Boxing Day in the Emergency Department

Maybe it was the six lovely days off, the warm cuddles with my family, the Christmassy glow, the communal feeling of joy and goodwill to mankind. Maybe it was the couple of glasses of red wine and prosecco, and a little too much trifle on Christmas Day.

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Maybe it was my daughter waking up for several hours each night for the past week with the combination of manic excitement about Christmas, nightmares about Lego ghosts and a rather annoying cough. Maybe it was an overdose of Christmas songs and saccharine movies. Maybe that’s what made Boxing Day spent working in the Emergency Department feel so tough. Or maybe it was the fact that we had more than twenty people on trolleys in the corridor at all times through the shift, alongside the other fifty patients already in the department. The people in their nineties spending their Boxing Day in a corridor which is freezing cold at the best of times but particularly when the rain is lashing at the windows and the wind whipping up a gale. At one point there were eight people stuck in ambulances on the department forecourt who were unable to even unload into the corridor, one of whom I was trying to urgently treat with sepsis whilst he was still in the van. Maybe the people who had waited thirteen, fourteen, more hours to be found a bed inside the hospital itself, arriving in the dark of the early morning and still there by the time the dark of nighttime arrived. The indignity of trying to examine patients in corridors in front of other patients and their families. Having to apologise to every patient you meet that this just isn’t good enough but I’m afraid there is nothing else I can do. The fact that half the patients I looked after had only been discharged from hospital a few days earlier, almost certainly before they were really ready, and had inevitably bounced back in, more unwell than they had been before. Having to argue with doctors from inpatient specialties that yes, this patient really does need to be admitted. Maybe all of that was what killed off my warm Christmas buzz.

This is my tenth Christmas as a specialty doctor in Emergency Medicine, and over those years I have worked my fair share of Christmas Eves, Days, Boxing Days, New Years Eves and Days. In a funny way I often look forward to them. They tend to come with their fair share of tragedies, patients and families and stories that will stay with you forever. The cases where you go home and cuddle your own family a little tighter and count your Christmas blessings. But they also tend to come with some real Christmas spirit, colleagues in silly hats, songs sung in waiting rooms, donated presents given to the children, a staff room full of food, and an awful lot of Merry Christmas wishes. Some of that has been there this year (there was some phenomenal beard glitter on show!) but it felt a little hollow whilst working in the conditions we faced.

As long as I have worked in Emergency Medicine it has been a challenging job, not for the faint hearted. We have always felt stretched and under staffed at times. The last couple of years have been different though.

The corridor is now a legitimate patient area of our department, often with more patients than any other area, staffed with it’s very own team of nurses and health cares. It’s not a sign of a bad shift if there are patients there, but the sign of a miraculously good one if there aren’t. It’s now normal for patients to wait more than four hours for a bed and scarily common to wait more than four hours to even speak to a doctor for the first time. I keep seeing new firsts, the first evening handover where there are still patients from the night shift, the first time I have to run a trauma call in the decontamination room as it’s the only place we can fit an extra patient, the first time I have to try and treat a patient still in the back of the ambulance. And then those new lows become common place as well. We keep shifting our goal posts of what is normal and expected and acceptable. We keep upping our game and keep adapting as the next new challenge is thrown at us, and keep trying to deliver the very best care we can when it gets more tough than we could have imagined.

I do wonder though where the line will be drawn. When will it finally become too much. Because these conditions are not acceptable for the staff leaving their families at Christmas to care for others, and they absolutely, categorically are not acceptable for our patients.

One patient’s son was saying how unacceptable the situation was and I wholeheartedly agreed with him. He told me I should write to my MP. I smiled politely but didn’t want to say that if my MP was unaware of the crisis that our Emergency Departments are in then they should be sacked, and that it is the MPs who hold such a huge responsibility for having created this situation in the first place.

I am writing this now, tucked up in bed, failing to rest in preparation for the four hard night shifts that I begin tonight. I know that I go into those nights with the hospital in the highest state of alert in terms of overcrowding. I finish my run with New Years Eve, traditionally one of our busiest but one of my favourite nights of the year. I usually volunteer for it whether I’m due to be working or not.

