My heart is in a field in Somerset

There are times in everyone’s lives when they feel that they are missing out on something truly magical that everyone else is doing. One of the first, and still most painful was when Kelly in my class got school shoes, with heels!!! whilst I was stuck in my ugly square orthopaedic shoes after years of seeing doctors about my deformed flat flipper-like feet. That was sorrow on a deep level and despite many high heeled shoes since, I believe it formed a big part of my psyche, of my overstretched, poorly functioning body letting me down. Then there were the years of all my friends going from boyfriend to boyfriend while I was the eternal gooseberry just wondering all the excitement that I was missing out on.

I was a teenager growing up in Somerset, where every summer solstice weekend a small group of the coolest, most deviant girls I knew would prepare themselves to climb the fence, and experience the eye-opening, other-worldly magic of the Pilton Festival (you weren’t allowed to call it Glastonbury if you were a local, it’s not even in Glastonbury for God’s sake).

So, for the first few years I wasn’t that heart broken about not being one of those girls. Aged thirteen I knew there was not a hope in hell of my mother letting me be one of them. As the years passed my love of music, my awareness of the specialness of Glastonbury, and my jealousy, all grew a little. The year I took my A levels a whole group of girls from my school went. I had already spent every penny I had paying for a holiday to Greece with my friends to celebrate the end of exams – my first proper holiday abroad, my first time ever being allowed to go away with friends. I knew I was not, and still am not the kind of person who would be willing to climb a fence to get into a festival, apart from that one time  that I did climb the fence into Reading Festival, but that was an accident and I did actually have a ticket!

From the Friday to the early hours of Monday I sat, curled up on the bean bag in the spare room, glued to every second of the TV coverage, crying, in my house just a few miles from what felt like the very centre of the entire world. I had never, ever felt such terrible longing for something I couldn’t have, for somewhere I could not be. This probably just demonstrates how utterly privileged and lucky my life had been to that point, but man did I sob my poor little teenage heart out that weekend.

I think the experience broke my poor mother’s heart too, and from that moment our relationship was forever changed. That was the moment that my mother promised to herself that next year, she would make sure that her daughter got to the festival.

The following year was a tough one for me. I decided to drop out of my planned university course as I knew that really being a doctor was the only thing I really wanted to do. I hadn’t even applied the first time around as I just hadn’t believed I could do it. I moved back home, and I worked as a volunteer at a nursery for children with special needs, whilst trying to beef up my work experience for my application. They very kindly gave me ten pounds a week to ‘cover my expenses’ but I think they just felt sorry for me. Every single one of my friends had left, for uni, or on glamorous planned gap years on foreign continents. I was stuck at home relying on my parents and working full time, in a truly amazing job that I loved to be fair, but essentially for free.

Each week when I got my ten pounds I would go straight to the newsagent next to the school and buy that week’s copy of Melody Maker and NME. I would then walk straight to the bank, and with my little paying-in book would deposit every single penny of the change into my savings account. I would then spend the weekend devouring every word of those magazines, reading every review, planning which new albums I should try to rent from the library and copy on to tape, to familiarise myself with before I might see them at next summers festival.

All my friends had gone and it was a pretty lonely year, so my 48 year old mother decided that she would come with me to the festival. We spent evenings sat down in her bedroom, while I played her the music I loved, and tested her on all the different bands. She had a whole new musical education and we both got to know each other as people, properly, for the first time ever. It has been the most fundamental step in our relationship as adults, and was life changing for us both.

As the time approached I had saved enough money for two tickets, a tent, and some very basic supplies. My whole world had come perfectly to this point, as I entered the festival that I had been dreaming about every day for a whole year.

It was an amazing weekend, not perfect, but completely seminal in my life. My best friend ended up showing up at the last minute, jumping that fence and joining me and my mother, just in time, in front of the pyramid stage, to watch The Chemical Brothers. I will never forget my friend, totally off her tits in every single drug she could acquire on her way from the fence to us, and my middle aged mother, both dancing like lions with their hands in the air to the beat of Hey Boy, Hey Girl as the strobe lighting showed me their flashing grins. Nothing has ever really been the same since.

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I have been to Glastonbury many times since then, in the baking years, the mudpit years, years with and without the superfence. I have seen it change and grow. I have seen hundreds of bands I would never have seen otherwise, spent days wandering the green fields and had experiences I would never have come across elsewhere, and eaten some of the best veggie food ever. The festival was instrumental in me meeting my husband over mud and a Brother’s cider, and the last time I went was on my honeymoon, having just discovered I was pregnant with my daughter days earlier. And yes, my amazing Mum came along that year too!

