Over the next few months we'll all be spending a lot more time indoors trying to limit the spread of COVID-19. We've been in touch with members of the mountain medicine community to ask them for suggestions on how to manage. Here's retired psychiatrist Tony Page to share his thoughts...
Mid-March and my son and I were staying in the FRCC hut at Kinlochleven. We’d planned some skiing and winter mountaineering and on our first day had managed a short ski tour to the summit of Meall a Bhuiridh.
Tom Page skinning up Meall a Bhuiridh
On our second day we’d set off walking in the Mamores but retreated from the col between Stob Coire a' Chairn and our objective for the day, Na Gruagaichean, after we’d both been blown off our feet by the very strong wind. That evening, monitoring the emerging crisis, I picked up an email informing club members that the committee had decided that the huts were to be closed forthwith. A hasty enquiry by one of the other residents confirmed that we could complete our booked stay, but it seemed that Scottish Mountain Rescue had asked people to stick to low-risk, preferably familiar routes and so we decided to leave the following morning. Later that day, it was announced that all schools would be closed; two days later pubs, bars and restaurants were closed and five days later lockdown was announced.
Back home in Cumbria we can see the Coniston Fells from the road past our house. Of course, the weather has been fine and sunny for almost five weeks and has only changed in the last couple of days. It has been so frustrating not to be able to get into the hills!
Coniston Fells from close to our house
We are allowed our period of local exercise, though, and I’ve been out on my bike. I’m a mountain biker, really. I don’t own a road bike - I find road cycling a bit boring. But like walking and climbing, mountain biking is out of bounds for now so I’ve been cycling on the local back roads for an hour a day. However, they are pretty hilly, and my favourite route even has a short off-road section along a permitted cycleway alongside the Leven estuary.
Mountain Rescue training has gone online, and from our homes the other evening the team planned and executed a search for two girls, Nancy and Peggy Blackett, aged 11 and 9, who had set out to climb Yew Bank (SD 2626 9097) but had not returned to Woodland Grove (SD 2479 9086), their holiday cottage in the Woodland valley. It wasn’t long before we found them - Nancy had somehow become trapped investigating derelict machinery in nearby Crag Wood. A virtual casualty carer checked her over and fortunately she was unhurt. We managed to drive a virtual Land Rover along the track to the wood, so the girls got a ride back. The team hoped that the grateful Blackett parents might provide tea and flapjack all round.
A warm summer in 2019 saw Goldfinch numbers increase significantly throughout the UK. More of the same in 2020?
The last few weeks have been good for watching our garden birds. We’ve noticed a decline in chaffinches over the last few years, but they seem to have made a bit of a comeback this year. Greenfinches have disappeared, but there has been an explosion in goldfinch numbers. We have the usual wood pigeons and collared doves, robins, blue tits, great tits and dunnocks but I haven’t seen a house sparrow for a while. We have coal tits, a pair of bullfinches, nuthatches and a tree creeper. In previous years we’ve had great spotted woodpeckers visit the peanut feeder but I’ve only seen one of them, on a single occasion, this year. Jays are a rarity in our garden but we saw one several times last week. One of the local farmers has pheasants and they wait under the seed feeder for smaller birds to knock seeds down onto the ground.
Male and (leucistic) female pheasant under the bird feeder
We don’t see many thrushes these days but we had two fledgling chicks, and a baby robin, yesterday. Unusually, we’ve also heard, and now seen, a stonechat in a tree on the other side of the house. We are awaiting the arrival of swallows and house martins from Africa.
What else? Well, there is making some plans for a research project. And there is reading to catch up on- there’s a 1130 page ‘modernist classic’ on my bookshelf that I’ve been avoiding for several years. No excuse now.
The Man Without Qualities
Generally speaking, then, my lockdown hasn’t been too bad so far. I’m very lucky to live where I do and it must be so very different living in a flat in an inner-city tower block. Things haven’t been quite so easy for my wife, who developed severe brittle asthma in her late 30s. She received a text, then a letter, advising her to stay in the house, to keep 2m away from other household members, and to eat in a different room from us to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. The weather has helped, though, and as we have a fairly large garden and live in a small hamlet with few neighbours the risk from being outside in the garden must be very low. So, she has been out planting seeds and has been doing some painting in the wooden summerhouse that she uses as a studio.
However, things will get more difficult. The weather has changed and my wife will be stuck in the house, with excursions into her studio. My son and I are minimising our contacts outside the house and trying to be stringent about our physical distancing. Also, retired doctors like me have been presented with a dilemma- there have been adverts in the press and on TV, asking us to return to work. The GMC emailed to inform me that it had temporarily restored my licence to practice. I don’t intend to jeopardise my wife’s health but filled in a questionnaire for NHS Practitioner Health offering to provide staff support and made a tentative enquiry of the Covid-19 Bringing Back Staff Campaign. I received a phone call from the latter asking if I would work at the Manchester NHS Nightingale hospital. I wasn’t sure what an 63-year retired psychiatrist living in Cumbria could do there, and even though the young recruiter assured me that ‘all training would be provided’ I declined. I’m still waiting to hear from NHS Practitioner Health- telephone or video support for front-line staff needing to talk to someone away from their place of work would seem to be something I could realistically offer - but perhaps these things are being adequately provided either in-house or by local mental health services.
My current involvement in the crisis is limited to clapping those of you working in the NHS (and not to forget staff working in care homes) at 8pm on Thursdays. Whilst I try to convince myself that I’ve done what I can by volunteering to return in some capacity I readily confess that I will definitely not be disappointed if the offer is not taken up. You, on the other hand, are having to manage not only a tidal wave of severely ill patients but also a sustained degree of personal risk. This is unlike anything the NHS has faced before, and you are dealing with it with bravery and increasingly inadequate supplies of PPE. You have my respect and admiration.
Part 18 of "Isolation" can be found here.