We usually start the night with a quiet department, everyone avoiding us if at all possible. We might get a chance to all toast midnight with some booze free bubbles and a little song. Within half an hour of the new year starting we tend to see then rolling in, those who have celebrated a little too hard. And in they pour through the rest of the night. The night tends to bring its share of vomit bowls, swear words and bashed heads, but also lots of laughs and drunken song and that spirit which was definitely missing this Boxing Day. I am not facing it this year with my usual positivity. I fear the department will already be full and spirit long gone before the clock strikes twelve, so I worry how we will then manage the onslaught the new year always brings.

But I will live in hope. As an emergency doctor I think that’s what we have to do, I think that’s what must bring us back shift after shift. I will hope for a midnight toast and a hug from my colleagues, and a real change ahead of us in 2018. I hope that somehow somebody will come up with a way to make things better, and that line will be drawn at last. Lastly I hope you have all had a merry Christmas add that 2018 has lots of wonderful surprises in store for you!

 

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Resolutions

2017 has been a pretty incredible year for me, despite the fact I had very low expectations going into it. 2016 felt like a fairly horrific year for the world, what with the results of the Brexit vote, and the prospect of Obama being replaced by Donald Trump (to be fair 2017 hasn’t been much cheerier, with Brexit grinding on depressingly, Trump being inaugurated and living up to all the worst we had feared of him, and the terrifying rise in British terror attacks). I was deep in the mire of the winter blues by December, totally stressed out by the thought of Christmas, and with absolutely no enthusiasm at all at the thought of a new year ahead.

2017 has, so far, totally exceeded every expectation I could possibly have had for it. I have found a new sense of purpose and enthusiasm which I can’t quite believe. I have somehow managed to improve pretty much every area of my life, at least a little for the better, and in some areas I have made huge leaps forward to avenues I never expected to take. I’m sure this is at least partly down to finally getting some bloody sleep after so many years with my sleep dodging children!

I don’t really believe in New Years Resolutions. The only one I have ever kept was in 2001, when I vowed to never leave the house without full eyeliner!

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2012 I did pretty well with my decision to only eat meat once a week, until my daughter decided that it wasn’t a proper meal unless a sausage was involved. Every single other resolution ever I have forgotten about by the middle of January.

The problem is that we feel we should make resolutions, and we have this arbitrary deadline, this new year, and we feel it is expected, that we should eat healthier, join a gym, take up a new hobby, stop arguing with our partners, or our children.

These resolutions are often doomed to fail. They’re usually made at the last minute as the clock ticks towards midnight, with very little real thought put in as to whether you really want to do this,   or whether you just feel society expects you to want it, why you actually want to do it, and how the hell you are practically going to go about it.

I haven’t made any New Years resolutions for a while now, and this year will be no exception. However I have been totally converted this year by the power of having goals. I had written goals before, again always last minute, because I had to, for some work-based hoop jumping. This year I have realised how useful goals can be for your actual real life. Firstly goals that really mean something to you, something that deep in your soul you really want for your life, not because anybody expects it from you and not because you think it’s the ‘right’ thing to do. Once you’ve worked out what that thing is, you need to work out why you want it so much, what does it mean to you, how will it impact and benefit on every aspect of your life. Then you need to break the big goal down into tiny achievable steps, at least the first steps even if you have no idea yet what the later steps will involve. Writing all of that down so it becomes real is so important. Vague dreams floating around your head are so much harder to make reality! That’s why I’m starting now so I have plenty of time to mull it over and get those plans down on paper before the new year arrives.

Who knows if I will manage to achieve any of my goals for 2018? Some of them I have already started on. Some of them are so far out of my comfort zone that they feel completely impossible. But, come December 2018 I’ll let you know how I’m getting on!

Good luck to all of you for 2018, for achieving those little hopes and those enormous impossible dreams!

 

Keep it Simple

I have written a few posts recently about all the amazing things I have been doing recently, my achievements and challenges and ambitions. That’s great, and I have really felt like I’m on a roll, and trying to make the most of my current enthusiasm. 

