Frustration

Since having children the amount of love that suffuses my every day life has grown exponentially. The same has happened to the amount of frustration. My god children are frustrating! And they get frustrated themselves so easily too.

So my children get frustrated when they are trying to learn something new, how to get food into their mouth, how to crawl, how to stand, how to walk, how to put their shoes on, how to do the puzzle, how to make the Lego model, how to read the word properly, how to play the computer game. We move from one frustrating new task to learn,to the next. And as their parent it’s pretty damn frustrating to watch too. You want to help, to ease their frustration, to get the job done more quickly (a child who is learning to put their coat on by themselves can take years and sometimes you just need to leave the house!), to show them the right way to do it. At the same time you know how important it is for them to learn for themselves. Getting the balance between letting them just get on with it, teaching them how to do it, and not exploding with impatience is pretty frustrating.

Children have the frustration of having to do super-boring things like getting dragged around the garden centre with me. I have the frustration of having to do super-boring things like pushing them on the swing for three thousand hours straight.

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They have the frustration of not being able to go to the park every single day and I definitely have the frustration of not being able to go to the garden centre every day because I know they will just whinge the entire way around, and ruin all my fun.

The children have the frustration of having to follow boring grown-up rules. I have the frustration of having to enforce boring grown-up rules. I mean they have had to brush their teeth twice a day for their entire lives so far, why do we still need to fight about it every single day? Why can’t they just bloody do it?

They have the frustration of having to turn off the TV after the millionth Octonaut’s episode in a row, after all there is nothing more fun than watching continuous TV all day long. I have the frustration of trying to get them to turn the TV off so that they can actually get some fresh air and some exercise, I mean those things are important and it’s my duty as their parent to make sure they don’t get square eyes! After all, all the studies tell us how bad TV is for our children (so why do they make Octonaut’s so brilliant?!?)

Children have the frustration of being expected to eat cabbage when it’s obviously disgusting green slime, which possibly could actually be poisonous. Parents have the frustration of trying to think of food which is at all healthy which their child will actually eat. Then go to all the trouble of buying the ingredients and cooking the food, only to have their child refuse to even taste it.

Then there is the frustration of trying to make lovely plans for fun activities for all the family, then to have to cancel because of the constant childhood illnesses, or go and have your children moan or fight with each other the entire time, until you just go, “fine, let’s just go home and watch bloody Octonauts in our pyjamas shall we?”

Children have the frustration of being expected to share their most beloved toys with other children and their siblings. They are expected to go to bed when there are obviously still fun things going on, and games to be played. Parents have the frustrations of breaking up fights over who gets to play with that particular Lego minifigure again and again and again. They have to give up their evenings, often the only opportunity for child-free time, and to get on with all those jobs that are just impossible whilst breaking up all those Lego arguments, to do protracted bedtimes.

This makes it sound like a constant battle doesn’t it? Sometimes that is definitely how it feels. It feels like us and them with the battle lines clearly drawn up, over the TV, over food, over brushing teeth. This isn’t how I hoped it would be. Surely we should be on the same team, we all want to be happy and healthy, surely? We’re fairly lax on rules in our house and if I’m being totally honest it’s because I just can’t bear any more fighting than there already is. So the rules we do have are pretty key, important rules that are there theoretically for all of our benefit. If only children could be more logical and reasonable!!

I totally empathise though. I’m pretty old but I still have vivid memories of saying “Why do I have to do everything in this house?” And “This is soooooo unfair!” And “Why can’t I do ANYTHING that I want to do?”

I’m not sure there’s any way to avoid it and be a reasonably decent parent. I’m just relying on all that love which has also arrived in overwhelming quantity, to balance out all of our frustrations just a little bit.

 

 

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Guest Blog 3- Looking Through the Window

Today’s guest blog post comes from my friend Katie, who I met more than seven years ago with our matching bumps in the village hall for our NCT classes. Today she writes about how she makes her work work around her children, which now means her husband being a stay at home Dad. Our jobs are very different, but I very much relate to how she feels about this arrangement. So, over to Katie:

I am a keen follower of Rachel’s blog and when she asked me to do a guest blog I didn’t really think I had much that could be of interest, and maybe it still won’t be but I said I’d give it a good shot! Like Rachel, I am a working Mum. I have 3 healthy, inquisitive and cheeky children aged 7, 4 and 20 months and they are without doubt my greatest achievement in life. I have a wonderful husband who is unfailingly supportive to whatever I do personally or professionally and is the absolute foundation of our family unit.

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I am incredibly fortunate to work for a large global business that for 10 years has allowed me to work remotely from my home in beautiful Cornwall with occasional travel to the office. This means I have always had the opportunity to be as present in the kid’s lives day to day, as most parents who do not necessarily work full time or at all. This was still a fine balancing act between getting the job done to a quality which never compromised my working arrangement whilst running out for the school run at 3pm every day, but we made it work.