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There were a couple of years the festival wasn’t on, so those times me and Mum went to other festivals, but none of them had that same magic. There were other years that we couldn’t get tickets, or I was out of the country, so on those years we held our own, the legendary Spaxtonbury Festival, the second greatest Somerset music festival.

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For now, life has changed in other ways, and I have not returned since those early days of pregnancy. I very much hope to go back one day, maybe with my children if they want to go one day, and they’re not ashamed to be seen with me. For today I will sit here and feel that fear of missing out all those years ago, but cherish all those incredible memories I have of that magical place and all it taught me, and the bond it brought me with my mother, and with my husband. Tonight I will watch one of my all time favourite bands on the TV, and imagine myself back in that field, in front of that pyramid, when I was there myself seeing Radiohead at their most incredible, and the magic will be within me forever.

 

 

The Mission

I wrote a blog post before about how I was joining a program to try and look after my body a little better. Time has absolutely flown and I am now at the end of my six week Supercharged Club Mission and I am just so pleased I decided to do it.

Before signing up I worried if now was really a good time to sign up for something like this. I didn’t feel like I had a single spare second to add anything extra into my life. I felt pretty overwhelmed just by the day to day stuff I was already trying to do. And these last six weeks have been pretty full on anyway. I’ve had two courses, one a grand adventure to London by myself, a week’s camping in a field with a big group of family, a poorly weeekend spent in bed feeling sorry for myself, and a really busy work schedule, with some seriously tough shifts.

But you know what, being on the Mission at the same time as all that  has actually made my life easier rather than harder. It has helped me gain some very important perspective, helped me to prioritise what is really important, feel confident to ditch some of the stuff I was wasting my time with that really didn’t make life any better for any of us. It has made me confident to take that time to look after myself more, so that I can carry on looking after others. It has helped me to take time out, reflect, realise all the great things I have to be thankful for, and some of the reasons why life has felt pretty out of control for me ever since having children.

Now so far none of this is sounding much like a diet. And really it hasn’t felt much like a diet. There has been lots of discussions about food. There has been some online sharing of lovely photos of our supercharged meals.

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But the food food discussion has mainly been about ways you can get more nutritious foods into your daily meals. How you can feel full all the time, and not find yourself craving stuff all the time. It’s been about thinking about the foods that you eat, how they make you feel, why you make those choices, and how you feel about those choices. It’s about making sure you really notice and enjoy the food that you are eating. When you eat that piece of cake, make sure it’s really great cake and that you take the time to sit and really enjoy every bite without ever feeling guilty about it.

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I am definitely not eating any less food now. In fact I’m probably eating more food now, and definitely more often. I am eating every food group, and there is absolutely nothing that isn’t allowed. I have eaten cake and ice-cream, and thoroughly enjoyed the sausage roll tasting at our work bake-off last week (sadly my entry didn’t win). I have also spent a lot more time wondering if the food I am choosing to eat right now is the food I want, that my body needs, that is going to nourish me, keep me full and give me energy.

Its amazing the amount my tastes have changed. I am feeling thirsty and actually wanting to drink water for the first time ever. I haven’t had a cup of proper tea in a month, and that is purely because I haven’t fancied one. In the past I had absolutely no will power. If I opened the snack cupboard I would always want to eat the biscuits, and so I would. For the past few weeks I still open the cupboard, but I don’t want anything in it. It’s not because I am denying and depriving myself of those treats, I literally haven’t wanted to eat them.

One of my big worries, and a massive part of deciding to join the mission, was a number of concerns about my pelvic health. Generally post children this has become a bit of a disaster zone. I have seen physios and gynaecologists, but generally find the whole thing a little mortifying. I have been given exercises to do, and just never done them. Since starting the mission I have actually managed to start, and carry on, a daily exercise program, focusing on improving my core strength. I feel really proud of myself for managing this, I still find the exercises seriously hard, and there have been days where I wonder why I’m bothering, but I am still going, and that is what is the crucial step for me right now.

But more importantly than having a set of ascribed exercises I must do every day, I have learnt so much about ways to move to really help my core muscles work together in a way that strengthens them rather than weakens, how our posture and our breathing affects our pelvic floor, how daily functional movements can be as important as going to the gym. Don’t worry, I’ve still never set foot in a gym and I don’t really intend to change that anytime soon. So now when I stand from the chair, I try to remember to really engage my glutes and my core, and stand up with my muscles rather than hauling myself up like an old lady. When I pick up my enormous three year old I now try to squat, engage my core, breath out as I lift him. I am not getting it right all the time and I am constantly finding myself slouching with my bottom tucked in, but at least now I am noticing and trying to correct it. I’m hopeful that eventually it will become second nature.

