Feeling like I am radioactive but grateful for the reassurance of overt hygiene measures I place my mouth securely and airtight over the mouthpiece.
The tests begin.
Lung Function Tests involve breathing through the machine. In and out normally then deep breath in and rapid breath out to completely empty the lungs or, holding the deep breath in for eight seconds then slowly exhaling whilst you feel ready to burst. This type of breathing invariably provokes coughing in a person with poor lung function. Hence the cabinet. If COVID-19 were to be spread in a facility like this it would most certainly kill several people as most of us are older and many I see in my specialist’s waiting room are either wheelchair bound or on oxygen or both. I know I am relatively lucky as I function pretty normally, and most people don’t even know how bad my lungs are. As a consequence most people are shocked when I can’t walk upstairs or a hill in spite of my daily hour on the treadmill and having never even taken a puff of a cigarette.
I cough and splutter as Darren talks me through the tests watching the graph on the computer screen he is glued to as it draws, first little circles for normal breathing then a big scoop down for the deep breath and a sharp rise and fall for the forced exhalation. He patiently explains what I need to do to improve my results each time. The second test’s graph is more linear. Up and down for normal breaths then a slow descent for emptying the lungs and the screen changes to a bar graph for the breath holding and gentle exhale. I screw up one exhale as I cough uncontrollably. Half of doing these tests is keeping control over that nerve that sets you off into big deep coughs as the mucous in the lungs shifts and your body tries to expel it. Between each test there is a short waiting period while the machine re-calibrates. I notice that through his gloves Darren’s nails exhibit the signs of a biter. The spatulate nails are longer than most biters. I absentmindedly wonder if PPE and “Don’t touch your face” will cure many of nail biting?
I surprise myself as I actually do better in these ultra-sterile and strangely barren environs than at my normal testing station. Maybe the drugs are working?? Maybe I am finally gaining control of some aspects of my auto-immune system. How odd to feel like my lungs are improving in a time when so many in the world have lungs that have failed?
The test is finished. I exit the cabinet and Darren removes the mouthpiece to place it in the sterilisation bin with the nose peg. He opens the door using elbow and foot and ushers me past the reception area where more seats are pressed against the desk between me and the receptionist. He points to my invoice which rests on a small shelf. I take it and he follows me opening the door as I realise I have not touched anything other than the nose peg, the mouthpiece and the handle of the gas machine for the last half hour.
Back in my car I pause for a moment to note the tradesmen on an overlooking building site not observing physical distancing and the passing parade of sad, drab looking people. It is not a sunny day and the area is almost industrial in its greyness. One of those grey/blue boxes that appear on the streets containing some mysterious apparatus for telephony or electricity has been repainted by a street artist with a mother polar bear reaching out to draw her cub back into the box which is labelled “ICE” like at a petrol station. I start thinking “while I’m out” thoughts and quickly decide not to take any risks and so I head for home as Blood Sweat and Tears remind me that What Goes Up Must Come Down.
I am unlucky to have this awful lung condition that I have done nothing to earn. But I am very lucky in that I have the health insurance, the livelihood and the optimism to allow me the best of care and the financial stability to wait out this awful health and economic crisis. I am well aware of others who are not so lucky. And I am gruesomely fascinated with the horror show currently playing out in the USA and UK!
I am lucky to live in a wealthy country with a good health system and a reasonable government but I have very little respect for our present system of government that seeks to support people like me and ignore others without such stability and personal resource. The worth of a nation is measured in its treatment of its most vulnerable. The worth of this government should be measured by ALL of its actions not just those of the last 3 months.
Before I leave Darren asks, “Anything else on today?” I proudly reply, “making scrubs.” He tilts his head questioningly. “I am making scrubs for nurses and medical staff. There is a group on Facebook. We sew and some sell the scrubs but mine are free because I have the materials and I can make them free.”
There is not much else I can do to help in this crisis, so I have suspended dance costume making (given a concert seems unlikely) to use the fabric I have been stashing for way too long. I have made scrubs for my niece, a NICU midwife (who likes to theme her scrub tops) for a couple of years now so it is the least I can do for the many medical people who have kept me alive.
Some spit. I sew.
It is somewhat vicarious. I truly wish I could help the many dedicated and dying medical staff in the USA who must need even simple scrubs to cope with such a highly infectious atmosphere and such a woefully inadequate health system.
I do not need to remind anyone here of the failings of the Trump administration.
Next week I need to see my respiratory specialist. I have opted for a video consult. More to avoid the waiting room than any other fear. Again, I am lucky to do this. Many in the USA who do not have health cover will go daily to their work as they cannot afford time off for sickness. Many more will be found to have died at home as they cannot afford to see a doctor. Many Australians do not have computer access to allow video consults and many more will suffer anxiety from the unpredictable nature of a virus that few understand and even fewer have the resources to manage.
If this international disaster teaches us anything, I sincerely hope it teaches us that the, often lowest paid and often lowest revered in our everyday lives are the ones who held us all together. If these workers had the same predatory attitudes as our big business, finance and banking institutions they would probably go on strike right now to make us all realise their worth!
But we all know. Deep down. That those who care for us see why they are needed. Whilst those who use us to benefit themselves and others see only what is in their bank balance and their mirror.
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