After our third child, my husband gave up his day job to become a Stay at Home Dad to our children, and share the duties of primary Carer which I had struggled to fit in around working full time even when we had two children. This has been an absolute game changer for our family in as much as I can now focus a bit more on the paid employment, worry a bit less about making sure all the day to day stuff gets done and the time we both have with the children is high quality. Especially for him as he’d never had more than 2 weeks off in any one go with the boys.

His relationship with our boys has gone from strength to strength, and the bond he has with our daughter who he now cares for each day is magical to watch. All in all, a pretty good deal you’d say?

So why do I feel like I am looking through the window at my life some days?

Before my husband was off work, I could tell you to the second where the kids needed to be at any one time, the exact specification of how they had their toast buttered, the dietary requirements of any potential friend coming to play and probably the inside leg measurement of (insert club teacher name!).

I am surprised I didn’t have my own cup at the local toddler group and I’d seen every single one of my children’s relationships develop, many in parallel to friendships of my own with the parents.

Now I find myself taking guidance and instruction from my husband about what the kids are up to, him recounting the funny stories from the day, going to sign the form for the school trip and it’s all done, back in the bag alongside the cakes baked for the class sale.

And I hate it and love it in equal measures. I am genuinely delighted that after three long and wonderful maternity leave’s that my children get to enjoy Daddy as much as they enjoy time with Mummy, I am ecstatic I do not have to wrestle kids into their trunks every week in the sweaty changing room and sit poolside at the local swimming pool akin to a furnace, I am often overwhelmed by the laughter of them all playing outside whilst I sit on another conference call inside.

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But I feel a real sense of loss at the same time. The feeling that I wasn’t in fact Super Mum who could do it all, that given the opportunity my husband could nail it just as well even though he often looked like he wasn’t listening during our ‘handover’! A slight jealousy that my husband gets to see our daughter working out how to do Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes in sync with children twice her age again whilst putting the world to rights at the Toddler group with the other parents.

Envious that mine are not always the first arms they run into with their achievement certificates, or their school projects.

It’s absolutely bonkers as I am still very much involved so much is perception as well as reality but that loss of engagement has unsettled me although it has created a baseline to a much less stressed working life.

I have a new appreciation for what it must have felt like for Damien to get my download on our children all the time, and he has a new appreciation that when I say there isn’t always a lot of time between the two school runs to ‘sit around drinking coffee’ that it’s really true!

I have a renewed appreciation for my lovely husband who had to put up with me controlling the ship which often felt like I was sailing it against the winter wind.

Guess what I am saying is that however you parent, whichever one of you is the anchor or the sail, there is compromise. But in balance I feel our family is now sailing towards the sun with the winds of happiness behind us and for that I am eternally grateful.

 

Mental Health

Mental health issues make up a large portion of my work, and it is rare to work a shift where I do not look after somebody who has presented to the Emergency Department with a crisis in their mental health. We now have cover in the department from the Mental Health specialist team 24 hours a day as there is always an abundance of work for them to do. Doctors themselves are not in any way immune, and in fact are found to be more likely to suffer from issues than the general population, but less likely to seek help.

I feel I have been very lucky with my mental health. There have been periods in my life where I have felt pretty sad, these pretty much tied up perfectly with those periods of my life where things weren’t going great in my life and I was very lonely. Whilst I was struggling at home with a new baby I came across an article about post-natal depression and how it’s not the same thing as situational sadness. I’d never heard the concept of situational sadness before but it really struck a chord with me.

I did get the ‘baby blues’ with my first child. Such an innocuous term for such a horrible thing. I felt totally out of control. I felt that my emotions and me were not connected at all. I would just suddenly, from nowhere, feel utterly desperate and be in floods of tears, not because anything bad had happened but just because my body did it to me. For several weeks my emotions went completely haywire and I spent a lot of the time feeling the bleakest I have ever felt. I had never experienced a total physical loss of control of my emotions in that way before. When I think of mental illness I think of those few weeks of my life where physically my emotional state was completely in charge of me.

Situational sadness is where things in your life are pretty bad; where you have just moved across the country and lost all your friends; where you feel isolated and alone in a strange city doing a stressful degree; where you have an unsettled baby and you feel like you are failing as a mother. In those times it is completely normal and understandable to feel sad. Sadness is a human emotion that we are programmed to feel when life is difficult, along with a whole load of other emotions which we sometimes refer to as negative; frustration, anger, boredom, jealousy, and even despair. This justifiable sadness felt completely different to that emotional turmoil I experienced in the few weeks of ‘baby blues.’

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Situational sadness is a pretty horrible thing to go through, and there’s lots that can be done to improve it. A massive part of it is getting support from those around you, and with me in every case it eased once I made friendships and had a support network around me. This is also where that very trendy phrase at the moment comes in, of Self Care. Making sure you feed your body properly, rest, sleep, ask for help, do activities that you enjoy, laugh, get exercise, all of those things can help gain perspective on your situation and hopefully find ways to improve it. Sometimes it takes more than that and you need to get proper advice from others about ways to get out of that situation.

