DRMacIver's Notebook

Ready for less than you think

Ready for less than you think

I had to go to the hospital earlier. This wasn't a big deal, I just needed an X-ray on my knee, which has been giving me a hard time for a few months. I set up an appointment with my GP late last month, expecting it to take a while to get the referral sorted (this is incorrect, the NHS is actually very good at prompt X-ray referrals, but I always forget this because I rarely get X-rays and they're rather less prompt at many referrals on other things), so I'd have time for Omicron to settle down and have my knee looked when it was sensible and safe.

Then I got a call this morning at around 8:33. I was not at all awake at 8:33. I'd had another night of bad sleep, and my alarm had gone off at 8:30 and so I was technically conscious, but it was very confusing when my phone made a noise from the other room as if someone were uncouth enough to actually want to speak to me on it.

The person on the other end told me that they'd had an urgent X-ray referral from my GP (I'm not sure it was really urgent if I'm honest) and could I come to Charing Cross Hospital for 10:25?

My response was slightly more articulate than "Huh? What? Zzzz" but not vastly more. Eventually my brain kicked into gear and I said I didn't think I could physically make it in time even if I left right that minute. Fortunately I checked Google Maps and determined that Charing Cross Hospital was not in fact anywhere near Charing Cross, but was in fact near Hammersmith, which is much easier for me to get to, and I determined that it would be tight but doable. So I said yes, I could do it.

A very rapid shower and a COVID test later, and a hurried message asking my partner to be in my flat to meet the Ocado delivery that was supposed to be arriving at 11, I dashed out the door to the bus stop.

The first problem I encountered was that after having promised me a very straightforward route, Google maps was now telling me that it was literally impossible to get there by public transport. It does that. The Google maps app sometimes believes my area (which is very well appointed with bus routes and not too bad to walk to various more civilised forms of public transport) is just utterly inaccessible to public transport, despite generally being OK on desktop web. I opened it on my phone's browser instead and it confirmed that yes the single direct bus to Hammersmith was still a perfectly viable option despite the app's lies.

The second problem was that I missed my bus. This wasn't a huge deal, as it wasn't that tight and there was another one in 7 minutes, but as I was wondering whether it would make sense to get a taxi there I noticed my third problem: My phone was on 13% battery.

It shouldn't have been. I'd charged it overnight. When I got home I found out that the charger had partly fallen out of the power socket, so although the cable was connected to the phone this wasn't a problem.

This also shouldn't have been a problem. I basically never travel without an external battery for my phone. But I couldn't find it when I was leaving, I was in a hurry, and figured it was fine - my phone was fully charged (oops) and I was only going to be out for a few hours.

Anyway, I turned my phone off in order to conserve power, got the bus, and happily read Robertson Davies writing about interpersonal drama between Canadian academics for half an hour or so until I got to Hammersmith.

Then I got off the bus, turned on my phone, and prepared to walk the last 5-10 minutes from Hammersmith to Charing Cross Hospital.

This should be easy, it's just a straight line from Hammersmith, more or less. I mean look at this, it's not a complicated route.

Just one problem: Figuring out which straight line it is is impossibly confusing, because when your phone is in low power mode Google Maps becomes all but useless at telling you where you are, and Google Maps has always been useless at orienting without GPS in the UK because it insists on displaying road numbers instead of names. I don't want to know that this is the fucking A315, Google, I want to know what the name on the road sign is.

I think I could have figured it out in about five minutes of wandering around the junction and staring (in retrospect, I knew which way North was, and if I'd oriented Google maps right I could have known I needed to head southish, and that would have been enough). Unfortunately I got about three minutes, which was how long my phone took to eat through the remaining 13% of battery. I don't know why it died so fast and should probably look into that.

It took me about 25 minutes to find Charing Cross Hospital. I asked five different people for directions in the course of that. They were all very nice about it - I do charming but flustered polite Englishman very well and it tends to work for getting strangers to help you out.

They were not, reliably, useful. Some of their directions were straight up wrong, some of them were in retrospect right but I failed to follow them correctly. The result was a lot of doubling back on myself. But I did find it before my appointment, though not as much before my appointment as they want you to be. I was tired, stressed, and had done enough running at that point (mostly to catch the bus, the rest was a brisk walk) that I'd probably aggravated the knee problem I was there to get checked.

Anyway the X-ray all went fine, nothing to report there for now. They did make me do a rather uncomfortable lunge to get the knee right before the X-ray machine, which I'm probably going to pay for given that it's exactly the sort of motion that triggers the knee problem, but so far it's no worse than grumpy.

Anyway, the knee isn't really the point of this story (to the degree that there's a point rather than me just feeling like telling you about how my day went).

All of this has me thinking about preparedness, and the way it decays. This whole episode would have gone much better prior to the pandemic, because I would not have made the mistake with my phone - maybe it wouldn't have been charged, but I'd have had the battery. I'd have been less flustered by Google maps's problems because I'd have Citymapper installed (my phone is a bit low on space and I'm not actually travelling far right now so I uninstalled it).

Fundamentally, leaving the house involves a certain amount of skill and preparations. If you're travelling regularly, those are all fresh. If you're not, your skills have got rusty and your habits have been decayed - the battery that you always have access to has gotten tucked somewhere weird because you haven't used it recently for example.

Navigation was also like this to a degree - I'd utterly lost the skill. When I mentioned asking for directions, J said "Wow, asking for directions? What is this the 90s??" and it's true - I've had a smart phone on me for 11 years at this point. The idea of being lost is just alien. Asking for directions was fine, but following them from memory sure was hard.

It feels ridiculous to be bad at leaving the house in this way (finding it difficult to leave the house is less confusing, but successfully leaving the house and being bad at it is weird), because this is something that seems trivial and I've spent so long being competent at that it's part of my internalised self image that it's just something I can do at a moment's notice without it going wrong (a small achievement, but not an automatic one - I know many people who can't leave the house without forgetting something for example), but it's fairly natural, just not internalised.

I've been thinking about how long it's going to take for being in a crowd to feel normal again, even once it's safe, but I think maybe one of the interesting things is going to happen before that, as we gradually resume life and find out all the skills and habits we'd taken for granted have to be relearned from scratch.