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Shielding with my partner

While everyone has been advised to keep their distance from others to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), some people who are at risk of severe illness have been advised to follow shielding guidance to keep themselves safe. Here, Mark tells us what it’s like to shield with his partner, Julie.  

Mark and julie
Mark and his partner Julie

My name is Mark. I am 49 years old, and I am a lawyer. I also regularly care for my partner, Julie, who has severe lung disease and other chronic conditions which affect her health. I care because that is what love is, not because it is a duty. We are not married, but in sickness and in health – that is part of love.

Julie is one of the significant minority of ‘extremely vulnerable’ people who have been advised to minimise all interaction with other people to prevent them from coming into contact with Coronavirus, this is otherwise referred to as ‘shielding’. Along with more than a million others in the UK, Julie received a letter telling her to stay at home for at least 12 weeks. You are regarded as extremely vulnerable if you are at very high risk of severe illness as a result of coronavirus. People with a range of long-term lung conditions, like Julie, are in this group if their condition is severe. Though I am not considered to be in this group, I made the personal decision to shield with Julie.

We wanted to live as normal as possible in lockdown

Julie and I have been together for over 30 years and we are soulmates. We share three female Siamese cats. The “decision” to shield was never one that was needed or had to be made - we wanted to be together and live as normal as possible in lockdown. I would never be apart from her during this time.

We have been fortunate that I am able to work from home, both now and over the last four years. Prior to the outbreak, this flexibility meant that I could be there when Julie was admitted to hospital because of her condition, or in recovery. Now it means that I can stay at home and continue working.

My personal life has required an adjustment, though we are coping well. Small things like having to organise food to be delivered rather than go out shopping have not been easy, particularly at the beginning when the panic buying left us exposed. The first few weeks were stressful and worrying.

I miss exploring London. To see great works of art, to walk where Hogarth or Dickens walked, to visit the churches from the oranges and lemons nursery rhyme, so many things I wanted to see or do. I hope I get to do so once again.

I have adopted new hobbies as a way to manage my mental wellbeing, for example, I have built a greenhouse and am growing vegetables. Perhaps we will keep it up, though like most things in life, this time next year I may have a dilapidated and unused greenhouse to feel guilty about. The potatoes I have planted are now beginning to sprout. In five weeks they will be ready to harvest.

The decision to break shielding advice for urgent hospital appointments

While the decision to shield was easy, decisions to break shielding advice for things like hospital visits are much harder. Urgent hospital and chiropodist appointments have been unnerving experiences of varying degree. During one visit to the hospital, we were directed to an area outside a ward which we found out had been allocated to care for Covid-19 patients. That was stressful.

After that, we went home, washed our clothes, showered and proceeded to wait for the recommended fourteen days to see if we would develop symptoms of the virus, such as a high fever, dry cough or muscle pain. Tick tock, tick tock, 10 days later we seem okay. Though aren’t we all tired and achy all the time? Is the dry cough COVID? Are the headache and stuffy nose hayfever? Who knows. Tick tock, another day passes, they are all very similar, so you lose count.

We take one day at a time

Even though life is pretty much the same, there is an eeriness that lingers in the air. End of life care conversations spring up anew. We have made sure our wills are up to date and our executors know where they are and what our wishes are.

We aren't planning any of the things we used to, we now take everything one day at a time – though I have rarely planned much anyway, I have always ambled through life to a degree. We are living a new life and continue to enjoy our time together.

If only I could run outside and eliminate the virus – this would have all sounded ridiculous just 4 months ago, and sounds like a Hollywood script, but it is our lives now.

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I too am shielding. I have asthma, COPD and pulmonary hypertension. My wife is shielding me. We were unable to get food from any supermarket at first. Luckily, the local shops were willing to deliver to the doorstep. To date, I have had to visit hospital twice since lock down began. Two very scary appointments. I am still alive and kicking. I am learning to read music and play the piano. My biggest wish is to have my newly diagnosed heart problem dealt with. I wish you all well. Alex.

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19 June 2020