baking · celebrations · food · recipes · Seasonal

Christmas Round-Up: Fun Ideas For Christmas 2020

It’s that happy season where everyone is posting about Christmas, Christmas, Christmas… In my house, the Christmas season doesn’t start properly until the 7th December, as my husband’s birthday is the 6th December and clearly takes precedence over the other festive season! But that doesn’t mean the preparations haven’t started, so I thought I’d share my Christmas round-up post, including ideas for festive baking, food and drink, gift ideas and family activities…

Christmas Round Up: Fun Ideas For Christmas 2020

Festive Food & Drink

Christmas is, of course, the season of food – and for those of us who love baking, it’s an opportunity to get into the kitchen and get creative! I’m planning on trying out this festive white chocolate rocky road traybake (complete with candy canes!) and this sticky gingerbread recipe. I’m not sure if I’ll get the time but I’m hoping to manage this impressive looking chocolate twist Christmas tree! Of course, in our house gluten free baking is pretty important, so I was also excited to find this recipe for gluten free mince pies. Let’s be honest… It’s not Christmas without mince pies!

Baking with kids at Christmas

If you have young children, the festive season is a lovely opportunity to get them involved in baking (and eating, of course!). These easy no bake sweet treats are just the right kind of safe and fun recipes to make with your kids at Christmas. Slightly older will love this Mars Bar fudge recipe for slow cookers, which is also a lovely, simple recipe that they can get involved in creating.

Christmas drinks and cocktails

Cranberries are one of those ingredients that I really associate with Christmas, but other than cranberry sauce with your Christmas dinner, it’s hard to come up with much to do with them… I’m planning on using cranberry juice and orange juice to make some tasty morning mocktails over the festive season – just what you want to wake up to!

On the alcoholic side of things, earlier this year I made some delicious hawthorn gin which should be ready for Christmas – I can’t wait to enjoy it in some prosecco in a festive hawthorn fizz. You can find my recipe for hawthorn gin here. I’ve also tried making some Christmas pudding vodka – so I’m pretty excited to see how that turns out!

Christmas Gift Guides

Buying presents can be so tricky, and especially this year when lockdown and the Covid tiers system means it’s not easy to get out to the shops and just browse.

If you’re buying gifts for kids, there are some great ideas in this Christmas gift guide for children, or why not consider a magazine subscription so they get a new gift every month?

In our house, we’re very much aware that food intolerances and dietary requirements can make Christmas gifting challenging – so I love this guide to buying gifts for vegans!

Moving away from food and drink gifts, this guide has some lovely homeware gift ideas, to or this weird and wonderful gift guide gives some quirky and different ideas for gifts your loved ones won’t be expecting. If you’re looking for super-specific gifts, I even found this gift guide for fans of the TV show Friends (I actually re-watched the entirety of Friends over maternity leave so it’s kind of perfect…)

If you’re buying gifts for a tea lover in your life, I have a guide coming soon on the blog – keep your eyes peeled!

Fun Christmas Activities

Christmas is definitely time for relaxing in front of the television… But it’s nice to use your time off over Christmas to do some other fun activities – and as we’re all going to be staying indoors this Christmas, I’m trying to plan some fun activities in advance.

Christmas Crafts & More

I’ve always vaguely wanted to try making my own decorative Christmas wreath for our house, so I was excited to find this guide to making your own natural foliage wreath – hoping to get the chance to give it a go this year!

I’m also planning to use the time to do some home improvements; we’ve got some old furniture that we’re hoping to paint and upcycle, and we want to put up a mural in Little Man’s room.

Your Ideas For Christmas

What will you be getting up to for Christmas this year? Let me know your ideas for Christmas and the festive season!

baby · coronavirus · health · parenting

Getting A Covid 19 Coronavirus Test For Your Baby

So the other day, when Little Man came home from nursery, he had a bit of a runny nose. He was unsettled overnight, and in the morning was very snotty – like a fountain with a bad algae infestation – but seemed happy enough, so he went off to nursery in the morning as usual. Then, just after 10am, the nursery called to say that as he’d been coughing, they needed to send him home. And we needed to get a coronavirus test for our baby.

Nursery weren’t really worried that he had coronavirus; his main symptom was a runny nose, which isn’t usually a symptom of Covid – but as he’d been coughing of course they had to play it safe. My husband booked Little Man in for a Covid-19 test, and I took him off to the testing site in the afternoon. I thought it might be helpful to share our experience, because I really didn’t know what to expect with getting a baby tested for coronavirus, and to be honest some aspects of the process were a little baffling! It would have been helpful to read about someone else’s experience before we went. So here goes…

SPOILER ALERT: As we suspected, when the results came back they showed that Little Man did not have coronavirus, just a nasty cold.

getting a covid-19 coronavirus test for your baby in the UK my experience the sickly mama blog parenting

Getting A Covid 19 Coronavirus Test For Your Baby

Booking the test

You can’t just turn up to a Covid testing site and expect to be seen. Instead, you have to book a testing slot in advance, which you do via the .gov.uk website. Testing is free on the NHS if you have one or more of the main symptoms of Covid-19.

My husband actually booked our test slot while I was off picking up Little Man from nursery. You can book up to three household members in together for testing, and the process is pretty straightforward. After giving your postcode, you’re informed of your nearest coronavirus testing site – we were lucky to have one very close by. You could select a drive-through test or a walk-in test, and I went for the latter as it seemed more practical with a baby. You can pick a half hour long time slot for your test, and they tell you that it shouldn’t take longer than an hour. Fortunately for us, there were lots of free timeslots, so we could select a time that suited us right after Little Man has his lunch.