I personally feel that this kind of sadness is not the same as depression, but that it may get confused with it by some people. I do think that it can develop into depression if nothing is done to improve the situation.

I have talked a lot before about feeling anxious, and believe me there are lots of things that I get anxious about. I have strategies to deal with those, and whilst it definitely impacts on my life, it has never controlled my life. If there is something that I desperately want to do then I will do it regardless of my anxiety. There are things that I avoid to be sure, things that I ask my husband to do instead, such as phoning for a take-away, speaking to my daughter’s teacher, or going into a restaurant first. But my anxiety doesn’t physically prevent me, I have never had a panic attack, never felt I couldn’t breathe or that I was going to die.

I think there is a lot of conversation about our mental health these days and I think that’s a really good thing. I think we should all be better at noticing our emotions, for knowing the words to describe them, for accepting the whole range of emotions including the ‘negative’ ones as perfectly normal in day to day life, and being comfortable with that. I think there is a real danger in any society where you are expected to be happy all the time. I think we should all be aware of healthy strategies which help us through times when our  emotions are other than happy, and I think that honesty, with ourselves and others is a key part of that. Then taking active steps to look after ourselves through self care is key, as our physical and mental health are so closely aligned. It is hard to feel happy and balanced when you’ve had no sleep, eaten nothing but chocolate, only drunk coffee and wine, and haven’t breathed fresh air in days.

I do think there is also a danger in pathologising negative emotions. Sadness and anger are not diseases. There shouldn’t be a medication that takes those away from us as those emotions are part of us, an important part of us. I think that mental illness is an abnormality in the chemical composition of a person’s brain which leads to abnormal thinking, behaviours, cognition and a range of true physical symptoms. In those situations there are a whole host of pharmaceutical therapies, which in lots of cases are very effective at readjusting the brain chemistry for the better.

I see a lot of people who want doctors to take away the fact that their life isn’t going well, that their relationship has failed and they are feeling really sad. I see a lot of people who make bad life choices and have very maladaptive ways of dealing with the repercussions of those bad choices, who use alcohol and drugs to make things better and it makes things worse. I think there is a lot that can be done to help people in those situations, but the solutions are not simple. The solutions involve long periods of therapy, work to understand those maladaptive coping mechanisms, development of new behaviours and strategies in difficult times. I do not believe that a tablet will change those things. I think sometimes people want to deny their personal responsibility in difficult times, believe me I get that, they want to be told that they are ill and they want somebody else to cure them. I think there is a confusion over mental illness, about where there is an abnormality within your body’s processes that can be pharmaceutically treated, and where negative emotions are felt about negative things. I think that if, as doctors and as patients, we spent more time trying to unpick the differences then we would be much better at actually offering useful help to both sides of the problem.

I believe we are all responsible for looking after our mental health in the same way as we are our physical health. Often it is the same things which benefit both, good nutrition, rest and sleep, and regular gentle exercise. At the same time I feel that writing gratitude lists is as likely to cure the medical condition of depression, as eliminating potatoes from your diet is going to cure your cancer. In all these things it is the balance of being proactive about looking after your health whilst seeking medical assistance when that isn’t enough.

Anyway, I’m not sure how much you will agree with what I have said, it may not be a popular opinion and I am always happy to discuss it further. I do not in any way wish to discourage people from seeking help if they feel unable to deal with negative situations in their lives. In the meantime I will be trying to look after my own mental health with some sleep, a nice cup of tea in the garden, and maybe a chat over the crossword with my husband.

Guide

Today I present my guide to winning first prize in the ED chocolate cake bake-off competition!!

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In other words, here is the super easy and always fabulous recipe I used for the gorgeous dairy-free, gluten-free, Chocolate and Orange cake that won me the competition.  I freely give full credit for the recipe to the wonderful Nigella Lawson. You will need a food processor, but as long as you’ve got one of them, it is the easiest cake ever!

Ingredients:

2 small (or 1 large) unwaxed oranges (if you can’t find unwaxed you need to give them a jolly good  scrub under hot water first)

6 eggs

1 tsp baking powder (make sure this is a gluten free one if that’s important)

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

200g of ground almonds

250g of caster sugar

50g of cocoa

First you put the whole oranges in a saucepan with cold water.  Bring these to the boil and leave to simmer for around an hour until they feel really soft and squishy. This is the time to have a nice cup of tea and read a book.

After an hour take the oranges out, cut into quarters and remove (and throw away) any pips.

Get your oven on at 180 degrees centigrade. Grease and line a 20cm baking tin. I use sunflower oil to grease rather than butter as this is a lot quicker for a start, and keeps the recipe dairy free.

I then put the six eggs, baking powder and bicarb, almonds, sugar, cocoa, and all of the oranges, skin, pith, flesh, juice and all into a food processor. Blitz it until it’s nicely mixed but still with a few, small orangey nobbles in it. You are not aiming for completely smooth.