A big part of that though is also about choosing things NOT to do. I am aware that I cannot do everything. I am trying not to get too far ahead of myself and crash in a heap. I am trying to keep life simple.

What that essentially means for the next ten days is I will go to work, cuddle my children, and revise. I may manage the occasional cup of coffee and bite to eat, but not planning on attempting much else.

After my exam I will be crashing straight into full-steam Christmas, and I feel really aware that I want to try a very different approach to the festive season this year.

When I think of how I want this Christmas to be, the words that spring to mind are relaxed, restful, easy, fun.  This may be a result of working like a demon for the past four months and being so ready for a break. It may be a result of previous stressful, disappointing Christmases. It may just be what I need this year and next December I will be back with all my festive guns blazing, but this year I am trying something new.

I have been talking it through with my husband and trying to really focus clearly on the things we love most about Christmas. The things that bring more joy than stress. The things that the kids buy into without having to force them. I think I am unusual in having the only children in the world who hate leaving the house. The absolute pinnacle of their life is having a Pyjama Day when they don’t have to get dressed and they can just play in the house for the entire day. It drives me crazy as so often I have all these things I want to do, but the children resist it so vehemently that in the end it’s just miserable and I wish I hadn’t bothered. 

So this year there will be no visits to beautifully decorated National Trust properties. There will be no going to meet Father Christmas. There will be no trips to the pantomime or to see the Mousehole Christmas lights. We will not be getting up and driving to watch the solstice sunrise from a cliff top somewhere. We will not be handmaking wrapping paper, cards and decorations (my children are also very resistance to craft activities, well when I am trying it with them at least). We will not go and queue for hours in the dark to watch the amazing illuminations at the Eden project. I will not spend weeks organising complex food that my children will refuse to eat.

The things that have made the final cut are these:

I will battle my children to go to see Rogue Theatre at the Winter Wood. I adore everything that Rogue Theatre do and it has become a vital part of Christmas to me, and however much my children may complain, they will end up enjoying some of it at least. Rogue Theatre remind me of the magic of the season like nothing else. And who knows I may have some perfect moments which will stay with me forever, like this…


If you live in Cornwall and have never been I thoroughly recommend you make this the year! 

I have already made my own mincemeat because I think it is so much nicer than anything you can buy, and the smell while it is cooking makes all the effort entirely worth it! I also plan to bake a Dundee cake, because me and my husband love it, and really don’t like normal Christmas cake. We only make it at this time of year, and it feels like a huge treat to have an amazing fruit cake waiting in the tin, for a cheeky slice whenever you fancy.

Winter solstice does feel special to me, and I don’t feel I can neglect it entirely.  So keeping it simple I plan to drink my morning cuppa in the garden, bundled up well in many layers, and watch as the first cracks of light appear.  If nobody wants to join me I’m ok with that.  Our tickets for Winter Woods are for that day so we will all get some of the fresh solstice air as we traipse through the woods in our wellies. That evening we will eat our dinner by candle light, even if it’s fish fingers and chips we will sit in that darkest evening of the year, and I at least will think forwards to the brighter days to come, and all that I have to look forward to.

I have already done most of my Christmas shopping, gradually over the last few months, and I have written my cards too.  I personally love getting a real life Christmas card that somebody has gone to the trouble of writing, so I felt like I couldn’t abandons those despite my year of simplicity. 

The big day will be all about the presents for my children at least. My previous rigorous rules about keeping it minimal are out of the window and they have got what they asked for, things I know they will love (plus the books that I couldn’t resist buying!!) Previously there have been rules about eating a special breakfast together before having presents but this year I just can’t find a reason to make life more difficult when obviously all they want is to attack that wrapping paper. I will try to just embrace it and share in their joy of material goods. 

Christmas dinner will be a simple roast, probably a nice piece of beef and a minimal selection of veggies, followed by old school trifle. Hopefully we can all eat it without resorting to any kind of stand off, food refusing argument. I have no plans to spend the entire day cooking, or for Jon to do so either. We will make the time for a champagne cocktail or two though, because that is always worth it! (The kids will have juice in champagne glasses and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the littlest manages not to bite a chunk out of his glass this year!)