The website tells you that at some sites, you have to do the Covid swab yourself, while at other sites people do it for you – but it doesn’t tell you which one it’s going to be, based on the location you pick. We were also told to bring photo ID, although in the end no one actually asked to see it.

covid test site sign coronavirus UK testing site qr code drive through walk in the sickly mama blog

Finding the coronavirus testing site

I didn’t have a problem finding the test site itself – the problem came after we arrived. The testing site was set up in a car park. Not especially surprising for a drive-through testing centre. However there was no signage to indicate where to go for a walk-in test. I wandered around a bit, looking for a sign, being completely ignored by the staff there, and eventually gave up and just walked into the drive-through test entrance.

This attracted enough attention that someone finally came over to help. They seemed surprised to see someone coming for a walk through test, but took me to a table to one side of the car park, and told me to wait…

The Covid-19 Self Test Pack

I was given a sealed pack that contained various items – a swab (basically a cotton bud or Q-tip), tissue, plastic tube, two sealable plastic bags, and a set of instructions for how to conduct a Covid-19 Self Test.

The instructions were fine, but they’re not designed for getting a Covid-19 coronavirus test for your baby. In fact, all the instructions said on the matter was: “Children aged 11 and under – Adult to test child. Use the supplemental instructions to help you do this“. Fine… Except that I wasn’t given any supplemental instructions. Hmm.

I asked a member of staff, who said that he thought that you just needed to swab one nostril for young children – grown-ups have to swab their tonsils and nose (in that order, fortunately). I’m not sure whether the “supplemental instructions” on swabbing young children would have gone into more detail, but I do think it seems daft to have a separate set of instructions instead of just printing them all in one place.

I also think it would have been helpful not only to have actually had a copy of specific instructions of how to administer a Covid-19 coronavirus test to a baby, but to have had them in advance of going to the test site. If you knew what you were going to be asked to do, you could plan better how best to bribe/trick/otherwise deceive your baby into complying with the test. As it was, when we went to the site I didn’t even know that I would be asked to swab Little Man myself, let alone the details of what that would involve.

covid-19 self-test step by step guide UK government instructions coronavirus leaflet the sickly mama blog

Conducting A Covid 19 Coronavirus Test For Your Baby

What I had to do:

So, I had to sanitise my hands carefully, swab my baby’s nostril – according to the adult instructions, ideally for 15 seconds and quite deep into the nostril until you feel resistance… It didn’t sound super achievable, when you consider that Little Man screamed, cried, grabbed my hands, and sometimes tried to bite me most times I just attempted to wipe his runny nose with a tissue.

Then I had to break off the long end of the swab, put it into the plastic tube without spilling any of the liquid in the tube, put that and an “absorbent pad” into a Ziploc bag, put that bag into a sealable biohazard bag, and put that bag into a box. Yay.

The Complications:

Did I mention the fact that it was a windy day? And that I was sat at a trestle table in the middle of an exposed car park, with nothing to provide a wind break, and handfuls of plastic bags, loose pieces of paper, and other objects that seemed designed to fly away at any moment. Oh, and nothing to weight them down with.

The inevitable did of course happen, and half my Self Test Pack ended up scattered across the car park by the wind while I was trying to unpackage the swab. So then I had to scurry around trying to collect them all up in one hand without contaminating the swab in the other, which was super fun.

How it worked in practice:

I distracted Little Man with a toy he hadn’t seen for a while, which got his attention enough that I actually managed to wiggle the swab around fairly deep in his nostril for about seven or eight seconds before he started protesting.

When the swab came out it was very snotty (eurgh, sorry). I wasn’t sure if this would be an issue, as the instructions for adults tell you to blow your nose beforehand so that the test won’t be ruined by too much mucus. The guy at the test centre said it wouldn’t be a problem though, and we got the test results fine so I guess it wasn’t!

Getting your Covid-19 test results:

The results took just under 24 hours to arrive. My husband was sent the Covid test results by text message and email, which was handy as we had to send the nursery a copy of them. Happily, as we had suspected, Little Man’s test came back negative – he’s just had a nasty cold, not the ‘rona.

UK coronavirus covid-19 test site drive through walk in tests car park centre the sickly mama blog

My tips for other parents getting a Covid-19 coronavirus test for your baby

I think that the drive-through test option is probably easiest if there’s two parents on hand, but the walk-in test was much easier for me to manage with Little Man on my own. You’re not supposed to leave the car during a drive through Covid-19 test, and I wouldn’t fancy clambering into the back of the car to try to swab a baby in a car seat that’s facing the wrong way.

BUT. The wind did make the walk in test way more challenging than it needed to be, and it would have been even less fun in the rain, so check the weather forecast before you decide! If you do go for a walk in, expect to be outside the whole time, and take enough warm clothes for you and the baby.

If you’re getting a Covid-19 coronavirus test for your baby, I would take along some form of guaranteed distraction for the actual swabbing process – either a favourite toy they’ve not seen in a while or a favourite item of food. If you go for food though, make sure it’s something that will take them a little while to eat, like a breadstick, because the process is fiddly and takes a little while. If you’re in a car I guess you could even try to distract baby further with a baby sensory video on YouTube or similar.

getting a covid-19 coronavirus test for your baby in the UK my experience the sickly mama blog parenting

Your experiences of getting a Covid-19 coronavirus test for your baby or young child

Have you had to get a Covid-19 coronavirus test for your baby or young child in the UK or abroad? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments!

craft · days out · Just for fun · lifestyle · Seasonal

Window Wanderland: Making An Illuminated Window Display

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve used pretty much all my spare time when Little Man was sleeping or doing his settling-in sessions at nursery to work on creating an illuminated window display for Window Wanderland 2020. I themed the display around the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbour Totoro, because a) it’s one of my favourites, b) I assumed there would be lots of families out and about with kids, and c) honestly the characters have nice simple designs that should be easy to recreate in a papercut.