Pour the whole mix into your prepared tin and bake it for one hour. I try to remember to put foil over it for the last 15 minutes or the top tends to burn a little.

After an hour take out of the oven and leave to cool in the tin.

I then normally melt 100g of good quality dark chocolate in a glass bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. I grate in the zest of 1 more unwaxed Orange once it’s melted. I leave that to cool a little and then pour over the cold cake. I finish with a little shake of gold glitter sugar.

For my competition winning cake I also made my own crystallised orange slices. This is very much a fancy finishing touch which you can leave off (particularly since none of mine actually got eaten at the competition anyway)

To make crystallised orange slices you need one final unwaxed orange. Slice thin, horizontal slices across the orange. Put in a pan with some boiling water, boil for about one minute and then remove and drain on a cooling rack.

Next make a sugar syrup with 200g of caster sugar and 200mls of water in a small frying pan, and warm until the sugar melts. Add your orange slices trying to keep them in a single layer.

Gently simmer the slices in the syrup for about 45 minutes until the orange skin goes soft.

Then remove from the syrup and leave to dry on a drying rack. This can take several days (I cheated and put them in a very low oven for a couple of hours as I was in a rush)

You can use the left over orangey syrup on ice-cream if that is your thing.

Finally arrange your orange slices around the cake and be prepared to win your wooden spoon!

Hobby

I seem to be suffering a little from writer’s block today, on day 19 of blogadaymay, and it surprises me as today’s topic should be easy. My hobby is my garden, one of my truest loves in the world, and usually I have absolutely no trouble rabbiting on about it until everyone around me is dying of boredom.

Maybe that’s the problem. I really want to share how utterly life affirming gardening can be, how magical, how calming and grounding, how exciting, how it can get you through difficult times, how it is so good for your mental health, and physical health, and is just generally wonderful. And I can’t quite find the words to do that.

This post has already been written and deleted several times, but the best thing with writers block is just to push through, so I apologise if my words fail to express my thoughts very well.

We all spend far too much time indoors. Shelter may be a basic human need, but as we have become more civilised we have taken this to extremes. Our bodies have evolved that sunshine upon your skin is the main way of creating vitamin D, it is a basic physiological need, but one that many of us are missing. There are other hobbies that people develop to get them outdoors; walking their dog, playing football, surfing, cycling, etc. Growing a garden that you love, keeps pulling you outside. You want to see how things are doing so out you go to check on them. As soon as you head outside life gets that tiny bit better, you can feel the air on your skin and the sunshine (when there is any) start to warm you and make some vitamin D. You also notice the state of the world, how the leaves are looking on the trees, which plants are thriving, which flowers are blooming, which fruits are growing and may soon be ready for harvest.

Mindfullness is big business these days. All our lives are so busy and we run from one crisis to the next, out bodies are overwhelmed by cortisol. Mindfullness is the process of slowing down and refocusing our minds, to our bodies, to our surroundings, rather than our racing thoughts. Gardening is so much better than any Mindfullness app you could download on your phone, as soon as I step out of my door I am fully focussed on the world around me, my place within it, and everything else slows down for a while.

I love the perspective it gives me. The idea that even when it is cold and bleak and the garden is reduced to mud and sticks, under the ground, inside those bare sticks, everything is resting and rejuvenating, preparing itself to burst forth anew into utter summer glory. I knew that before, of course, but now I see it, year after year, and I can see that those cold, dark times can be an important phase towards the magnificent times ahead.

For example, let me talk you through one of my absolute favourite plants, the peony. You may know the beautiful flowers from the florists, and that’s the reason I decided to grow a couple in my garden. I now have seven plants in my rather tiny garden and let me explain why. I read all about them, and discovered  that peonies are best to plant in October as bare root plants. I found the leading expert supplier in the country, and months ahead I ordered my plants. When they arrive they are just a mass of roots in a plastic bag, not a leaf on them. I spent lots of time trying to get the conditions just right for them, lots of added goodness in the soil, and then in they go, completely buried. There followed six months of waiting, wondering if they were alive, if I had followed the instructions correctly, if they’d rotted in the winter rains. And then, one gloomy day in March I saw this:

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A few tiny red blobs poking through the earth. (You would not believe how excited I was to see these!) And then a week or so later it became this:

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And then it rapidly shoots upwards to this:

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And then turns into a beautiful plant and the flower buds appear:

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And they slowly get bigger and bigger and bigger until the most incredible flowers appear. Im afraid you’d have to wait another week or so for that one, but the anticipation levels are high! I just can’t quite get over how amazing it is to watch the daily progression from bare earth to beautiful plant with the most exquisite flowers in just a few months, and then come October it will all die back to bare earth again. And every year it will do it all over again. And every year I will look forward to this happening, and the magic will hit me anew.

Speaking of magic, how utterly magical is it that with the help of one little bee, this flower

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will turn into a piece of fruit that I can actually pick and eat!? Who needs Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy when you have real life magic like that as part of your life!

Watching your future harvest appear and swell and slowly change colour is just amazing.

