Being locked down is supposed to keep us all safe, protect the health service and those at high risk of Covid-19, so why am I sat in the back of an ambulance on a cold Saturday evening? Well, it turns out that being in lockdown does not protect anyone from general Tom Foolery and there is certainly no protection against a teenager, a slightly damp tiled floor and an attempt at a pirouette which promptly resulted in a knee cap sliding over to the left and a call for assistance to the Bombeiros.
I was brought up under the motto of “if it is not hanging off and bleeding profusely then you don’t need a doctor”, something that I have myself followed diligently, occasionally to the detriment of a family member who may, or may not, have sustained a serious fracture and didn’t attend hospital until the cold light of day revealed a flopping arm which then prompted a trip to the hospital.
This motto did however seem to be even more important than ever as we find ourselves deep in the midst of a pandemic and are constantly reminded of the immense pressure facing the health service, so it was with a heavy heart that the call went out for help. Not only did I feel bad that the scenario leading up to said knee cap relocation had happened in the first place but I was crushingly aware that this accident was drawing on our precious resources.
The ambulance arrives (in an impressive seven minutes), the Bombeiros enter our home and begin the process of extricating our failed Darcey Bussell and transporting us over to the Barlavento Hospital in Portimão where we are swiftly taken into the children’s emergency room.
This is a place I have been a few times over the years thanks to trampoline disasters, sporting escapades and a family trait for weak ankles and while I never want to head over the bridge to Portimão with a screaming child, it is a place that I usually feel safe, knowing that the professionals will work their magic and we will soon enough be out ready to tell the tale to friends and family. But visiting a hospital in a pandemic has changed this feeling and as we enter the emergency room I begin to worry that I am bringing in my little one to pandemic ground zero.
The reality however couldn’t be further from the truth. Usually, the waiting room is packed full of people, often four or five to each child with a green wrist band, but on this evening it is eerily quiet. I am not sure if this is a sign of lockdown working to stop children getting ill or launching themselves into inanimate objects around the home, or perhaps this awful situation has actually made people re-evaluate whether or not they should make a trip to the hospital or not?
Don’t get me wrong, I was very happy, more than very happy, to see that the situation in the hospital was under control, a far cry from January, which saw images from Portugal of ambulances queuing at the entrances of hospitals, and patients waiting for hours on trolleys for treatment at the height of the second wave of the pandemic were being pinged around the world for all to witness. It was also great to see that there weren’t all of the green wrist bands in the waiting room, nobody wants a child to be ill but I also don’t like to see a child in the emergency room with a cold. But it did raise the question of where are all the patients?
The reduction of traffic on the roads can clearly beseen as an influencing factor in reducing accidents, while fewer people in the work place, a ban on sports in general and most of the nation simply sitting around with their laptop for hours on end each day will surely reduce the incidence of accidents occurring but where is everyone else?
Anyone who has ever taken a trip to their local Centro de Saúde, even to try and make an appointment, will usually be met with a room full of people, although I am not always sure what these people are waiting for in some cases. A trip to the hospital to visit someone on the ward will see you fight through a crowd of chain smokers as you beat your way to the entrance and in some cases, have to pick your way through a full picnic, as you enter the building. But there was nobody even stubbing out a cigarette at the emergency room, even the security guard looked bored by only needing to click the button to open the door once every 10 minutes, rather than every 10 seconds.
I asked the surprisingly sprightly emergency orthopaedic surgeon if it was usual to be so quiet on a Saturday evening “People are scared of coming to the hospital right now” he shrugged. “But there is no safer place.”
The entire experience took only one hour and forty-five minutes, from wheeling in, to double x-rays, medication, knee popping placement, cutting off of much loved jeans (probably when most tears were shed) and administering of full leg cast, and it was true, I never once felt unsafe during the entire experience, well at least until I was trying to leave the hospital and navigate a roundabout alongside drivers who were clearly not well versed in how to use the lane system – but this is another subject altogether…