I was really happy with the final result!

The front view

In this blog post, I’ll talk about how I created my window display, and also share some photos of some of my favourite illuminated window displays from my local Window Wanderland event this year. Hopefully others will find it useful for information, ideas and inspiration if you’re planning on creating a illuminated window displays yourself. But first things first…

What Is Window Wanderland?

Window Wanderland is a scheme encouraging communities to set up “fun, local, all-people-friendly, window-display-based walking trails then share them with the world.” Illuminated window displays are set up by individuals or families in their homes over a couple of days, and then you can look up a map of your local area showing you where to find displays. It’s a really fun scheme, and obviously it’s especially great this year with the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, because it’s all outdoors and compliant with Covid-19 restrictions.

How Do You Make Illuminated Window Displays?

The flippant answer is: however you want to! As I walked around the illuminated window displays in my local area, I would say that it looked like most people (like me!) did displays using coloured crepe paper and black card. I did spot what looked like a display that had been painted onto tracing paper (?) so that it illuminated beautifully, which I thought was a great effect and allowed for a lot of detail:

How Did I Create My Window Wanderland Display?

By taking over the dining room table for about two weeks! Apologies to my very patient husband. I’ll outline exactly how I approached it and some of my top tips for how to make an illuminated window display with paper and card…

Step 1: Measure your windows

We have quite a complicated downstairs front window set-up, with 10 panels of varying shapes and sizes, so the first thing was to measure them up. I did a really bad job of this and actually got the measurements for six of the panels wrong, which I only discovered on the night when I went to put my display up in the window… Oops. They were only about 1cm out, but still! I recommend measuring everything twice…

Step 2: Buy your supplies

For my display, I bought a pack of 10 sheets of A2 black card, and a mixed pack of 20 sheets of coloured crepe paper (I already had a lot of the dark blue crepe paper that I used for the background colour). I didn’t use tracing paper as a backing, but lots of people do, especially if you’re going for a more collage-style effect.

My dining room table is in there somewhere…

I already had a craft scalpel in the house, which was essential for the finer lines, and a cutting mat. I also already had Pritt Stick glue in the house, but I ran out on the last day and had to run to the shops to get more – so make sure you have enough glue, as if you have large windows you can end up using a LOT. I also used blu-tack to stick the panels to the windows.

Step 3: Plan your design

I had a vague idea in my head of what I wanted to do, but I first cut my panels of black card into the right sizes for all the window panels – in some cases I also had to stick extra bits of card together to get the right size and shape for my windows. Then I outlined a reasonably thick border around the outer edge of each panel, and then started designing.

I did this as an iterative process, working panel by panel and outlining a design in pencil – rather than designing every panel from the start, before beginning to cut and paste, and I’m glad I did, because the first panel I did was way too complicated and took forever! After that, I simplified my designs a little, and also learned what shapes were easy/difficult to cut etc. as I went. You can see my excessively complicated first panel here – the top one with all the leaves:

I definitely think that when coming up with your design, less is more! I saw some amazing illuminated window displays around town that were just done with two colours – black card and a white background (for instance, see the Halloween themed Window Wanderland display below!). I think the simpler panels of my design have more impact as well.

Spooky…

Step 4: Cutting and sticking

My method was to cut a design out of black card, using a craft scalpel, and then stick coloured crepe paper in the gaps. For a few features, such as the eyes, I then glued more bits of black card on top of the crepe. It was quite fiddly, but I definitely got faster as I went along.

Actually one of the trickiest things was just finding somewhere I could put the panels while the glue was drying!

From indoors, you can see the construction more

How To Illuminate Your Window Display

I simply used blu-tack to attach my pieces of card to our front room windows. We then put the lights on in the front room. To make the display brighter, I also placed a lamp on a table by the window. If you’re wondering how to make your Window Wanderland display brighter, using extra lamps or even a projector will help light up the windows perfectly.

Window Wanderland Ideas and Inspiration

Before I started making my Window Wanderland display, I really wanted to see other people’s displays, for inspiration! So I thought I’d share a few more illuminated window displays that I particularly liked from my local area. Perhaps they will give you ideas for your own window display. Personally, I think windows work best when they have a strong theme – I really liked some of the Halloween themed windows we saw, and those themed around literature or music. As we get closer to Christmas, I imagine that Christmas themed Window Wanderland displays could be really awesome as well. Anyway, here are a few photos of displays from my local event… and my thoughts on how to make something similar.

Koi carp and irises window:

This beautiful display looks like it was made in a similar way to my display: cutting the design out of black card, and backing it with crepe paper.

Abstract colours window:

This abstract design is so beautiful and I think something like this would be easily achievable if you’re not feeling confident about making your window display. Again, it looks like it’s made with black card backed with crepe paper.

Prehistoric ocean window:

This lovely prehistoric ocean display looks like it was made by glueing strips of crepe paper onto tracing paper, and then sticking black cut outs on top.

Your Experience of Window Wanderland Events

I hope this post has been helpful if you’re looking for some inspiration and ideas for a Window Wanderland illuminated display!