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And actually picking and eating it is even better!

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If you haven’t found the magic of gardening yet, now is the time to give it a go! My obsession started growing a bag  of potato plants on my patio and it just kept growing!

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Work

I am an Emergency Physician. This means that I am a doctor who has specialised in the care and management of undifferentiated, emergency medical issues. In other words I work in an Emergency Department and I am expected to handle whatever comes through the doors.

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As a rule doctors are becoming more and more specialised. As they gain experience they narrow their field of expertise tighter and tighter, so they are not just surgical doctors who operate on bones, but they become surgeons who just operate on one particular joint, and in some cases one particular operation on one particular joint. They are not just medical doctors who specialise in problems with the heart, but specifically on problems with the electrical conduction system of the heart, and in some cases one specific treatment for one particular abnormality of the electrical conduction system. Generally it is a career where knowing everything about a very specific thing is encouraged and highly respected.

Which may explain why the Emergency Doctor has a bit of a bad reputation. We are the jacks of all trades but crucially the masters of none. We are merely triage nurses who just pass the buck on to another doctor who actually knows what to do about it. We are the sad department who rarely get thank you cards or boxes of chocolates as we are a mere few hours in a patient’s overall journey and therefore not that worthy of thanks. My own father recently passed through the resus room of an Emergency Department as part of a hospital stay which included many other specialist areas. They all got chocolates afterwards, but even the father of an Emergency Physician forgot to say thanks to the ED.

So, if we are so inexpert, what is the benefit of an Emergency Physician? Why have us at all? For a start we take those patients who are at their very sickest, and we commence immediate treatments and investigations which not only keep people alive, but also hopefully start to improve them whilst we work out which of all those specialists that patient needs. The majority of patients do not come in with a banner saying ‘I have a dissecting thoracic aorta which needs immediate surgical intervention from a cardiothoracic surgeon.’ Instead they can come in with chest pain, abdominal pain, confusion, shortness of breath, arm weakness, facial droop, agitation, and in one memorable case was booked in as a panic attack. They tend not to have a banner saying ‘I have a urinary tract infection and need some antibiotics’ but instead they can have tummy pain, back pain, diarrhoea and vomiting, a fall, increased confusion, not walking very well, irritable. We try to pick apart all the pieces of information the patients give us, sometimes their family and friends give us, our investigations give us, and we reach the best conclusion we can as to what is causing the problem. All within less than four hours whilst trying to look after multiple other people at the same time.

We look after people with a cut finger who needed a plaster, and people who turned their ankle and then it hurt a little to walk on, and people who have been in high speed road crashes and have limbs hanging off. We look after people with colds and people with pneumonia and people with respiratory failure and sepsis who need ventilators and tubes everywhere and potentially months in intensive care units. We look after people who have had a shitty day and they’re feeling sad, and people who have taken a few pills because they feel their life is rubbish and they took some last time it all got too much and the time before that and the time before that, and we see the people who are floridly psychotic and need heavy duty medications and a long period of inpatient psychiatric care. We see people who bumped their head and feel a bit sick, and people who have sustained small bruises to their brains which will fully recover and people who will never feed themselves again due to the big bleed inside their skull. We see people who had some indigestion after a big meal, and people who have a narrowing in one of the blood vessels around their heart, and people who are in cardiac arrest and we need to pump their heart for them. We see people who have had too much to drink and need to sleep it off, and people who need careful monitoring of their heart because of some pill their friend gave them, and people who will never go clubbing again because of whatever that pill contained. It may sound obvious from my descriptions but sometimes the very hardest thing is knowing which end of this spectrum of illness the person sat in front of you is actually on, who can go home safely and who urgently needs further inpatient medical management.

We do this every single day of the year, including weekends and bank holidays. We do this in the evenings and at three o clock in the morning and as the sun is rising. It is not a job with ‘sociable hours’ and is definitely not 9-5.

But man I love it. I cannot imagine anything else I would ever want to do. There is nothing in the medical world that is so varied. We are often responsible for the most sick person in the hospital, whilst also the least! There are opportunities to always be learning, always seeing something new for the very first time and gaining a new skill. We can help people through the worst days of their lives and also see the very best qualities that humanity can show. It can be intense, exhausting, terrifying and at times desperately sad. We have the most awesome team and the camaraderie is intense. We are a very varied bunch but it certainly takes a special person to work in this specialty, particularly for a whole career.

Recruitment and retention of staff tends to be a real challenge. A lot of junior doctors will do a spell of four or six months in the ED at some point in their life. They usually feel pretty out of their depth, not use to the speed of work, the multi-tasking, the constant decision making and the badgering from all sides to make a plan for their patient. They are often seeing a range of conditions that they just haven’t experienced in any other part of their training. It is one of my roles to help support them through this. Some of them love it and some of them you can feel the misery and hatred radiating from them at the start of every shift, and the joy when their sentence is over and they can rotate to a new specialty which makes more sense. Of those that love it, they often make more ‘sensible’ career choices when they choose their final specialty. They choose something with shorter shifts, more daytime, weekday hours, less on calls, less pressure when they are at work, more work-life balance as they perceive it. They may always look back on their ED days fondly, but not fondly enough to regret their choices. They may choose to enter Emergency Medicine training but as part of this they must also spend time in anaesthetics, intensive care and acute medicine, and they may realise how nice it is focus on one patient at a time, have a robust support system, have time for teaching and personal development, have slightly more sociable hours. There is a big drop-out rate from the EM training programme.

