Regional health prognosis looks grimmer

In a room above a closed hotel, a man is sitting on the side of his bed.

The hotel is in a popular suburb, but there is no noise aside from the occasional car. Downstairs, the tables in the pub's eating area have been packed to one side, the grates are down over the bar.

A beautiful stream of late daylight floats undisturbed through the restaurant.

The man, who is my husband, has just found out that his hip replacement has been cancelled. His white blood cell count is too low.

I don't often feel sorry for this man, but right now, I do. He is, in this moment, at the centre of the coronavirus storm for me.

We have made a mad dash to Newcastle for his operation - still deemed essential so I guess he really must have been in chronic pain - operation was confirmed, and then, the last-minute call from the doctor.

He is unsure what to do. He picks up the flip-phone that he finds suits his 71-year-old tech capabilities and just looks at it. He looks out the window.

The world has gone mad. No pub, no mates, horse racing hanging on by a thread and a wife who goes nuts if you touch a doorknob. There are no words.

We must travel four hours home - touching no doorknobs and avoiding public toilets - then find a GP to make a referral to a haematologist to try to get his blood count up and refer back to the specialist. We know this means at least six months, possibly longer.

In the country town we live in, doctors' appointments are rarer than a fully-stocked toilet roll aisle.

This year, just BC (Before Coronavirus), I turned 50. Time to have health checkups. I booked a mammogram and skin check at a town an hour away because mammograms aren't done here, and please see previous remark re doctors' appointments.

At the skin clinic, I was told a biopsy they had performed had come back positive for skin cancer. Three years ago. It was the first I knew of it.

By know we were in early stage coronavirus. I didn't care. I just wanted that skin cancer - by now the size of a small island - out. The somewhat mystified doctor asked me why I hadn't returned the first time. I didn't know, I said. Nobody had told me.

So it happens that in the middle of a global s....storm where our own impact is not even a drop in a very, very large ocean, we find ourselves getting stitches out and waiting in a hotel for a major operation.

Then we hear that GPs will be available for phone consultations.

If we can take a positive for our regional area - and so many others - out of this, please let it be that regional people need health care too. We are constantly urged to have checks - mammograms, pap smears, bowel cancer tests, prostate cancer - the list goes on and on. But if you can't get a small child with a hellish temperature in for a doctor's appointment, no one wants to clog up the system with checks. They are not happening.

This virus is suddenly making things possible - like over-the-phone GP calls. They might not be ideal but they are a step up from Dr Google.

Stay home if you can, stay safe, and hope for a world with a wider perspective at the other end.

Marie Low is a freelance journalist based in regional NSW.

This story Regional health prognosis looks grimmer first appeared on The Canberra Times.