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At the end of six weeks I have actually lost half a stone, and I would still like to lose more weight too, but as the weeks have passed the idea of weight loss has become less and less important. So as well as losing a little weight I have gained lots of other things. I have gained more awareness of my body and how to move it in a way that makes me stronger.  I have spent a lot of time just really breathing, I never realised it was such a bloomin’ complicated process, and that’s coming from a doctor! I have gained an ability to own the choices I make over what food I eat, and wanting to nourish myself. I have gained a whole raft of things that I can do instead of eat a bowl of ice-cream when I feel sad or stressed or lonely or bored. Instead I eat the ice-cream when I want it, with enjoyment rather than guilt. I have gained some really useful tips on dealing with my constant feeling nightshifts in a really positive way, which has totally taken away that hangover feeling I used to get for days afterwards. I have gained the confidence to book another appointment with that physio, knowing that I now have the determination to actually do the exercises she advises me to do. Gained the confidence to wear floaty, cropped trousers in this stifling heat wave we are having right now (I have bought some shorts but I haven’t quite worked myself up to that yet).

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Gained the ability to actually notice when somebody pays me a compliment and really accept it (yesterday I had compliments from two of my most grumpy colleagues, and I totally let them sink in, made me smile for hours). I have gained some real insight into the things that I value, that make me feel good about myself, and has inspired me to make plans for lovely nights out with friends, and hopefully get a book group going so that I can actually start reading again. I have already nearly finished our first chosen book, and have totally loved it, and the experience of actually reading again.

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I have also also gained the support and encouragement of a really lovely group of ladies online, who have really spurred me on on those tough days, and celebrated with me on the good days.

This blog post isn’t an advertisement. I don’t expect you all to go and sign up for the July Mission but if you felt like you wanted to after reading this I would tell you that it will help you in all kinds of way. It is not a magic answer, and above all, you have to do the work, but it has certainly be one of the most positive things I have done in a very long time!

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VOTE

I don’t tend to discuss politics much on here. At home is a different matter, and tomorrow’s general election has been one of the main subjects for weeks now. Having a politics graduate in the house helps to add some solid knowledge and history into my tendency to make all political decisions straight from the heart, and definitely helps to fuel the debate.

I wont be telling you who I think you should vote for, but I will be walking straight from my night shift in a busy Emergency Department to my local polling station and I will be voting Labour.

I know that the Labour Party has its issues. I know that many people believe Jeremy Corbyn is not a natural leader. I know that some people think the Labour Party will ruin our economy and give all our hard earned taxes to benefit scroungers. After a half term away with certain members of my family I have had that conversation over and over again.

Working in the NHS I see so close-up the changes that have happened over the past few years. I have seen the elderly patients sat in a cold corridor, on a narrow, hard trolley for sometimes over twelve hours. I have seen the increase in our workload as the provision of social care has collapsed and failed, the difficulties getting patients into community hospitals as more and more beds are closed. I have seen the pressure build to unsustainable levels for the paramedics and ambulance service. I have seen the shortage of doctors and the rotas desperately being plugged by doctors who are already overworked and overstressed. I have seen colleagues burn out and have known doctors who have left the country, left the health service, and very sadly some who it all became just too much. I have seen our dedicated nursing team get smaller and smaller as they decide that emergency medicine is not a sustainable career and understandably leave for easier roles. Their  places being taken up by unskilled junior nurses who leave within a year or two, and increasingly by highly paid, temporary, agency staff, who are now a permanent fixture in our department. They plug the gaps at great expense rather than putting that money into developing and training our own permanent staff. All this while Jeremy Hunt has battled with and demoralised our junior doctors, belittled their hard work and tried to demonise them to the public. His obvious plan to privatise as much of the NHS as possible is going great so far, as I see more and more of our hospital services being sold off to private companies, who I am sure will be putting a healthy profit ahead of what is best for the patients we are meant to serve.

Every single person I work with believe passionately in the principle of healthcare for everyone, free at the point of access. Tomorrow I will be voting to try and defend that principle for myself, my colleagues and all my friends and family who will need to access that healthcare now and in the future. What we are offering right now just is not good enough, and it will only get worse with five more years of Tory austerity.