Once qualified as an ED consultant there is then the issue of making it a sustainable career and avoiding the dreaded ‘burn-out.’ I am definitely thinking ahead to my fifties and potentially sixties and how I can combine the specialty I love with other work which will give me the chance to breath, and keep a manageable career. That’s if I live that long… There is an infamous paper from the British Journal of Cardiology saying the average life expectancy of an ED doctor  is the shortest of any specialty at just 57.5 years, compared to GPs with the longest at 77.3 years! There are statistical issues with the research to be fair, but it is still an alarming finding.

So, that is what I do to pay for the roof over our head and the food on our table, and I would highly recommend it as a job to anyone who is interested, but go in with your eyes open. And for any of you who may find yourselves in an Emergency Department unexpectedly some time, we are doing our best under difficult circumstances, and an occasional thank you card goes down a treat!

 

Politics

I find myself feeling very intimidated by today’s title. Not because I am undecided on my political views. Not because I am worried in any way about sharing my standpoint. I am a fully signed-up, card carrying member of the Labour Party and I am proud.

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I don’t even particularly worry about getting into heated discourse on politics. I live with a politics graduate and have a family who are politically diverse from myself, I’m happy with a bit of heated discourse, but man it’s a big old subject isn’t it, and I worry that my knowledge isn’t great enough for me to come on here and spout off.

I have another very dear friend who is also a politics graduate, who has continued to work in the politics arena, who has been involved actively in political campaigning and teaches on the subject at university, and when I suggested to him he write me a little guest post on the politics of health he was all “well I don’t really know much about that area, I would be bluffing.”

This does not fill little, old me with the confidence to write this post, but here goes. I will start with my basic opinions on how I believe life should be;

1. I believe we are defined by the way we treat the most vulnerable in our society. It is our duty to support and protect those who cannot do it for themselves, for whatever reason. This should be enshrined at a central, governmental level.

2. That there should be access to high quality education, medical services, law enforcement and social care for all, and that this should also be funded centrally by a taxation system where people pay in what they can afford.

3. I believe that people who earn more, have more, should pay in more, regardless of which services they themselves are accessing. Every single person in this country benefits, even if only tangentially, from the fact that quality public services are available.

4. I believe that every person has the right, the duty even, to express their political views and to express these as a democratic vote, regardless of their wealth, employment or social standing.

I think that is the central core of my beliefs and I think that with that, my only political option currently is with the Labour Party. I have a lot of respect for the Green Party also but they are not currently a viable option to run government.

As a person who is in a high tax bracket I am extremely proud of the tax that I pay. I am lucky to have received a very good education at primary, secondary and university level within the British state education system (my socialist credentials are a little tarnished by those two pesky college years at an amazing private school where I was very fortunate to get a scholarship). I had a lot of health issues as a young child and I am lucky to have received free health care at the point of access for every GP appointment, ambulance journey, hospital admission and surgical procedure. I am lucky that my family received benefits when my middle class, university educated, working in a well paid job in private industry, father was made redundant during the eighties recession. I am lucky that I got a job with excellent job security and generous pay within the public sector. I am lucky that I received free health care through both my pregnancies and births. I am lucky that I had nine months of paid maternity leave with each child so I could be with them when they were so tiny. I am lucky that we got government assistance as first time buyers so we could buy a house that my children call their home. I am lucky that I could take my children to see doctors for free when one broke her arm and the other got crazy wheezy (again and again). I am lucky that my daughter goes to a school which I do not pay for where she has been able to totally flourish. I am lucky that both my children were funded for two days a week at an amazing preschool from the age of three. I am lucky and I am proud of every single penny that all that luck has allowed me to pay into helping other people to be lucky too. We should all be able to be proud of the services our country can provide and we should be proud that we can help provide those very same services for others who would not be able to pay for them themselves. And if that means I pay a lot of tax then I’m ok with that.

So, I’ll skip the finer details of the political system for now. I’ll gloss over Brexit (I’m pro-Europe by the way), I’ll gloss over Corbynistas (I think Corbyn’s a rather inspirational man, but I’m not entirely convinced by Momentum), I’ll gloss over Trump (what a tosser) and the current unrest in the Middle East (couldn’t possibly sum that one up in one line) but feel free to ask me about it some other time! I do love a bit of heated political discourse after all…

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Today I am cheating. I am not writing the post which I am supposed to because I have chickened out. Several people have praised me for my honesty and my bravery before when it comes to writing this blog, but some stories are not meant to be shared indiscriminately with the world, or at least not yet. I may come back to the post I started writing, but I have been inspired to write this one instead. Hey, it’s my blog and I can break the rules if I want to!