Are you taking part in Window Wanderland in your local area? I’d love to see your designs and ideas! Let me know in the comments or tag me on social media for a share.

how to make an illuminated window display for window wanderland pictures and inspiration the sickly mama blog art and crafts
health · top tips

Coronavirus Second Wave: Surviving Lockdown 2.0

2020 has been a pretty crazy year. I can’t say it’s been a bad year, because my lovely son was born in January, but it’s definitely been a mad year. And now it seems that we’re heading for the second wave of coronavirus… and a second lockdown. The first lockdown back in March was a bit of a shock. None of us had been through anything like that before. Will surviving a second lockdown be easier, because we know what to expect, or will it be harder – for the same reason? It’s difficult to know, especially as we don’t yet know what a second lockdown will look like. The one thing we do know is that lockdown has some pretty major effects on mental health.

So in preparation, I’ve pulled together a round up of some of my favourite blog posts about surviving lockdown 2.0 with your well-being intact…

Surviving Lockdown 2.0 And Maintaining Wellbeing

1. Coping with social isolation in a second lockdown

One of the most difficult things about lockdown is the social isolation. It’s particularly tough if you live alone, but even those of us living with family, friends or housemates can struggle not being able to see the people we’re closest to, or even have those everyday interactions with other people that you don’t even notice under normal circumstances – a chat with a friendly check-out clerk, a quick gossip in the office, even just a smile in the street. Humans just aren’t made for social isolation.

This blog post gives some great tips on coping with social isolation, and the impact on our mental health, as does this post on loneliness in lockdown. I also like this post on keeping your mind busy during lockdown. Check them out!

2. Creating a wellness retreat at home

My idea of maintaining wellness at home is agreeing with my husband an evening that I can have a bath while he feeds Little Man and puts him to bed (Little Man’s room is next to the bathroom and our pipes are super loud, so I can’t bath after he’s gone to bed!). I run a hot bath, add some bubbles, make a mug of herbal tea and grab a book to read while I soak. Luxury!

But this blog post made me realise I was aiming wayyyyy too low. You really can create a luxury wellness retreat at home – it just requires a bit of planning! Even if your family commitments mean you can’t quite clear your schedule for a while day of home spa relaxation, the links at the bottom of this post give some great ideas for lovely ways to boost your wellness when you have less time available. During coronavirus lockdown 2.0 when you can’t go out or meet friends, it’s so important for your mental health to carve out some time for yourself, and this post is great inspiration for your next block of me-time.

6 ideas for surviving lockdown 2.0 coronavirus second wave mental health and wellness

3. Mindfulness meditations to combat Covid-19 second lockdown stress and anxiety

Linked to the above, lockdown is inevitably stressful. Not being able to go out and spend time with friends and family is stressful in itself, let alone worries about catching coronavirus, managing food and medication shortages, employment issues and more. Mindfulness is a great way to combat stress and anxiety, and even as little as a ten minute mindfulness session every day can make a real difference to your mental health and wellbeing.

As we go into Lockdown 2.0, I’m going to be proactive about using mindfulness to manage stress, and working my way through this list of 10 minute mindfulness meditations.

4. Managing second lockdown food shortages and limited shopping trips

If the newspapers are to be believed, panic buying has already started in advance of the second lockdown. Back in April, I set out some of my top tips for managing with lockdown food shortages and limited shopping trips. I’ll be revisiting some of those tips, and trying to make sure we have a well-stocked freezer before Lockdown 2.0 hits!

5. Improving Wellness At Home

I like this round-up post about improving your wellness at home. Some things are so simple and yet they do really make a difference to how you feel… Like making sure you get outdoors every day if possible. During the first coronavirus lockdown, we always made sure to pop into the garden every evening with Little Man, to spend a little time with nature, and it always really lifted my mood. Unless it was raining, of course! If you have a garden and a little person (or people) at home, you can also check out these tips for making your garden kid friendly.

6. Tips for mamas to survive Lockdown 2.0

Of course a huge focus of this blog is on parenting and being a mama, so I loved this blog post about how mamas can beat the lockdown blues and this post with self-care tips for lockdown. Of course a lot of the tips will be great for dads too (although probably not every dad will want a mini makeover). This article on tips for mamas to create a successful routine for working from home is also great.

There are benefits to being locked down with kids – at least the time goes quickly as you’re caught in the constant whirl of feeding, naptime, playtime and tantrums – but there’s no denying it can be stressful and exhausting. If you need some ideas on how to keep kids occupied, check out this post on an A – Z of family life in lockdown or this one on lockdown learning and home schooling.

For families that are staying connected online, I loved this idea of an online family scavenger hunt. And you can check out these tips on outdoor learning as well, in preparation for time in the garden or local park, or these ideas for keeping young children occupied with home play activities. It’s also worth looking for play activities that are also educational – that way you don’t worry about leaving kids in front of a screen for a while…

I also liked this post about tips for kids returning to school – useful for the end of lockdown!

7. Get cooking

I love cooking and baking, and I really think that getting in the kitchen and cooking something yummy is such a great way to keep occupied. Some recipes that I’m planning to try whenever the inevitable lockdown 2.0 starts include: these herby halloumi fries (omg I love halloumi so much!), this classic French tartiflette, some beetroot orange and ginger soup, and these Yorkshire puddings (okay, I should probably wait until we’re having a roast dinner!).

On the baking side, I’m going to try making some chocolate flapjacks, these little peanut butter and chocolate nibbles, and this chocolate espresso banana bread (can you sense a certain chocolatey theme?

8. Get daydreaming

It can also be fun to think past the end of lockdown and look to the future. Yes, there’s so much that we can’t do in lockdown, but in some ways it can focus your mind on what you really want to prioritise doing once things return to something a bit more like normality. I think we’ll all be better at prioritising the things that really matter to us once this is over. I like this post on things to do once lockdown is over – check it out! If you’re feeling brave, you could even think about booking a holiday so you have something more definite to look forward to. Some providers do offer holidays that are protected if you have to cancel due to Covid (but be sure to check the T’s & C’s) – you can read about one family’s experience of a pandemic holiday here!