There has been lots of discussion about tactical voting where I live. I have been told repeatedly to vote for the Lib Dems in order to keep the Conservatives out. Right now in my constituency that seems like old news as the Labour candidate has been making huge grounds, so Labour looks like it is becoming the tactical vote right now. Regardless of that I will be voting with my heart, with all my personal experience, and with all that Politics graduate knowledge in my ear for the party that I believe in, for the Labour Party. There is enough tactics and general skullduggery in politics these days, surely we should make a stand and vote for the party that we truly believe in, and for a more honest and hopeful future.

I found this website really useful to clarify which party’s manifesto really represented my views, and also a great way to really get me thinking about what issues matter to me. I want to save our NHS, I want my children, and every other child in this country, to have free access to great education, to know that there is a safety net to protect them if unforeseen circumstances mean they have to rely on social care, hospitals, benefits. And I am very proud to be able to pay my taxes to support those services now and for the future of my children.

So whatever matters to you, please vote tomorrow! I’ll leave you with this from my hero Hollie McNish.

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A year with the bees

It is just over a year since I started making my bee garden, after deciding to turn our small corner of lawn in the front garden into an amazing garden full of flowers to encourage the bees, and glorious sights, smells and sounds to bring joy to our senses.

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Here it is when we first moved into our house nearly five years ago.

You may rember it was a slightly spur of the moment decision. I may have roped a friend into helping me start lifting the turf whilst my husband was on the school run! Once started though we all got stuck in to create the garden of my dreams. A year ago this week I planted the first plants in the ground.

One year later and it had brought me more joy than I can begin to express. It has been my calm centre when everything is crazy, my chance for my body to stretch and lift, my time to let my brain go quiet. It is my meditation, mindfulness and exercise all in one.

The joy of hearing the bees happily bumbling from flower to flower covered in yellow pollen. Seeing the leaves emerge in the spring. Seeing the flower buds burst into colour.

Watching as neighbours walk past with their children and stop to point out their favourite flower. Seeing my own children leap from stepping stone to stone, smelling the flowers and crushing the chamomile and thyme under foot, releasing clouds of gorgeous scent.

It has filled me with such pride watching it grow, and motivated me to get busy and active when otherwise I’d be overwhelmed with exhaustion.

And the very best thing is that it is still so very young and has so much more joy still to bring me. The sheer number of plants covered in buds about to bloom is testament to all the excitement still to come as spring turns to summer.

Representing

Last week I had a big adventure. It may not have seemed big to most people, but it was so far out of my comfort zone that I almost talked myself out of even trying.

For a start, I left Cornwall!!

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Here I am, on the train, crossing the Tamar Bridge, which marks the divide between Devon and Cornwall. Now some Cornishfolk have been known to have panic attacks at the mere thought of the Tamar, but I held it together, despite the fact that I was off to the big smoke of London, by myself, to be staying in Central London, alone for the first time in my life, to be away from my children for the longest time ever, with a big challenge ahead of me…

I made it to Paddington, navigated the tube (down escalators are in my top three greatest fears, so the tube isn’t exactly my happy place), and found my hotel in Covent Garden, a very serviceable single room in a Travel Lodge.

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This was to be my base for the next three days as I attended the Royal College of Surgeons, learning to become an instructor on Advanced Trauma Life Support courses.

I have been a participant on the Advanced Trauma Life Support course three times in the past. It is a course I need to take every four years to keep up to date with the principles of trauma. It is taught by a faculty, which in my experience has been predominantly male, made up almost exclusively of consultants and with a large proportion of surgeons. I never really considered teaching on it myself, despite the fact that I have looked after trauma patients on a regular basis for almost ten years now, have taught about trauma care to junior doctors for years, with training and extensive experience in leading medical simulation teaching. I think the fact that I didn’t see people like myself on the faculty I assumed that they didn’t want people like me. The third time I took the course though, my male, consultant mentor suggested I put myself forward as a potential instructor, so I went for it, not really feeling expecting to be asked!

I have spoken before about my choice to be a specialty doctor, a non-training grade who can stay based in one hospital, in a permanent role, in the same department long term, with no plans to become a consultant one day. This allows me to stay in one place, to let my children stay in their home, go to school and see their friends without having to move every year, without me having to spend long periods of time living away from them. Having some flexibility in my working hours whilst being able to work full time. I am happy with that choice, but there are definitely times when I hear sarcastic, derogatory comments about specialty doctors, and it is hard not to take those on board. There are definitely times when I feel like I’m just not as good as those people who follow training rotations and become consultants. Sometimes it is hard to remind myself that I have made conscious decisions to be able to stay with my family, in an amazing part of the world to grow up, whilst working full time and financially providing a home and a life which provides us with lovely experiences. That’s not such a bad thing to have achieved!