I am not buying Christmas pyjamas or jumpers. They can try to squeeze into last years, and if they can’t, well it’s not the end of the world. I will not be dressing up in anything uncomfortable or attempt to make my daughter wear a pretty dress. I will generally try to chill out and go with the flow, put the cheesy Christmas songs on loud and just enjoy the moment. I will worry less about having photos worthy of Instagram and more about enjoying some Christmas telly. 

I’ll let you know how it goes. Next year I may well be back to attempting every Christmas activity I can squeeze into one short month. Right now though I’m really looking forward to NOT doing so much this year. 

The Great Leap Forwards

I am feeling back on track. Definitely feel like the SAD lamp, maybe in combination with some supplements I have been trying out, have helped me get back into a better frame of mind. My enthusiasm and motivation have returned anew, and I’m feeling pretty good.

The revision, which had recently felt like a slog, is back to being fun. I feel like I’ve made a bit of a break through with it and finding myself understanding it more. I’m hoping that all these months of really hard work will take me past rote learning of useless facts, to really understanding some key scientific concepts that I never quite got to grips with at medical school. And that has to be a positive thing! Yesterday somebody asked me how it was going, and I replied that I was really enjoying it. She said that that was because I was really ready for this now. Her words really struck a chord with me. I really do feel ready for this, like this is something that I really have to do right in this moment in time. After all I’ve spent the last nine years avoiding anything like this, and suddenly I just desperately want to throw myself in.

Its not just the revision, I’m so full of plans to develop and challenge and further myself at work. It’s almost hard to keep reigning myself in so that I don’t fling myself into so many projects that I just cannot keep up. I’m trying to stay grounded whilst still riding those waves of inspiration as they hit me. A difficult balance to achieve.

I’m even finding my actual shop floor work pretty enjoyable right now. Even amongst the mayhem of winter pressures I am really relishing the camaraderie of the team. Some rather wonderful people I work with are really going above and beyond trying to help improve the morale within the department, and it is really feeling different to me recently. Of course we all love a moan but it feels like generally people are getting the fun back in what can be such a tough job at times.

Part of that morale boosting was the monthly ED bake-off competition. My rather fabulous chocolate and orange cake, courtesy of Nigella’s recipe, won amongst 14 entries. This time there was an actual prize, and me and my husband had a rather wonderful, child-free meal out at a lovely hotel, for free!

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With all this activity I am still finding the time to relax, to do the things I love, the things that renew me. I have given myself some mornings off, having a lie-in, watching easy TV (just binge watched through Cold Feet). I have combined that with a bit of early Christmas prep. The kids presents are all bought (the postman has been very busy delivering all the online shopping), and the cards are written and ready to post when an acceptable time arrives. I had a wonderful morning off listening to my favourite music and making mincemeat, one of my absolute favourite ‘jobs’ on the Christmas to do list. I’m hoping that getting stuff done early will take that last minute pressure off.

In the next week I have a family day at my Son’s lovely preschool, book group and a trip out with my husband for some serious theatre.

Somehow it feels like the balance is right, and that may not last, but I am hopeful!

On the Shelf

I absolutely love books. I very much come from a family of book lovers. One of the strongest of all my childhood memories was of sitting on the floor, looking up at our bookcases crammed with books whilst my Mum and Brother talked about them. It was the room we called the reading room but it was really just a narrow corridor between two other rooms, with the whole length of one wall covered with tall bookcases, filled to bursting with my Mum’s collection of science fiction and fantasy books. I got so many hours of pleasure sitting with her, just looking at all the beautiful spines as she animatedly told me about this one and that one, so animatedly sharing her joy and passion for these whole other worlds that her books took her to. Often I would just sit there by myself, just gazing up at the wall of books, and all the possibility they held.