Second Lockdown: Your Tips

What are your top tips for surviving lockdown… again? Let me know in the comments!

coronavirus covid 19 second wave surviving lockdown 2.0 with good mental health and wellness
coronavirus · health

Please Become A Blood Stem Cell Donor

Normally when I write my blog, I just hope that my readers take time to read my posts and enjoy them. Today’s a bit different, because today I’m asking you to do something. Please, please, please sign up to be a blood stem cell and/or bone marrow donor.

Why am I asking you?

This is Adeline

She’s nearly four years old and was diagnosed with a rare form of bone marrow failure almost two years ago. Ever since, Adeline has been waiting for a lifesaving bone marrow transplant. Recently, it seemed a donor match had been found, but her family have now heard that this has fallen through, and once again no matches are available.

adeline davies bone marrow failure become a blood stem cell donor the sickly mama blog

This is what Adeline’s mum has to say:

“One 3 minute phone call, I expected to get a date for transplant but instead heard the words: ‘The donors we have are not an option any longer,’ and ‘there are currently no matches for Adeline.’ It felt like a dagger in the gut and in the heart. Back to the start, just with far less hope.”

“The only way of saving Adeline’s life is a bone marrow transplant. So we need all the help and all the sign ups we can get!
Please register with DKMS, Anthony Nolan or any stem cell/bone marrow registry. All it takes is a few mouth swabs and you can save a life like Adeline’s.”

You can follow Adeline’s journey here.

Did you know?

Because of Covid, nearly 19,000 fewer people joined the stem cell register this year. That’s a massive drop, and given that many people struggled to find a donor match even before the current crisis.

Already, only 60% of transplant recipients receive the best possible stem cell match, and that drops to just 20% for people from black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds. More donors from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds are desperately needed.

What does blood stem cell donation involve?

90% of blood stem cell donations are done by Peripheral Blood Stem Cell collection, a straightforward process similar to donating blood, although you will need injections in the days leading up to your donation. There’s no need for an overnight stay in hospital.

10% of donations are done via bone marrow transplant. This requires a general anaesthetic and a couple of nights in hospital. You can find out more about each method of donation here.

What if I can’t donate?

Not everyone is a suitable donor due to age and/or health conditions. Unfortunately, I’m not eligible to donate due to my pituitary tumour, which is why I’m trying to help out by spreading the word and encouraging others to become a blood stem cell donor if they can. If like me you can’t donate, please share the word on social media and in person to encourage others to sign up, and consider making a financial donation to the charities that run the donor registries.

Plus, remember to wear your masks, wash your hands, and social distance to limit the spread of coronavirus. A Covid infection could be the difference between life and death for someone waiting for a blood stem cell transplant.

Please, if you can, become a blood stem cell donor

So please do consider signing up to the donor registry today. You might just save a life.

health

Going To Hospital During Covid-19 Lockdown

I recently had to attend hospital for an MRI scan and scan of my thyroid gland, as my doctors try to work out why I’m experiencing high levels of thyroid hormones at the moment. Although the UK has started easing Covid-19 lockdown measures, obviously in hospitals they’re still very strict about the lockdown rules, so I thought it might be helpful to write about my experience, to help ease your mind if you do need to attend hospital at the moment.

Going To Hospital During Lockdown

28 Days Beta

The hospital seemed very quiet and empty. I’m used to going there regularly with all my health issues, and it’s always a bustling place. Not currently! There were whole corridors completely devoid of human life. It was like being in a really boring zombie movie, where the zombies are quite neat and tidy and make sure to mop the floors once in a while.

photo of hospital corridor during coronavirus lockdown 2020
I am legend(ary with a broom)

In waiting areas, chairs had been moved to a distance of 2 metres apart, and where there were fixed groups of chairs, they taped off every other chair to create gaps. In one department, they had actually zoned the waiting area and each person was directed to their own personal zone! It did mean there was less capacity for waiting, and I saw one guy who turned up very early for his appointment being turned away due to lack of space, so that’s worth being aware of if you’re usually an early bird.

Everyone’s An Expert

Everyone is required to wear face coverings in the hospital at the moment. I brought my own mask (sparkly face mask by the amazing Velvet Jones Bespoke), but they were handing out free paper masks at the main entrances, and most people just seemed to be taking the free masks… Not sure that’s great for our cash-strapped NHS, but there you go.

wearing a sparkly sequin face mask at hospital during the coronavirus lockdown 2020
If you’re going to wear a face mask, it might as well be sparkly!

As a result, walking around the hospital you get the impression that everyone you see is a surgeon, because they’re all wearing surgical masks. There are a lot of sloppily dressed surgeons out there, I can tell you.

Visitor Free Since ’93

Now all hospitals are different at the moment, my hospital has started allowing some limited visiting of inpatients, but if you’re attending as an outpatient you’re not allowed anyone with you, unless they’re your carer or you’re a parent accompanying a child.

Break It Off

The food halls, shops and coffee outlets at the hospital were mostly closed. There was one coffee shop, the canteen and one mini supermarket open, both using social distancing rules. Everyone behind the counters wore masks and were behind plastic screens as well.

