareness of my bare-chestedness. (In fairness, my frontal assets have always been pretty hard to spot at the best of times, even when I had twenty-twenty vision, but let’s not go there.)

There followed the usual nurse-patient grappling dance, with actual physical arm-twisting to get me to assume the correct position at the boob-squasher – four times, one for each X-ray, with no apparent learning on my part from one to the next. I am quite sure that my inability to see what was going on below my nose was an advantage. Out of sight, out of mind? I don’t normally look, but there is usually an awareness at the edge of vision of what is going on – and this time, there wasn’t. It’s not really an option to close one’s eyes – standing up with eyes closed is a step too far. It would feel a bit weird and probably result in falling over. (Just imagine, passing out and being suspended by a mammary stuck tight in the machine!)

Anyway, as a result of the restricted view, I was more than usually willing to just give up trying to work out what the hell the nice lady was trying to get me to do with my upper torso, and allow her to nudge me around until I was in the right place. 

All whilst talking about something completely different, of course.

I was out of there in less than 15 minutes. 

I was at least half a mile away on my way home and on a busy footpath beside the river before I remembered to check, now I was no longer wearing a mask, that I had correctly dressed my upper half whilst semi-blind!

There’s no hiding place

Even as I mostly cower indoors in this continuing lockdown, it seems there is no hiding place.

Shortly after Christmas I received a letter inviting me for a mammogram as part of the standard NHS programme. The letter confirmed that appointments were going ahead despite the overloading of other parts of the health service and encouraged me to phone or book online. Well, despite this most definitely not being my favourite type of appointment, I was comforted that I am on their radar and – once I had finished all the Christmas leftovers and run out of other distractions – I resolved to book myself in.

On one of the many recent cold and wet mornings, I tried to use the suggested website and partially completed their form. Always keen to tick two health boxes with one expedition, I chose a Health Centre location for my check-up which would give me a good walk there and back and thus achieve my daily exercise target.  Smug! I added that I couldn’t attend on Mondays nor could I get there before 11am on any day. No need to put myself out unnecessarily – I’m a slow starter.

But then I gave up part-way through the form because it appeared to be geared more towards cancelling and rebooking an existing appointment and I became unsure that it would work. No matter though, I thought, I don’t really want to go right now and will ensure to book a little later in the year when lockdown eases or at least when local Covid cases have dropped. I had briefly visited the same Health Centre to drop off some scrubs last week, and I really didn’t fancy sitting in their waiting room right now for any longer than is absolutely necessary with such high levels of infection around. 

So, I promptly moved on to other matters and thought no more of it.

‘Other matters’ included excitedly contacting Hotel Chocolat to see if I could persuade them to donate some of their surplus stock to our latest local initiative to send support packages to hospital staff. I’ve used Hotel Chocolat to send various calorific treats over the past few months so I’m on their circulation lists, and one of their marketing emails had led me to notice some of their heavily discounted boxes which would be perfect for our cause. I found a phone number and was eventually answered by the personable Paul.

I explained what I was after and Paul made all the right sorts of noises. He then asked me a few questions about who I was – but strangely did not seem to be waiting long enough to write down or type in the answers. I often speak extremely quickly – quite deliberately – if I don’t actually want the person to write down my particulars (if, for example, I fear some sort of scam) even though here he wasn’t asking me for my birthdate or my bank account! To my surprise, he then announced that I’d passed the security check, which I didn’t even know he’d been conducting. He had clearly immediately known who I was just from my phone number from their customer list! Interesting. This slightly freaked me out, but on the other hand encouraged me to think that maybe I had special status rather than being a total cold caller, and perhaps my request was more likely to succeed. At time of writing, I still don’t know the answer to that.

Shortly after, I received a phone call from an unknown caller. This turned out to be the NHS, chasing me about my mammogram appointment. I sighed, but politely explained that I didn’t feel ready to brave the waiting rooms just yet. The kindly lady seemed to understand and said she’d like to book me in for February then. When would I like? I mentioned that I didn’t want a Monday, nor could I get there before 11am (a lie, but I couldn’t really just say I’m lazy). “No, no, of course not,” she replied, which seemed somehow odd, as the clinic is open every day from 9am. She gave me a suggested date and time which I accepted.  She told me I’d receive a letter shortly to confirm and just as she was about to hang up I remembered that there was a choice of location and she hadn’t mentioned this. Where would the appointment be, please? She sounded surprised and told me the name of my preferred Health Centre. 

It was as though she already knew my answers. Had I perhaps submitted the form after all? I don’t think so. Was the information somehow visible anyway? Shouldn’t be. Most likely that my chosen location is the default one for my home (actually, I’ve since noticed that my letter offered several options but this one was the primary one), and I suppose she was just being polite regarding my preferences. Made me feel a Big Brotherish nevertheless.

I think this feeling of being under surveillance is most likely enhanced by the day-to-day inability to leave my house without being seen. I am increasingly varying my departure route to avoid walking past some of the neighbours, just in case anyone thinks I’m going out more often than is sanctioned by HMG.

Yesterday I set off to the chemist’s to pick up my latest prescription and passed a front garden just along the road from me where more activity was taking place to assemble the latest package donations for hospital staff. I exchanged greetings before marching on to join the nervous little queue in the pharmacy.

Here, to add to my sharing-discomfort, we each have to shout out our full names and our birthdates (yes, our ACTUAL BIRTHDATES, in front of the three other customers permitted inside at the same time – ‘Good lord, how old is that? Ancient! – Actually, she looks even older with that wild grey hair and drippy eyes above the ragged mask’), and also our addresses. They stop short at asking for bank account details, but no doubt there’s a way of scanning the card in my pocket without me knowing… although, on current form, they’ll have all my financial details to hand already and these are probably flashing up on a screen outside for all the world to see. 

Calm down. Once I’m outside and can stop my efforts at indoor breathing-without-actually-breathing, my rational brain kicks back in (and I can’t see anyone’s personal financial details flashing anywhere).

Nevertheless, I took a long diversion to return to my house, thus neatly avoiding another check-in with the ladies in their front garden, thus ensuring I could sneak straight back out again for a proper walk.

You can never be too careful.




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