It’s not just my family’s bookcases that I vividly remember. I also spent far too much time studying the bookcases at my friend’s houses too. I particularly loved the apparent total randomness of some, with the Reader’s Digest Guide to Woodwork nestled alongside a thriller, next to a heavy tome on fine art, and then occasionally, with a naughty little thrill, a copy of The Joy of Sex. I love the idea that a bookcase contains signposts to all the disparate elements that make up the history of a family, the holidays, the long forgotten hobbies, the dreams and escapist fantasies alongside the well-used Delia Smith cookbook.

I always enjoyed reading as a child, though I never found the love of science fiction and fantasy that my Mum and Brother shared. Many of the childhood classics played a massive part in my view on the world, from Roald Dahl to C.S. Lewis, Enid Blyton to Dick King-Smith. I was a teenager though before I branched away from the influences of my family and through some very generous advice from a couple of very special teachers, I would find the kind of books that still make my heart soar.

I always knew that books would continue to play a big part of my grown-up life as well. My collection was carefully guarded as it grew. By the time I hit my early twenties, despite not having a boyfriend or any prospect of starting a family of my own, I started collecting children’s picture books, so that one day I could read them with my own children.

Now that I can essentially class myself as a proper adult with a house and a family we do have a reading room, stacked tall with bookcases.

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Then there are further collections of books in pretty much every room. It’s rare that we don’t have books in the bathrooms, in the car, on the kitchen table and sat on the stairs. Finally now my brain is working well enough to actually read for fun again (in between the studying) and I am enjoying it more than I can say.

And now, now my children love books too. Not necessarily the books I would choose, we have far more books on Lego Ninjago than I would have planned, and my gorgeous and educational book on the seasons of the year has only ever been looked at by me, however often I nonchalantly leave it lying around for them to read.

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My obsession with children’s books just seems to be growing though, and despite my desperate instinct not to spoil them with material possessions I just can’t resist buying them books. Today I sorted through the pile of hidden things that I have bought and squirrelled away for their Christmas presents, and found 22 books!! Thats not including all the ones I keep buying which are obviously too old for them yet but I can’t resist buying for the future when they will hopefully love them as much as so did as a child. I have now given them their own bookcase in the reading room (alongside all the piles scattered around the house) and love finding them sat on the floor exploring them like I remember doing myself.

Not that I need any encouragement but I would love to hear any recommendations you have for books that you think are absolutely essential for all children, of any age. I have a feeling we might need more bookcases.

S A D

Once again the autumn blues seem to have clobbered me hard! Last year I had a wonderfully positive spring and summer, then the second that autumn hit all my motivation vanished, and I spent the next six months barely able to drag myself out of bed. I had absolutely no energy, no motivation, and everything felt like too much effort.

This year I have made huge progress, feeling like I had made real changes to my mentality, feeling productive, passionate and determined. I have signed myself up to all kinds of projects, and was enjoying them all so much. I did worry about taking too much on and falling flat on my face in a big pile of overwhelm, but that just didn’t happen.

Until September arrived. The first waft of an autumn breeze, the hint of darkening of the evening skies, the leaves losing their green around the edges, and I felt like I’d crashed into a wall. Once again I had no desire to do anything. My exciting projects felt like a massive responsibility and all motivation had left me.

I have heard about SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder many times before, but never really paid any attention to it. The last two years the autumn has brought such an abrupt change to be that I felt I couldn’t afford to just accept it this year. I was enjoying feeling so energetic and motivated, I really didn’t want to lose that feeling.

So this year I am refusing to take it lying down. After all my earlier talk about owning my choices, this year I choose to enjoy all the seasons, to make the most of them regardless of the weather, and to make positive steps to improve my energy levels and to keep the momentum going when it comes to creating the life that I really want.

I have taken several small steps, using crystals with positive sparkly energies, diffusing essential oils which give me a bit of an energy boost, trying to get lots of fresh vegetables into my daily diet and drink more water. I have bought a SAD lamp to have on my desk for revising in the mornings, it’s early days but I’ll let you know if I notice a difference.

