Advocating for herself: One woman’s pandemic health struggle

Credit: Allyiah Walcott

When the pandemic took hold, local resident Allyiah Walcott, 26, was in the midst of a three-year battle to diagnose a debilitating condition. Here, she shares her story

In 2018, I started experiencing extreme pain in my abdomen. It was constant, and stopped me from doing almost everything. Getting to and from work became difficult, and even my sleep was impacted. Naturally, I went to my GP, but three years and many appointments later, I’m still in pain.

Over the years, I have become increasingly immobile. I have had a standard MRI on my hip, numerous blood tests, ultrasounds. I even saw two gynaecologists – one of which said if I didn’t have kids, there wasn’t anything wrong with me. In the end, my GP suggested that I should see a psychologist.

It’s been very difficult for me to access services in Waltham Forest. Lots of delays. I was even advised to go outside the borough to be seen quicker. This only led to confusion and mistakes, because paperwork was never sent on time. Often, my GP didn’t know what to do, leaving me to direct the conversation. They told me there were no leads left to follow, but I refused to give up.

Then in 2020, the pandemic happened. I wanted to see a physiotherapist as my symptoms were impacting me physically, but by this point services in Waltham Forest were closed. Interestingly, when I spoke to a friend, she told me Camden physio departments were open during this time! A complete contrast.

After seeing a physiotherapist privately, I was diagnosed with hip impingement (FAI). This is where the ball and socket part of your hip do not fit together as they should. So, with every movement the bones rub together causing a tear in the cartilage and immense pain.

In my struggle to get a diagnosis and access treatment, something went wrong. It’s been three years, and I have seen three orthopaedic surgeons on the NHS trying to find a solution. The first surgeon I saw said there was nothing to be done, that I would have this pain for life. A second surgeon said it was too complex, and the third chuckled and told me they could operate – but due to the pandemic they had no clue when I would be seen.

I have had to pay privately for services: hundreds on an osteopath, hundreds on physio. I’m now crowdfunding for surgery – but only a portion of it. It’s such a difficult time for everyone, and people are going through much worse than I am.

Sadly, my story is not unique. The barriers I have faced are intersectional. I am black, a woman and I’m 26 years old. Accessing the NHS as a person of colour often means having your pain overlooked and women’s health just doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves. I was laughed at by A&E staff, patted on the back and told I’m likely to be pregnant. And of course, ageism played into things. I’m young, but old enough to know what’s going on with my body.

Waltham Forest is currently going through gentrification and often that means communities get left behind. I want people to know that where we live is not exempt from this issue. People think things are supposed to get ‘better’ with gentrification – but our healthcare services are at capacity and greatly underfunded.

My advice to anyone struggling to get diagnosed or treated is: don’t give up on yourself. Access help in any way that you can, there are lots of community groups who can signpost you to free support. Read as much as you can to gain an understanding of what you’re going through.

Most importantly, don’t give up. You know best when something is not right.

To learn more about Allyiah’s journey or to donate, visit her GoFundMe page