I’ve remained secluded safely at home for two months. As an introvert, I’m content never leaving the house. However, being a Crohn’s and liver transplant patient, I had to brave the outside world over the past three weeks. I had my bimonthly Remicade (infliximab) infusion, quarterly bloodwork, and semiannual follow-up with my gastroenterologist. All were standing appointments, but they were far from typical.
Social distancing at the infusion clinic
In mid-March, my gastroenterologist canceled my husband’s first screening colonoscopy because they deemed it an unnecessary procedure. I worried about how the restrictions might affect my upcoming Remicade appointment. At the time, the scheduler said the infusion clinic was running normally. That didn’t ease my concern of being confined with five strangers.
My stomach literally cramped up when the scheduler called a week later to reschedule my appointment. I was having a stress flare and feared they would push back my infusion. On the contrary, they moved my appointment 15 minutes earlier to avoid having too many patients at once. The clinic also prohibited caregivers from accompanying patients and requested that all patients wear masks.
When I arrived at the clinic, they had removed half of the recliners to space patients apart. The nurses wore masks the entire time and used gloves more than usual. The only change that disappointed me was having to air-hug goodbye to my nurses.
Getting blood drawn
My next outdoor adventure was my quarterly blood draw. I was thankful that my lab location wasn’t providing drive-thru COVID-19 testing. Nevertheless, I was wary about exposure to people who were possibly ill or hadn’t been social distancing. To get to the lab, I had to walk by an outpatient surgical center and a gastroenterology office. Also, even with an appointment, I might have to sit in a crowded waiting room.
Before leaving my car, I put on my mask. I pushed the elevator button with my elbow and took out my driver’s license to prepare to check in. Entering the lab, I was relieved to see empty chairs. My regular phlebotomist offered to check me as I was about to scan my license at the kiosk. I sanitized my hands three times at the lab and once more before getting back into my car.
Because of abnormal results, I have to go back next week. When I visited the lab’s website to reserve a time, I discovered that new procedures to protect patients had been posted. The first hour of the lab’s operation is set aside for vulnerable populations. Instead of kiosks, patients can check in via a mobil app and wait in their cars until called. With Texas, the state where I live, lifting shelter-in-place orders, I’m reassured by my options for next time.
Telehealth with my gastroenterologist
I wasn’t anxious about my first telehealth appointment because I videoconference for work. Most platforms are similar. As long as I checked my microphone and camera settings beforehand, I didn’t foresee having technical issues.
My only predicament was how to share the lab results ordered by my hepatologist. Normally, I bring hard copies for my gastroenterologist, Dr. Stassen, to review and place in my file. I ended up emailing them to his nurse.
Another change was that his physician assistant Jessica, whom I haven’t seen since my early years of diagnosis, would be seeing me. Because of his age, Stassen has been working from home. I’m assuming Jessica, who’s working from the office, is attending to non-urgent cases.
The office sent me the standard paperwork to complete and instructions for the telehealth visit a few days beforehand. An hour before my appointment, they called to check me in, ask for my vitals, and ensure I could log into the telehealth site.
With doctors only performing emergency procedures, Jessica warned that they might delay until December my annual colonoscopy scheduled for August unless my Crohn’s flare worsened. Also, anyone having a procedure will be tested for COVID-19.
Because the FibroScan center was closed, Jessica shelved my hepatologist’s request to check for fatty liver disease, especially since my liver enzymes were normal. She recommended I drink a daily cup of coffee because it’s rich in antioxidants that combat the disease. She instructed me to continue my diet and exercise until I reached my baseline weight. My hepatologist and Stassen could decide later if a FibroScan is still necessary.
Is this healthcare’s new normal?
Except for a few hiccups, I’m pleased with the changes that made my medical visits less stressful. I didn’t have to protect myself any more than usual because medical facilities and other patients are taking extra precautions to avoid infection. Telemedicine is more enjoyable because I didn’t waste time driving or waiting idly for the doctor. I’m hopeful these practices may become standard to keep patients and healthcare workers safe.
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