I’m trying to get outside at the slightest hint of sunshine, going for walks and feeling the wind in my face. Cornwall in the autumn can be truly beautiful now that most of the tourists have gone home.

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I’m not sure if any of this really makes a difference and it still feels like more of an uphill climb than the easy soaring of the summer months. I feel better to be making positive choices though, rather than to curl up and accept six months of hibernation. I can’t afford it anyway with another course to study for in two weeks and my big exam hurtling towards me in just over four. I am hoping to go straight into studying for the next exam at the beginning of March (praying that I pass this one first) so keep your fingers crossed for me that my Autumn Appreciation Strategy keeps me going through into the depths of winter!

Fear

I work in a really scary job. Everybody knows that. The Emergency Department is a terrifying place full of chaos and carnage, blood and death. Except most of the time that just isn’t how I think of it.

I am one of the world’s biggest cowards. I am terrified of pretty much everything. Scared of talking to my daughter’s teacher, of saying hi to a mum in the playground, of being alone, of the dark, of the telephone, of filling in forms, of travelling, of new places, new situations, pretty much anything new. People who know me away from work seem pretty amazed I manage to leave the house let alone work as a doctor, let alone in the most unpredictable of all specialties.

This week I have been staying alone in a hotel, away from home. I arrived by train to a city that I knew one small corner of well many years ago, in the pitch black autumnal evening. I couldn’t find a taxi and had no idea how to make my way across the city to my hotel. After a brief period of panic I found apparently the only taxi in town, and then spent a rather nerve-wracked journey wondering whether the man driving me had just murdered the real taxi driver, the body shoved in the boot, and was planning to murder me next (he ended up being a very sweet man who gave me money off my trip after finding out I was an ED doc, telling me how lucky he was to have such a wonderful health service). I spent most of the hours I spent in my hotel room imagining somebody breaking my door in and murdering me, or the building burning down.

So yeah, I am a coward. I cannot deal with the unpredictability of normal social interaction, or the fear of any unknown situation.

In my Emergency Department though, well there I feel safe. I have known many of my colleagues for many years and I trust them with my life, absolutely. I have their backs to the very end, just as they have mine. Our devotion to each other gets us through every shift, somehow, whatever hellish situation may face us. Knowing that we have to make tough decisions, potentially life and death decisions, with very little thinking time, is somehow a powerful focuser of the mind. At its purest moments I think it is very like mindfulness, you can only be absolutely in that moment right in front of you, and everything else fades away.

I am well aware that many doctors hate it. There are people who panic and fall apart, who are unable to make a decision, can’t keep up the pace. And believe me there have been moments that were absolutely terrifying, but somehow I seem to have managed to find my little piece of Zen right in the eye of the storm.

 

The Long and Winding Road

I grew up with a very narrow idea of what success looked like. It was full marks in exams, being top of the class, going to a good university, getting a good job, earning lots of money. For a lot of my earlier life I managed to fulfill that narrow definition. I was the girl who resat my chemistry A level module because I only got 84%, and although that is still an A it wasn’t as good an A as I had wanted. I worked hard, but that hard work was enough to get me the successes I had aimed for.

At various points life threw me a bit of a curve ball, when I made a last minute change to my university plans and ended up with an unexpected gap year. When I didn’t get the surgical training post I had wanted, and then didn’t really enjoy the one I had. And then most disturbingly when I decided there were other things I enjoyed more than working non-stop.

As with every other area of my life, having a baby was the biggest curve ball of all. I discovered that I couldn’t be a ‘successful’ parent just by working hard at it however hard I worked my daughter didn’t want to eat, sleep or not cry in the way that I had expected. At some point in those early years, probably while she was once again refusing to nap anywhere but in my arms, and I was stuck on the sofa with nothing but the Internet to entertain me, I came across this picture:

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Now, this picture seems bloody obvious to me, but when I first saw it I’ll admit that it blew my tiny mind. In one very simple picture I realised that pure hard work alone was not always the key to success, that sometimes you had to go backwards, or take side steps, or try something completely new before you even realised that you were actually making progress. I could see it so very clearly demonstrated to me every single day in this small person sleeping in my arms, I could see her learning and experimenting and failing and learning every day. With her I found it incredible, this beautifully squiggly path to discovery, so why had I never seen it in myself? Why had I always berated myself for every single perceived failure, every backwards or sideways step? Why had I given up when things were going in that smoothly perfect upwards slope?