Today I went shopping for jeans. This was desperately needed as both my pairs (yes that is how extensive my wardrobe is) had totally split, and not in a cool, distressed, kind of way, but in a thighs just desperate to get free kind of way!

I went to a large, well known chain, to a massive out of town store to give myself the best start. Being a size 18 and a hair’s breath under six foot tall (most of which comes from my legs) buying trousers is not my favourite enterprise. Now this store literally (I checked) did not have a single pair of trousers in an 18long. In fact, I only managed to find two pairs of trousers in long at all! Way to not make you loyal customer feel like a freak!

I did eventually manage to find a pair in another store, but I literally have to go with ‘pair that I can do up which reach my feet’ rather than any sartorial statement.

Buying trousers has been the bane of my life for years and don’t even get me started on shoes. I have been known to cry big, hot tears in shoe shops when I couldn’t find a single pair to fit, let alone any beautiful ones that I liked. And don’t get me started on the trauma that is trying to buy make-up from the beautifully perfected sales assistants on make-up counters. Again both palpitations and tears have been shed over the very idea of it.

So I would not describe myself as body confident. I do not have much in the way of love for this poor vessel of mine.

But I am not about to tell my children that. I am going to tell my children how amazing my body is for growing them. I am going to laugh when they say I have a fat belly and show them how much I can get it to wobble when I shake it. I will talk to them about how foods nourish our bodies and making positive food choices, but I will never say that I am on a diet or that any particular food will make you fat. And I am absolutely not going to hide myself in photos. I am not going to delete the unflattering ones. I am not going to deny my children the chance to look back once they’re older, and see me playing with them. I won’t be posting make-up free selfies for charity, because make-up free is just my face, the vast majority of the time, and I’m ok with that. I am happy for them to see me the way I look and to always remember the way I really look, because I look like their mother, the woman who loves them most in the entire world and that is somebody who is worth looking at!

Guest Blog 2

Today I am so pleased to share a beautiful guest post from the lovely Jo Pritchett. Jo and her gorgeous family used to be our neighbours and we had babies born a day apart. Here she shares a little bit about her life over the past year, and if you would like to read more she has her own brilliant blog called Counting Life’s Joys that helps remind me how much I have to be grateful for!

Hi I’m Jo, wife to Pritch, daughter to Marion, and Mama to Mason, Ezekiel, Caleb, Grace and Ariella…(not to mention a bunch of animals!)

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Our days generally consist of homeschooling, hospital trips, socialising, cooking, cleaning and our recent hobby is checking for eggs!

So we have a bigger than average family, its crazy, its chaotic but we love our life! As a child I was fascinated with large families and having been an only child knew it was something I wanted, thankfully my hubbie was also very up for the big family idea. We adopted our eldest and then had four babes pretty much back to back!

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Life was going SO well.

Until life throws us a lot more crazy than we feel we can manage…

On Christmas Eve my Dad suddenly died. Then Caleb got diagnosed with childhood cancer all within four months….my world fell apart and I had a lot of confusion and questions over those dark months.

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I broke over those months and I suppose have been picking myself up again (with help) ever since! We have all changed. My son is well but his chemo is ongoing. I’m forever thankful to the NHS and the care he is given. We’ve been through so much but we are still hopeful.

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I’m sharing this as I want to encourage you to grow through pain, pray through the pain, it is possible. I promise! Don’t ever stop striving for hope.

What do I mean by ‘hope’? Sometimes that means reaching out for help, sometimes that can mean jotting down a few inspirational quotes in a notebook, kind gestures of those around, those precious moments where you realise you’re in the middle of a crisis and people you didn’t even expect stand next to you, are here the whole time holding your hand, and telling you, “You can do this”.

I encourage you to be the parent who goes out of their way to ask if you can comfort the parent in crisis. Put yourself out just a little as it means so very much when you’re hurting.  I was so blown away by the love we felt as a family when we were at our lowest, at our weakest.

I was so grateful for the mums in Bristol Children’s Hospital who gave me a hug and asked how I was really doing, Grateful to the nurses who listened to me and offered an encouraging word in the early hours.  Their kindness towards my son was phenomenal and blew me away! Grateful for the messages I received at midnight encouraging me to not give up….grateful that I had people all over the world praying for us…the gifts people sent my son to encourage him.  The bake sales that were put on to support us, our dear friends with seven of their own kids who voluntarily offered to have the rest of ours, not even knowing how long for!! Family members who completely dropped everything in order to drive hundreds  of miles to help run the house. Our church community who worked so hard to help us, whether that meant sterilising toys or cutting the grass. The big and small things are what can gently guide you back on track, can help hold that person up when they are on their knees.