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Wesnesday morning I rock up at the Royal College of Surgeons, and as I had expected there was only one other woman taking the course, and only one other specialty doctor. The faculty was almost all men again, with only two female doctors there. Sitting there at registration coffee hearing all the participants chatting about their training programs or their consultant jobs, I couldn’t really shake the feeling that I probably shouldn’t be there. It was very nice to chat to some other Emergency Medicine doctors though, hearing that all around the country they were seeing their patients on trollies in the corridor, that they were routinely going over four hour waits on their night shifts. It is a terrible thing that Emergency Departments have been allowed to get to this point, that our hospitals are so full, and social care in our communities is so lacking that our elderly are left to sit on cold trollies on corridors for up to twelve hours, and sometimes even more, when at their most vulnerable. It was good to hear though that it’s not just our hospital that has got to this point, and that there are still doctors around the country who have total enthusiasm and passion for our incredible specialty, and are still determined to provide the best care they can in very challenging circumstances.

The course started with a written exam, which definitely challenged me, than ten hours of lectures and assessed practical sessions. It made my brain hurt, but you know what? I loved it  I learnt so much, and when I was actually in those practical sessions, demonstrating my teaching skills, well I didn’t feel inferior anymore  I didn’t feel like I didn’t deserve to be there, that I was the odd one out. In fact I totally held my own, and got some really lovely feedback. By the end of the second day when I was finally told that I had passed, the exam and all the practical sessions, and that I could now go out and teach on my next ATLS course I felt pretty damn proud of myself, and proud that it was ok to chose a different career path, whilst still being damn good at my job.

So whilst I’m aware that I’m not exactly going out there and smashing any glass ceilings, it’s ok to make the right choices for my career and my family. And maybe on one of those courses I will now be teaching on, there may be a candidate there who feels that she is represented on the faculty, and feel like she would be welcomed to take that next step too.

 

Lacking Grace

Hi guys, it’s been a while, and for that I apologise. We had a surprisingly lovely Easter holidays, despite me booking the wrong week for annual leave, and I have been super busy in the garden, and as this is not supposed to be a gardening blog I felt I shouldn’t bore you too much with those specifics. I have also been pretty busy, and pretty resentful about working so much, but don’t really want to moan on about that one either. I’ve just realised that despite working in the same job for nine years now, every two and a half years I’ve had a year off for maternity leave, which has really helped me regain the love when I’ve been getting totally fed up with it all. Now, with no new baby on the horizon I will just have to work my way through the wall and find the love again even when it can feel like a total slog. I’m sure it will get easier, my first step is to stop saying yes to extra shifts all the time.  I need to give myself a break.

I am not a natural exerciser. When leaving school I won the ‘award’ for the least sporty person in my year. As a small child I did dancing, and was terrible at it, and absolutely adored it. I did the lot, ballet, tap, contemporary, any class I could, and was equally bad at them all. The fact that I was, and still am, ridiculously tall, meant that I had very little control over my crazily flailing limbs. I was also a foot taller than anyone else in my class, just emphasising the fact that I was always the oldest in each class as I was rarely felt ready to take exams and proceed to a more advanced class.

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This sense of physical awkwardness has continued with me throughout my life, and is actually the cause of my blog name, I felt as I had absolutely no grace outwardly, I should actively try to at least have some inner grace. Not certain I achieve it, but it reminds me to keep trying.

I was always academic, and apart from the dancing I very much lived within my mind. In fact for a long time I didn’t really want to even think about the fact I had a physical body as well. Becoming a doctor within a very practical specialty has helped me integrate my mind and body slightly, and then going through pregnancy, birth and years of breastfeeding it has been pretty much impossible to forget I have a physical, rather knackered body, that I have to take into account also.

The glorious weather recently has motivated me to be out, working, in the garden at every possible opportunity. Strangely I have been feeling, so strongly, and for maybe the first time in my life, that I am really connected with my body, and really enjoying moving it more. I am getting real satisfaction not only from how beautiful my garden is looking, but also how it feels to bend and stretch and squat and reach and lift, whilst working in it. It has felt just wonderful to be able to do that, especially with the spring sunshine on my skin. Since recognising this feeling I have found myself more keen to move generally, and often find myself dancing round the kitchen, in the shower, with the kids, just because I want to move and love how it feels

This increased joy of movement, combined with staying at my mum’s house where there are mirrors everywhere has made me decide I should maybe actively try to look after myself better. In our house we have no mirrors, except the one I bought specially to live in the hallway so I could check my baby was properly wrapped on my back before I left the house. I only catch glimpses of myself in reflections in windows normally, and it is easy to ignore those.