I had a big gap between my first and second appointments, so I was relieved that the main food hall was still open. Tables had been moved two metres apart and there was a man with a disinfectant spray constantly on hand, swooping in and cleaning tables when people left. It was very quiet though, only a few people in the whole place. You were allowed to take your mask off to eat and drink in there!

hospital dining hall during the coronavirus lockdown 2020
Table for one

One MRI, No Waiting

From talking to staff, it sounds like they’re doing fewer procedures and seeing fewer patients than usual, which is good news if you’re one of the patients they are seeing! The MRI scan lady proudly informed me that they no longer have a backlog (because they’re doing fewer scans than usual) and the technician who did my thyroid scan said it was the first time they’ve done that type of scan in three months.

That was my experience of attending hospital during the coronavirus pandemic. Hopefully it’s useful if you need to visit hospital as well. Or if you’ve had experience of going to hospital during lockdown, perhaps you can share your experiences in the comments below!

health · thyroid

My Experience Of Having A Radioactive Thyroid Scan With Technetium

My doctors told me they wanted me to have a scan of my thyroid to try to help work out why I’m currently experiencing hyperthyroidism. I had a letter inviting me to a technetium thyroid scan, which also specified that I was not allowed to eat seafood or take vitamin supplements containing iodine for 48 hours before the scan. Easy enough! But what is it like to have a radioactive thyroid scan? I’ve written about the whole experience below…

Radioactive Thyroid Scan – My Experience

Before The Thyroid Scan

I arrived at the Department Of Nuclear Medicine at 8.20 on Monday morning, and my immediate thought was that they probably have the most badass name of any hospital department. I got signed in, and waited for my name to be called. The chairs in the corridor were all arranged at two metre intervals, with tape marks on the floor to show safe distancing.

The Technetium Injection Process

Predictably, when my name was called it was pronounced wrong, but that broke the ice with the technician doing my injections, who was lovely. I was taken to a side room to have an injection of a radioactive isotope called Technetium, which sounds like a made-up element from the Marvel universe, but is apparently a real thing. They used to use radioactive iodine for these kinds of scan, but this has now been mostly replaced with technetium, which gives a lower radiation dose.

Before the injection, I was asked some questions. The technician checked whether I have claustrophobia and whether I was able to get up and down from a couch, which I thought was good practice checking for hidden disabilities. Then there was the usual “you’re a woman so please sign on the dotted line that you’re not pregnant” and they checked my identity one last time.

The injection itself was nothing at all! They jab you with a tiny needle, flush the line with saline solution, then give you the technetium injection. Because it’s radioactive, the needle has a little tungsten jacket to protect the technician’s eyes and fingers from the cumulative effect of giving multiple radioactive injections every day! Then they flush the line with saline again.

Before The Gamma Camera Scan

Once you’ve had your injection, you wait about twenty minutes before your scan. I was put in a little side room for radioactive people to wait, because you’re actually emitting gamma radiation during this time. You would never know it at all – you honestly can’t feel a thing! The effective radiation dose of a technetium thyroid scan is about 3.2 millisieverts (mSv) – the average annual dose from background radiation in the UK is 2.7 mSv. So it sounds like a lot, but actually if you live in Cornwall, your average annual dose of radiation is 6.9 mSv, due to the high levels of radon in the ground in Cornwall. And the annual limit of radiation exposure for nuclear industry workers is 20 mSv – so when you put it in context, it doesn’t sound so bad. None of us would worry about spending six months in Cornwall! (Unless you’re a city kid, I guess…)

After twenty minutes, I was called in to have my scan, in a machine called a gamma camera, or scintillation camera. Here’s a picture of the one I was in:

gamma camera scintillation camera machine radioactive thyroid scan with technetium experience sickly mama blog

The Technetium Thyroid Scan Itself

I was asked to have a couple of sips of water, take off my necklace and face mask, and lie on the bed part of the gamma camera machine. Then the panels that you see on the left in the picture above swiveled so one was above my head and one below. They lower the panels until they’re very close to your head – the one above me was almost touching my nose!

The process of taking the pictures was weird because you can’t actually tell that anything is happening at all. There’s no noise like in an MRI scanner – you literally just lie there feeling a bit silly. Each picture took 1 – 5 minutes and at one point they reconfigured the scanner to get a close up of my thyroid gland. Then it was done!

My Experience Of Technetium Thyroid Scan

Overall, this was a really easy procedure. Anything that involves radioactive material can feel a bit scary, but it was totally painless, easy, and comfortable. If you are claustrophobic, you may not enjoy the experience of the scan itself as the machine gets so close to your face, but it’s better than an MRI scan because the machine is open at the sides, so you’re not trapped in a tube, it’s much quieter, and the scans are taken much much more quickly, so you don’t have to spend much time in the machine at all. Plus the staff were very aware that it could be uncomfortable for claustrophobic people and asked if I was okay with the scan etc. while it was ongoing.

What happened after my thyroid scan?

It took a long time to get the results of my technetium thyroid scan and get a diagnosis, but I did eventually get there… Click here to find out what happened next.

baby · lifestyle · parenting · pop culture · sport

Surviving Lockdown With A Baby Through SPORTS SPORTS SPORTS

When I found out I was pregnant and worked out when my maternity leave would be, I was super excited. And not just about the baby. While on maternity leave there would be an Olympics and the Euros, two major sporting events that I normally only get to watch bits of, and I would get to watch it all – or, you know, have it on in the background while wrangling a small baby.

And then – coronavirus! Which has conspired to ruin literally every plan I had for my maternity leave, including the more minor plans regarding televisual entertainment (although in fairness, BT also had a good stab at ruining those plans before coronavirus even really arrived on these shores).