I’m aware this is probably not everyone’s experience whilst hurting, but if you have a hurting friend or perhaps even not a friend, someone you just know of, send the encouraging message. Or the flowers. Or offer to buy a coffee. Even if it feels awkward, the little things make such a difference! Ask what you can do to help! Don’t let awkwardness hold you back…follow your instincts!

I’m a great believer in being refined through the trials and the pain – so I’m now striving to grow even stronger having gone through last year.

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I feel thankfulness is the key…we can always be thankful for something, SUCH good medicine for the heart and so good for our kids to witness.

Feminism

I am a feminist. I have considered myself as such from the first time I became aware of the word. I am not embarrassed or ashamed about this. I do not hate men. I am in favour of women who work full time, are stay at home mothers, and every combination in between. I am in favour of women who choose to have no children, those who have ten (or heck, even more if they have the energy), and every combination in between. I am in favour of women who were born genetically female, those who weren’t and indeed any combination that may be scientifically possible in between. I am in favour of women who wear full make up at all times, can only walk in heels and only own things in various shades of pink. I am in favour of women who wouldn’t know how to put eyeliner on if their life depended on it, and only own trainers and jeans. Basically I couldn’t care less exactly how you choose to live your life as a woman, though I won’t guarantee to like you if you’re an asshole, but I whole heartedly support your right to be treated equally to men. This doesn’t mean I feel women are, or should be, the SAME as men, but that they shouldn’t be LESS.

There we go, my brief summary of how I interpret feminism. I have a lot to say on this subject. I will attempt not to totally ramble or rant, though I cannot guarantee this.

One element of feminism that I find particularly fascinating/terrifying right now is the stereotypes which are inflicted on our children, pretty much from the moment they are born (and increasingly it seems, from the 20 week scan). I understand, when I was pregnant with my first child I desperately wanted a baby girl. I wanted to buy her all the most beautiful dresses and put her hair in plaits each day.

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What I genuinely do not think I realised at the time was that I was going to be giving birth to a human, not a chromosome, and they would very quickly develop their own ideas on who they were.

My daughter likes ninjas, and sword fighting, Lego and Star Wars. She does not like Disney princesses, or dresses, or sparkles or having her hair managed in any way.

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That is today. Who knows how she will feel tomorrow. I fully accept this now, though I am not ashamed that I occasionally look at beautiful dresses in kids catalogues longingly.

What upsets me though is that a young girl’s t-shirt is often made smaller, tighter, with shorter sleeves, despite the fact that until puberty, girls and boys are very similar sizes (in fact I believe girls tend to be ever so slightly bigger). It upsets me that girls trousers tend to be tighter, their shorts shorter. It upsets me that their shoes are more flimsy, harder to run and jump in, more likely to be strappy and let water in immediately. It upsets me that slogans such as Daddy’s Little Princess are everywhere. It upsets me that it’s all butterflies and unicorns and hearts. It upsets me that the sexualisation of women is actually already happening to preschool girls.

I am more than aware that I do not need to buy these things. I am aware that they are only clothes. But I am also aware that the clothes are the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to the gender stereotyping of very young children and that these stereotypes do have incremental effects on children, who they believe they are and what they go on to believe they can do with their lives.

Now this is not just aimed at girls. If anything the messages being sent to boys are even more concerning. How often have you seen clothes for young boys with the words ‘cheeky,’ ‘mischief,’ ‘terror.’ Whilst girls are supposed to be pretty and passive, boys are expected to be rough, naughty, and in some cases even criminal.

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I have actively tried to shield my children from the worst of these. At school though these influences come out loud and clear, and on school dress up days (which seem to occur on an almost weekly basis) you will see the rows of little girls in their Disney princess outfits, and the rows of boys in their Batman, Spider-Man, Superman outfits. Is that purely genetics, is it those X and Y chromosomes making those clothing choices? And if so what is wrong with my daughters X chromosome to make her totally bored by princesses??

It has been shown that gender stereotypes are established fairly early on in life. I watched an interesting documentary where they gave children a list of words and asked if they were girl words, boy words or both. The results were pretty extraordinary, with words like running, naughty, stupid being predominantly boy words. Pretty, clever and kind  are predominantly girl words. I tried this with my daughter several months ago and wrote down her responses (I’m sure you can interpret my slightly ironical colour coding) (She wouldn’t give stupid a colour as she said it wasn’t a nice word to call anyone)

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I asked her again just last night and was very interested to see that in just a few months, a lot of answers which had been green had become pink or blue. (Don’t worry guys, I have set her straight about nurse being a pink word, she knows it’s green now!!)

There are definitely steps happening in the right direction. There are some great books which have been very successful such as Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World and I’m so pleased to see now also Stories for Boys who Dare to be Different. It’s a start, but there is a long way to go, but in many ways we seem to be going backwards in our quest for equality, particularly in regards to what we are teaching the youngest of our children.

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I’m aware that I haven’t really expressed myself very well, this is such a huge topic and I feel so passionately about it, but sometimes that makes it harder to choose the right words. I will leave you for now with the wonderful Hollie McNish and her poem Pink or Blue