With both babies I have naturally lost all my baby weight, plus an extra stone or so, when they were about 18 months old. I’m guessing it’s hormonal because neither time did I try to lose weight at all. I had a similar experience when I had my implant taken out, I lost almost three stone without even trying. Sadly though after each of these natural losses I have put all the weight back on again just as easily. I am now the heaviest I have been except when pregnant and with my increased awareness of this fabulously useful body of mine, I feel like I should do something to help it out.

To this end I have signed up for a six week internet program with health, diet, and exercise, aimed at mums with kids who need some extra help to look after themselves whilst trying to look after annoying, distracting, exhausting small humans too. I have never actively tried to diet, and I don’t intend to now either, but moving more and eating less magnum ice creams would definitely be a step in a positive direction. I think there is also quite a focus in this program on core strength and the good old pelvic floor. I have to say (too much information alert!) that after a third degree tear and then a 10lb3 baby, mine has pretty much left the building. I did get referred to a gynae physio (just the very thought of it makes me shudder) when my first baby was about six weeks old. Now seriously, at that point I was still pretty much crying every half an hour and had forgotten what sleep was. My entire life had crumbled around my ears and I had no idea what my name was. I was in pretty much constant pain and my baby cried if I didn’t bounce her up and down for sixteen hours a day so that was probably not really the time to be thinking about Kegels. I never went back, and have been hiding my head in the sand ever since.

I’ll let you know how I get on, don’t go expecting miracles! But I will hopefully at least have a beautiful garden to show for all my energies!

 

Patient Mummy

I find that being a doctor and a mother sometimes leaves me with really difficult choices. Naturally it falls to me to decide whether and when our children need medical attention, and I always find it an impossible call to make. The few times I’ve taken my daughter to the GP he has asked me how her chest sounded or whether I have tried any treatments myself first, and seems surprised when I say no, I prefer to be her mother rather than her doctor. When we’ve had to take her to hospital appointments, the consultants will speak directly to me, using long words that I remember distantly from medical school but which aren’t really relevant to the specialty I have been in for the past nine years, and don’t bother explaining anything to my husband at all.

When my daughter broke her arm I gave her all the painkillers I could, made her dinner, which she ate one handed whilst quietly sobbing, before finally conceding that she could probably do with an X-ray.  When the doctor, a colleague of mine, examined her, I couldn’t bare to look at her swollen, bent arm, and seeing her X-ray made me cry.

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I am officially bored of the kids being poorly now. After a month in total of chickenpox quarantine after first one, then the other, got pickled in spots. As we have recovered from that my daughter got the tummy bug romping through the school, and now the delightful common cold has arrived. After days of being croupy, snotty, and coughing till he was sick, I was up all night with the two year old struggling to breath.

I spent several hours wondering to myself how poorly he needs to be before it’s acceptable to take him in to my own emergency department. As he got more obviously exhausted and more distressed by his efforts to get his breath in, I could hear him grunting from downstairs as I went downstairs to find the calpol. I could feel his chest sucking in between each rib under my fingers as I held him up. At that point I thought I probably couldn’t wait for the GP later that day. The dark before morning arrives is always the most terrifying with a poorly child, somehow once it gets light they never seem quite so ill.

I did make a point of not looking how busy the department was, and how long the wait was before I left. I worked yesterday and the department had been total carnage with an epic wait to be seen. I knew that if I had decided he was poorly enough to see a doctor as an emergency then he would have to be nurse triaged, and if he wasn’t as poorly as I was worried about, he would have to wait like everybody else, but somewhere that he had access to the medicines I was concerned he might need.

As I booked him in at the reception desk I already felt stupid, that I’d obviously overreacted and that I should have been able to sort him out myself at home. When the nurse said he was working really hard I was more relieved than I should have been to hear someone else say that my child was actually poorly. Seeing him turn from an exhausted, clingy, dribbly little soul, to his usual chattery self after having a big dose of inhalers made me sure I made the right choice to bring him. After the dose of steroids he was back to excitedly exploring all the new toys in the waiting room.

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By the time we’d been there a couple of hours and the new medicines had time to work I was totally confident to take him home again, with some extra meds in my handbag.

Now it’s like it never happened. He’s back to having tantrums about not being allowed to use the electric drill, or have his sister’s new magazine, with only the quietest hint of wheezing as he strops. Back to causing carnage in the garden, getting covered in mud and spreading it around the house.

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This is why I always reassure parents as I examine their incredibly well and happy looking children, who they assure me was close to death before they arrived. I tell them that they haven’t wasted my time at all, and that small children like to make us all look like liars by getting better the moment a doctor comes to see them. Sometimes it’s hard to listen to my own words though, and not worry about looking like a fool in front of friends.