Coupled with this, over the last six to eight weeks or so, Little Man has gone from a baby who often fusses with a bad tummy, to a Mega Fuss Machine 3.0, who is just so grumpy and fussy that it’s basically impossible to follow anything happening on TV when he’s in the room. Even when he’s in a good mood he now just shrieks. Apparently, he enjoys shrieking. So, given that he’s also not sleeping well, we are really struggling to watch anything other than nature documentaries. And, honestly, if you can’t actually hear the dulcet tones of Sir David Attenborough, is it even worth it?

So – how to survive lockdown with a baby?

Well, recently the Bundesliga returned! Actual real-life football, the perfect entertainment for looking after a grumpy baby, where you don’t need to hear the commentary to follow the plot. Except, obviously, we couldn’t watch it because the days of football betting available on terrestrial TV are long since gone.

So, we’ve cracked and got a subscription to BT Sport, and I’m now rapidly becoming aquatinted with the various teams and players of the Bundesliga. Thank God we have something we can watch (but not hear) while endlessly bouncing the wee man on one knee. It’s the perfect solution for lockdown with a baby.

You can read more about my experiences in lockdown with a baby here!

surviving lockdown with a baby through sports sports sports - the sickly mama blog

coronavirus · health · pain · pituitary · top tips · Uncategorized

Coping With Pain When You Can’t Use Painkillers

Firstly, I want to make it totally clear that I’m not advocating that people shouldn’t use painkillers to manage pain. But thanks to the current coronavirus lockdown, I’ve had a couple of situations where I couldn’t use my normal painkillers, and it got me thinking about coping with pain when you can’t use painkillers.

I have chronic pain from my hypermobility spectrum disorder that flares up now and then, especially when the temperature changes rapidly from hot to cold or vice versa. Usually if it gets particularly bad, I take ibuprofen (Advil, for any Americans). However, since France issued a warning about using non-steroidal inflammatory painkillers during the covid 19 pandemic, I’ve tried to avoid taking it even though the evidence is not really clear either way.

Then I also have an issue with very bad sinus headaches, which is a hangover from two lots of brain surgery done via my nose (transsphenoidal surgery). They get so bad that they also have the fun side effect of making me very nauseous, to the point that I have actually thrown up from them several times. They are aggravated by pollen/hayfever, so tend to get worse at this time of year. Normally, I would take paracetamol because ibuprofen doesn’t work for them… But we don’t have much paracetamol in the house, and it’s been hard to get hold of lately with the coronavirus panic buying. So again, I’ve been trying to avoid taking painkillers.

And so, I thought I’d write a post about some of the ways that I find helpful for coping with pain (especially joint pain, because that’s my most common issue). They probably won’t work for everyone, or every type of pain, but I hope you might find it useful anyway.

Coping With Pain When You Can’t Use Painkillers

1. Heat

I find that heat is so great for managing my joint pain. Pre-baby, I would often try to have a bath or at least a hot shower if they were playing up, as it helps the pain so effectively that I often wouldn’t need to take painkillers at all. Now I have a three-month old baby, I can’t just run off for a bath at the drop of a hat (sadly). So I use a hot water bottle or (preferably) a microwaveable wheat bag. Extra layers also works, but while it’s easy to put extra pairs of thick socks on if my ankles or feet are hurting, it’s not so easy to layer up and warm up a hip joint.

Conversely, ice can also help certain types of pain, especially sports injuries.

2. Breathing Exercises

When I was pregnant, I did an online hypnobirthing course with The Positive Birth Company. Well, actually I did about 60% of the course, because I was totally caught out by Little Man arriving three weeks early. One of the big aspects of hypnobirthing is using breathing exercises to manage pain. I found this really useful when giving birth; I think it’s particularly good for pain which is severe but comes and goes – like, say, having a baby…

3. Distract, Distract, Distract

I always find my joint pain is worst at night, when I’m in bed and trying to sleep. But actually, chances are that it’s not any worse then than it is any other time; it’s just that there aren’t any distractions to take my mind off my poor sad joints. Even something as simple as listening to music or reading a book can help take your mind off ongoing low-level pain. For worse pain, something interactive and requiring concentration is better as it forces your attention away from what’s hurting – like playing a game or reading aloud.

4. Movement and Massage

Probably depends on what’s causing your pain, but for my joint pain, gentle movement is really helpful to take the pressure off my joints. The other day, I was holding Little Man, who was finally sleeping after a very grumpy day (he didn’t poop for three days! Enough to make anyone grumpy I’m sure), and my hips were playing up so badly but I didn’t want to move him! When he eventually woke up, I went to do some chores in the kitchen and the pain in my joints improved significantly just from the movement.

Linked to this, massage can be really great for pain – although obviously some pain locations are more accessible than others.

5. Physiotherapy

Following on from the above, in the longer term, physio can help with some forms of chronic pain. I always assumed physiotherapy wasn’t really very effective, because I’d known a lot of people complain that it didn’t work for them. But when I was pregnant with Little Man, I actually tried physiotherapy for the first time, and I found it incredibly effective.

My hip pain got a lot worse very early on, from the pregnancy hormones (which make your joints looser) and extra weight. It was so bad that I was waking up constantly throughout the night in huge amounts of pain from my hip partially dislocating in my sleep. Then I would swap sides and sleep on the other side for a bit, until that one started hurting and woke me up to swap sides again. It wasn’t fun, although I guess it was great practice for waking up constantly at night with the baby once he arrived! In fact, even on bad nights when he was teeny tiny, Little Man woke me up significantly less frequently than my hips had done throughout my pregnancy.