I had my thirty seventh birthday last week. I am in no way at the point in my life where I had expected to be at this age. My life has ended up being far more complicated yet beautifully simple and far more wonderful than I had ever expected it to be. You may have read about my rather late in the game decision to aim for consultancy after nine long years of trying to convince myself that I never really wanted it anyway, after the path turned out to be rather more squiggly than I had envisioned. I have decided to embrace all the experience I have, and try to use it to be a better doctor than I ever hoped. I have been absolutely working my arse off for my imminent exam, whilst also taking on other firsts, such as my first time teaching on an Advanced Trauma Life Support course starting tomorrow, and then getting qualified to teach on other courses too later this month. As well as the exams I have huge amounts of paperwork to get in order, and years worth of evidence that I need to start collecting. At earlier points in my life I would have been put off by how much harder I had made life for myself, I would have been discouraged and given up. Now I think I am old enough to know that things don’t always come easy, that it often feels like you’re going backwards, that you don’t even know which direction forward is anymore, but I have faith that I can keep learning, that I continue to move forward even when it doesn’t always feel that way, and that as long as I keep going I can get where I need to go. However difficult and scary that can be at times.

So for any of my senior colleagues who may read this, prepare yourself to fill in a whole load of forms for me, and one day, in many years time, hopefully I will be calling you equals!!!

 

This is What School Educating Looks Like

Parenting is a funny business. In this day and age at least there are thousands of decisions we make for our children, some after great deliberation, sleepless nights and heartache. Some whilst barely even noticing that a decision is there to be made. Some are because that’s what your mother did and her mother did, or that lady down the road who always seems to totally have her shit together. Some decisions you don’t realise how absolutely perfect they are until much later when everything has worked out fine. Some you look back on and wonder what the hell you were thinking. Some you continue to dwell on for years to come, still unsure if you did the right thing.

I think the weight of all these choices, combined with our fear of doing the wrong thing for our precious children, is at the very heart of the “mummy wars”. Well, the advertising companies and social media can probably take some blame too, but that is for another post…

The mummy wars, for those of you fortunate enough to not understand the term, is this need that some women seem to have once they become mothers to justify the decisions they made. And so they set up camp with the other women who made those same choices, to form a little tribe, to help them validate their choice. In order to make their decision feel even more robust they have to be negative about others who made other choices. And there you have the natural birthers vs the c.section mums, the home birthers vs the give me all the drugs, breast vs formula, co-sleepers vs cot in a nursery, stay at home mums vs full time workers, purée vs baby led weaning, and on and on it goes infinitely. At the end of it all though, they are all children and we are all their mums, and we chose the thing that seems best at that precise moment, for that child and this family and we probably all do ok in the end somehow, through all those great choices and all those mistakes too.

One of the very most debated about, panicked about, lost sleep about and cried about decisions I have made is how to educate my daughter. At the time those decisions needed to be made she was having quite a hard time, struggling with separation anxiety, communication difficulties, fear of change and new experiences, and all of us really feeling totally stretched and overwhelmed as a family, it didn’t seem there were any good choices. We investigated her staying on somehow at her amazing outdoor preschool, a local part time steiner parents co-operative, flexi-schooling, state school, the bank-breaking private school option, or full time home schooling.

We looked around one of the highly recommended local schools and didn’t particularly like it. We agreed to apply for it and then see what happened. We didn’t even look around the other nearby school which I had only heard bad things about, and which was the only school in town to have a bad OFSTED report. We definitely didn’t apply for it. We were told that the other schools in town were massively oversubscribed and we were way out of their catchment area, so didn’t even bother with those.

Youve probably guessed that when the fateful email came my daughter had been allocated a place at the failing local school with the terrible reputation. Well obviously she wasn’t going to go there, we would have to keep investigating our alternative options and consider if our family could really cope with the reality of home schooling.