 

Excited

I know I moaned, quite a lot, about all the bloggers and instagrammers raving on about how amazing and wonderful and beautiful Autumn is, and each to their own, but seriously! SPRING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I just cannot possibly begin to even express in words how much I absolutely adore this time of year. It is just complete magic. Every day (to be fair usually in the rain these past few weeks) I take a little walk outside, carefully observing and mentally logging the changes, looking for those bulbs poking through the soil, the clusters of tiny green leaves emerging from what looks like dead sticks of last year’s plants, the magnolia flowers emerging from their furry buds and the blossom emerging on the fruit trees. I adore the way that the tiny new leaves on the trees literally glow with the most perfect green. And that spring sunshine when it finally does appear feels like it’s warming my skin, and underneath, my blood back to real life, not that miserable half-life hibernation of winter. 


I am not a hot weather person. I am pale and pasty and have to retreat to the shade like a vampire. I have never had a tan in my life and I feel like I might melt if the temperature creeps beyond the early twenties, but I seriously think I might suffer from SAD as soon as the autumn hits. Having New Year in January is utterly pointless, I have no motivation to do anything except wrap myself in blankets and eat chocolate, but now, well surely right now absolutely anything you have ever dreamed about could surely be possible, maybe?! 


Today the weather is completely wonderful, and actual magic is in the air, from the mating calls of the birdsong, the coconut breeze from the wild gorse, those first, slightly winter-drunk drone from the bees, all of it speaks of genuine magic made into reality that you can touch and hear and smell everywhere. Sadly I am working nights tonight so have had to give in and come to bed to try and get some rest, but talking of magic, tonight will be the first time I have ever worked a night shift where the clocks will go forwards one hour, on my watch. True magic indeed.

Right now I am just so excited for the future that I can barely catch my breath. Soon we will go hunting for Easter Eggs, this year in my mother’s garden for a change, which we are all looking forward to.  Then we have a very special third birthday to celebrate and shortly afterwards my bee garden turns one. I cannot wait to see how beautiful it will be this summer from its humble beginnings of a boring lawn. I long for family memories made in this amazing county we live in, if I can coerce the children to actually get dressed, put the iPad down and get out of the front door every so often without arguing myself into an early grave!!

Working it

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I love being an emergency doctor. I cannot think of anything I would rather do, except a lifetime of pootling in my garden. Despite being meek and mild and terrified of pretty much everything, I seem to have found my home in the emergency department. Amazingly I love the chaos, the noise, the carnage that is about to hit at any moment, the constant stress, split second decisions, the incredible team and the camaraderie. I really like very sick patients, alongside patients that I can fix and send on their way. A few stitches, a quick manipulation and a plaster cast and they’re on their way. Or patients who need every resource we have available to keep them alive just a little bit longer. Entering medical school I would never have predicted this for a second, but this has become my beloved second home. The very best things about the job? No bleep to make my heart race, and when I leave at the end of my ten hour shift there is always somebody else to take over responsibility. When I walk out of there, I can usually leave it all behind.

But fuck me, this is a hard job! I haven’t watched Casualty in a while, but what I remember of it could not be any further from the truth. I do not have the time to resolve my patients’ family feuds, or their love lives. I am not a professional matchmaker and counsellor. Despite many of my patients’ preconceptions, this is not a shop where you can come and demand the X-ray, scan, drug or procedure that you can’t be bothered to wait for. It is not my main role to smile and offer you and all the family you have brought with you, a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits.

Life has changed a lot in the ten years since I first started here. It is now the norm to have the corridor lined with trollies, to have patients waiting on those trollies for twelve hours until we can find them a bed on a ward. It has become standard practice to take histories and examine patients in a corridor in front of a host of other patients and their relatives. We get fined if we put a female onto a male bay in the main hospital but it’s ok for us to ask patients about their bowel habits in front of a crowded audience.

Its easy to become detached. You have to become detached. If I carried every patient with me, their hopes and fears, the impact on their wives and husbands, their children and parents, I would be crushed within days. If I worried about every decision I made, scared about every patient I sent home, I would become completely paralysed. I have felt it happen, and I have definitely seen it cripple others. I have seen people tie themselves in knots and admit every single patient they see, just in case. Though obviously hospital admission and endless tests comes with different  risks and I can’t afford to forget that.