It took a number of weeks to get an appointment with a physio, but I got there, did a full assessment and got several exercises aimed at strengthening the muscles around my hips, to hold the joint in place better. It was about six weeks of religiously doing the exercises before I noticed results, but the improvement was really noticeable and made such a huge difference to the rest of my pregnancy. So, if you haven’t already – I recommend giving physio a try.

6. Check Skeletal Alignment and Muscle Tension

If this one sounds super hippy-dippy, bear with me. A few years ago, I realised that my headaches (normal headaches, as opposed to sinus headaches where the pain is in the front of my face around the nose and eyes) are often either caused or at least aggravated by tension in my neck and shoulders. It could be from sleeping funny, being crouched over a laptop, or just being stressed and tensing up. Making a conscious effort to relax my neck and shoulders (maybe coupled with a gentle massage) can really help relieve those headaches.

Similarly, with my joints, I’ve realised that when I’m experiencing joint pain the first thing to do is check the alignment of the joint, i.e. are the bones lined up straight or am I sitting, moving or tensing in a way that sends pressure though my joints in an unnatural way. Because I have hypermobility, it’s easy for my joints to partially dislocate or just misalign without me actually noticing, and that can unsurprisingly cause pain.

7. Keep Active

When I was first diagnosed with hypermobility spectrum disorder (as it’s now known), the rheumatologist told me that the most important thing to keep pain at bay was to keep active and build up muscle to support my joints. At the moment, on lockdown, I’m doing yoga pretty much every day with my husband and it’s great exercise that’s very low-impact and thus kind on your joints. I definitely recommend it, and you can find specific yoga flows online that are tailored to particular issues, such as lower back pain or crappy hips (technical term).

Your top tips for coping with pain when you can’t use painkillers:

Do you have any tips or techniques for pain management/coping with pain without medication that work for you? Let me know in the comments below!

coping with pain when you can't use painkillers strategies and tips for chronic pain without medication the sickly mama blog
coronavirus · Just for fun · pop culture · Uncategorized

Which ‘Friends’ Character Each Country Would Be, Based On Their Response To The Coronavirus Pandemic

Can you tell I’ve been watching too much Netflix?

1. China – Ross Geller

Did China have a moral responsibility to warn the international community sooner about the threat of the emerging coronavirus? Well, some people think so. But China disagrees. Perhaps because they were ON A BREAK.

Like that time where Ross decided not to tell Rachel they were still married, China kept Covid 19 on the down low, presumably hoping that the problem would somehow just go away of its own accord. And, just like Ross and his history of unwise marital choices, China too has previous for this kind of behaviour (cough cough SARS cover-up, 2002).

2. South Korea – Monica Geller


China’s little sister used to be much bigger, but lost a bunch of weight landmass to the Communists at the end of the Second World War.

South Korea has kept its coronavirus death toll low through a rigorous programme of testing, treating and tracing contacts, plus social distancing measures. This is exactly the kind of country that’s obsessed with hygiene and has 11 categories of towels.

3. United Kingdom – Chandler Bing


No-one knows what Chandler’s job actually is, and similarly no-one really knows what the UK government was doing with all the time it had to prepare for the impact of coronavirus. Even the Prime Minister treated Covid 19 as an opportunity to crack tasteless jokes… How very Chandler Bing. Many experts now believe the UK will be one of the worst-affected European nations. Could we BE any worse at responding to a global pandemic?

If only the pandemic had taken place during a later season of Friends, the UK might have benefited more from the shining example of Monica/South Korea. Unfortunately, we’re still in the early seasons, with the UK in a co-dependent relationship with Joey…

4. United States – Joey Tribbiani


The USA’s response to coronavirus can best be described as… confused. Like the time that Joey got fired from Days Of Our Lives for claiming that he wrote all his own lines, Donald Trump has been called out for spreading fake news about coronavirus, such as saying that it’s a hoax and that one day the virus will just disappear “like a miracle”.

Germany reacted furiously when 200,000 American-made protective masks destined for Berlin mysteriously disappeared en route, and there are suspicions that the US government redirected them for its own purposes. I guess the United States DOESN’T SHARE FOOD PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT.

Could the US have done a better job addressing the pandemic? Well, at this juncture, it’s a moo point.

5. Italy – Rachel Green

Just like when a night of unexpected passion between Ross and Rachel resulted in a surprise (Emma), Italy’s unexpectedly close relationship with China may have resulted in a surprise spike in Covid 19 cases in the northern regions of Italy, which have a high number of Chinese workers. Where are those workers employed? Why, just like Rachel, they work in the fashion and textile industry. And it’s increasingly clear that China/Ross and Italy/Rachel have a pretty messed up relationship

6. New Zealand – Phoebe

Phoebe cares a lot. That’s why she’s a vegetarian and shops at flea markets. And that’s why she’s New Zealand, which has pursued a highly-praised policy of eliminating Covid 19 transmission completely within its borders. Plus, Prime Minister Jacinda Adern gave a very Phoebe-esque speech assuring children that the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are considered key workers and thus would not be affected by the lockdown. And she finished up by singing a song about a foul-smelling cat… Or so I’ve heard.

7. The World Health Organisation – Mr Heckles

No-one wants to engage with Mr Heckles, the crazy downstairs neighbour who keeps banging on the floor with a broom and shouting “Test for cases! Trace and isolate contacts! Use adequate personal protective equipment!”

Ugh, the WHO. Such a pain.

8. The Novel Coronavirus – Janice

Much like coronavirus, I’m pretty sure that Janice doesn’t have a surname.* They both seem to have the ability to pop up literally anywhere, no matter how much they’re not wanted. And once you’ve been involved with Covid 19, it seems like it’s pretty difficult to break up.

*Yes, yes, apparently it’s Hosenstein, who knew?