I am a big fan of home schooling. I really like the idea of it. I follow loads of home schoolers on social media and really admire what they do. Between us, me and my husband have a pretty diverse education and personal interests, and even have a teaching qualification, though admittedly that is for adult learners. It kind of fits with our vaguely hippy parenting style that we have fallen into, and locally we have a thriving home school community, even friends and neighbours who did it, to help us along the way. I thoroughly disagree with the way the Conservatives have steered education and abhore this culture of constant testing and tiny children being expected to understand what a conjugate noun is. I worried that state education was a tool to turn my child into an automaton ready to work for the rest of her days in a soul destroying job.

At the same time, we were really struggling with her. We were struggling to get through each day and the idea of her being at home full time, with us somehow being able to help her grow into the best person she could be, the most knowledgable, skilled, creative, worthwhile human her potential allowed, without all going totally crazy and crumbling under the pressure, it felt impossible. All our other investigations seemed to reach dead ends, and none of the options felt right.

With our offer of the school place came an invitation to an open day to look round. So after writing it off, we thought we should at least do that.

And we really liked it. It was a lot smaller than the other school we saw, friendlier, calmer and more welcoming. The kids seemed really happy and really engaged. The outside space was great.  Loads of fun things seemed to be happening.

After much heart ache we decided to go for it. With the very clear plan that we could pull her out at any time if we didn’t feel it was right. And she went.

And she loves it. My child who barely talked now talks constantly. My child who had never drawn a picture now writes long stories with illustrations. She has gone forwards in leaps and bounds and I am totally in awe of her and the lovely teachers she has been so lucky to have.

I still follow loads of home schoolers on social media and still have friends that it really works for. And I guess I’m jealous that it seems to work so brilliantly for them, when I really don’t think it would have worked out for us, definitely not at that time. Who knows what the future holds though. On some of these homeschoolers social media they use the hashtag #thisiswhathomeschoolinglookslike and sometimes I look at their feeds and feel a bit sad, a little like I failed my daughter, and like they’re probably better parents, better people than me. But so far, well we seem to be doing ok with this decision so far. So here are some #thisiswhatschooleducatinglookslike meant slightly tongue in cheek!

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And this autumn, well we filled in my Sons application for the same failing, bad reputation school which my daughter has loved and thrived at, and I haven’t lost any sleep over it.

 

 

And just like that, time passes…

There is one day left of our school summer holidays. In just one more day we will be back battling early mornings, teeth brushing before lunchtime, having to wear actual clothes, and make it to school by quarter to nine.

This time last year we had all lost the plot, and spent the last fortnight screaming at each other. This year I really hoped it would be different, and I am very pleased to say it has been!

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With one day left to go I am actually feeling sad at the thought of my daughter being away from us most of the day, five days a week. I can’t believe how quickly it has passed, and I will be mourning the passing of the holidays on Wednesday morning.

The main difference this year? Massively lowering my expectations. Taking some leave so I actually see my children a little. Being relaxed if most days are PJ days. Asking the kids if they want to go off on a big adventure today or if they’d really rather play Lego and watch Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures on repeat AGAIN.  It’s been being relaxed if they wear dressing up clothes to the supermarket and accepting that any trip out must include pretty much constant food if there is to be any chance of enjoying it without a meltdown.

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Not to say we haven’t had any adventures. There have been train journies across the counties to stay with my Mum, theatre trips, cinema trips, meals out, splashing on the beach, and meeting heroes (my Son’s hero, not surprisingly a CBeebies presenter!)

And there has been lots of eating, lots of TV and movies, lots of creative play, reading comics and magazines, seeing their family, swimming, colouring, arguing and rough and tumble, cuddles, collaboration, and an awful lot of fighting over that one Lego piece they both absolutely have to have.

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It’s been pretty good really, even if we didn’t make it through many of our big plans.

And then on Friday morning my son starts preschool. His first time ever being away from us. Looking forward to some child-free time and he seems to be really excited about it too!!!