Despite me carefully developing my heartless bitch stance, there are patients that will never leave me. The middle aged lady with a huge tumour, that was fungating through her skin and bleeding heavily. I was the first person she had ever told, ever shown it to. She had never found the right time, always having to be available and strong to support everybody else in her family. The baby brought in blue and stiff when they never woke up for their next feed. The man fighting for every last second of his life as we had to forcibly hold him down desperately trying to get lines and tubes into him, to give him that very faint chance of survival. Having to hold his wife up as she made the long walk to the resus room to see her husband for the last time, crying whilst all the eyes of the people in the corridors watch her silently. The familiar face of friend or family who comes in unexpectedly to horrible news. Even in my sleepy corner of the world I have looked after shootings, stabbings, hangings and drownings. I have looked after mass casualties from motor vehicle accidents. More assaults and suicide attempts than I could ever keep track of. I see some of the very worst of humanity at times. In the past week I have had to attend training on child abuse, modern slavery, domestic abuse, female genital mutalation, radicalisation and terrorism. These are things I am expect to always suspect in the back of my mind with every patient that I see.

And with all these cases I do what I can, write my notes, and then click onto the next patient in line. I leave the resus room to find fifty patients in the department, thirty of whom are waiting to be seen with a four hour wait. Then I have to put the smile on my face, apologise for the long wait, and try to listen to whatever is concerning them, whether that be the tickly cough that has been bothering them for the past six months, which they haven’t found the time to see their GP about, the drunk who spits and swears at me, or the old lady with a broken hip who apologises for wasting my time.

In one article published in a cardiology journal, the average life expectancy of doctors is 76 years. For ED doctors that falls to a terrifying 57, the shortest of any medical specialty. Sometimes after a run of particularly rough nights I’d be amazed if I make it that far.

Seriously though, I do love my job and wouldn’t want to do anything else, and I am so grateful to all my team members who keep me going and who keep choosing ED however tough it sometimes feels. I love you guys ❤

 

Guilt

I think as a society we have largely moved on from the idea that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. Instead it seems we have moved on to the idea that a woman’s role is feeling guilty. It seems that we are now pretty much expected to feel guilty about pretty much every decision we make, whether and when we decide to have children, how we birth those children, how we feed them, how we parent them and how we afford them.

In the past 24 hours I have read two very good articles about guilt, and found myself struggling to identify with either. The first written by the wonderful Robyn Wilder discusses the guilt involved in a second pregnancy. The guilt that she is failing her first child by having another, and the guilt that she won’t be able to love a second child as much as she loves her son. I can totally understand that sentiment, but it was genuinely not something that I ever felt. I always felt completely confident that there was no limits to the amount of love I could feel. I knew that that space in my heart would just grow. Loving my son, my second child, turned out to be the very easiest thing I have ever done. Despite my tricky relationship with my own sibling, I genuinely thought that having one of her own would be a good thing for my daughter. I realised it may not be easy, but was sure that overall it would be positive. It turned out to be the kindest thing I have done for her. She is so much more settled in herself since becoming a big sister. I realise it is not always this way, but for some reason I did not share that sense of guilt. My My second pregnancy was not without it’s emotional turmoil, and I spent most of it wondering how the hell I could survive having two children, but guilt played little part.

The second article concerns one of those ultimate mother guilts we are all supposed to feel. The Working Mummy Predicament. I absolutely do not feel guilty for being a full time working mother. Not at all. Admittedly we have found a work situation which, on the whole, has worked really well for us. We have made choices, that I will work full time while my husband is the full time at home parent. I have put off training and exams and moving around the country and hopes of becoming a consultant in favour of a lower paid, lower respected job where I have long term job security in one place. I work long shifts, nights and weekends so that I get to be around for my children all the other times. So that I get to do my share of the school runs. So that I can spend lazy days at home lounging around in PJs with my boy before he enters the world of school himself. So that as the sole earner we can afford to pay the mortgage and have one parent home full time. I realise that a life in emergency medicine seems about as family unfriendly as they come, but it works for us. Obviously there are days when the kids are poorly and I have to leave them, and yup, I feel pretty sad then, but I don’t feel guilty. I accept the choices that I have consciously made, and accept the consequences of those choices. It’s not perfect, but overall it works for us all.

Don’t worry, before it seems that I am neglecting my duty as a woman to spend my whole time wallowing in guilt. In fact this morning I managed to work myself into a right tizz, feeling guilty about not feeling guilty about these things. Does that make me a terrible mother? Do I not love my children enough to feel guilty about working? I am a terrible doctor for not feeling guilty about my lack of ambition? And now I’m wondering if I should even post this blog? Am I guilty of being an annoying smug mother? Ugh, if I spent less time worrying about how I should be feeling just think of all that extra time I could be spending gardening!!

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