It’s the first day of February and today for the first time since the end of November, I’m allowing myself to breath easier. Not totally free but just easier. Not the normal free spirt, head in the clouds, chasing the ideas kind of breathing but slightly less tense, slightly relaxed shoulders, slightly more me.
Since my last post about how life has changed, I’ve been struck by how many people have responded with empathy and understanding. So many of my friends and colleagues, other children of the 70s and 80s, have got in touch to talk about their own experiences when it comes to elderly parents. Many of our parents are living longer because of advances in medicine, specialist development in their specific care needs - care of the elderly medicine for example. But it’s not all about just fixing the medical problem. It's also about making sure that the rest of the picture fits too.
As I cried down the phone to my consultant during the darkest week, when I was in hospital with my mother, feeling very alone, afraid and unheard - I said there’s no one acting as the advocate for my mother to which my wonderful, kind and compassionate consultant said - you are, you are the advocate for your mother. I needed those words at the time and it gave me the strength I was searcing for at that moment to head back to my mother’s room with a new resolve. I’d called her to discuss shifts and cover but ended up getting emotional and professional support instead. It made me love what I do even more and the professional family I belong to because I know that people within it come with that added layer of empathy, kindness and understanding. But now as I emerge and try to shake of the shudders and trauma of that time, I think about the patients who don’t have any family to act as advocates. Is the system enough alone to do it? I time and again remember the words of my senior registrar when I was an FY1 - you as the doctor will be the strongest advocate for your patient, fighting for everything they need, negotiating investigations, management - make sure you represent them well. How many of us do that? Truly and honestly with every patient? We are tired, stretched and juggling so many factors in today's NHS but a reminder of our role for our patients needs to come daily, somehow, to cut through all that.
The registrar caring for my mother came to see us at the end of the week and I was blown away by his words. He said that on the day when I was at my most desperate, imploring them to review my mother and to think broadly about what was happening - he said that was the moment he was reminded of what it must be like to have a family member in hospital and made him reflect how that would make him act and feel. It’s not that he hadn’t ever considered that before, but we all can forget that aspect from time to time as we get sucked into the vortex of current NHS pressures and workload. My clear anxiety acted as just a reminder to him - something us human beings all need from time to time. It was also the day when everything changed and the care my mother received onwards was thorough, thoughtful and complete. Maybe they were caring for the family as well as the patient but it meant so much to know they had listened. And as a doctor myself it has definitely made me keep that in mind as I begin back on the shop floor this week. My mantra - treat every patient like they are your mother or father, brother or sister or child. Because they are that for someone and one day you’ll be standing where they are today.