First 5 weeks of lockdown – Julian Hoad

My daughters have been writing daily journals since the start of lockdown: my wife and I thought it might be something interesting to look back on in later years. This is certainly an unprecedented time in the World’s history. It is a time of superlatives, such as unprecedented and exponential (the number of times I’ve used that word in the last few weeks has increased, well…) and yet the World is a very different place from 2 months ago.

In previous world disasters (wars, famine, Blair’s government), we have all got through it by meeting up and joining together – by giving reassuring hugs and handshakes. This pandemic seems to have robbed us of those comforts. Or has it? People are mainly determined to remain happy and upbeat, and so we have all found ways of making social distancing the new norm and interacting at a distance; either by Zoom (other video conference facilities are available), or by sharing a brief 6-foot apart conversation whilst out on our daily walks. I live in a very rural part of West Sussex, with some very narrow footpaths, and we have all become quite ingenious at finding nettle-free banks or gaps to jump into when we see people approaching the other way (I call it ‘doing the Covid Two-Step’). We look forward to Thursday evenings when we all pop out of our front doors and cheer and clap for the Key workers. I started off playing the trumpet, but a neighbour has become much better than me – my ‘reveille’ was superseded by his rendition of ‘I’ve got to break free’ so I have resorted to playing my didgeridoo instead. We may have to move once lockdown ends.

Life at the practice is rather surreal. We have reduced (as most practices have) to a skeleton staff and triage every case by an initial telephone consultation. I’m not sure how other vets are coping with this, but I really don’t like it. I have realised how reliant I am on visual, tactile and auditory cues to aid my diagnoses. Video consults in an area with poor internet speeds are worse than no video: watching an octogenarian owner trying to aim their phone at their lame dog is like watching a poorly preserved film of the keystone Cops. After 20 minutes or so, when it has finally been established that their pet needs to be seen, I go through the procedure for safe handover of their pet. The owner must phone us from the car park: one of us vets or nurses will then don a gown and gloves and go out to collect the dog or cat, whilst still maintaining social distancing. This is not as easy as it should be. The owners respectfully wait 2 metres away while you pick up the cat basket and wipe down the outside with a Clinell wipe: they then rush forward to try to hand you a piece of paper with some scrawled notes on it. My typical response is to shout ‘Go away! Dirty! DIRTY!’ and run as fast as I can into the confines of the practice, but I wonder whether there is a better way of handling the situation.

Actually, it is quite nice examining a pet without the owner blathering on (admit it, there are a few clients that you are never going to tell that lockdown has ended!), although having to go back out to the car park and relate your findings to them, then going back in to administer treatment, then taking the pet back out to them leads to a very protracted consult and is more stressful than a normal consult. On balance, I think I’d rather go back to the ‘old ways’ of having the owner in the consult room with me; occasionally…