22 May 2017
The first tranche of placement – for me at least – passed in a whirlwind of baby delivery, a hit-and-run with HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) on scene, a veritable plethora of DIBs (Difficulty in Breathing), a smattering of panic attacks and one sickle cell crisis that I think about every day.
There was lots more besides. I had high drama and hilarity, poets, artists and alcoholics, hope and hopelessness, the venal and the visceral; all jostling together in the perpetual heartbreak flicker of blue lights strung out over the long London night.
Like most of my colleagues on the cohort, I didn’t want placement to finish. Sure, by the end I was exhausted and trying hard to process the sheer volume of information and experience that had been laid on me in those five weeks but still, I was more than a little wistful on that last day.
On a purely human level (other people do the clinical side so much better), I have found that re-adjusting to a ‘civilian’ schedule was actually harder than getting used to the punishing shift pattern. Walking about for the first few days of not being on shift had a vague and unsettling air of dislocation about it (maybe that’s just me). What has helped all through this placement is the regular contact with my classmates who are all going through the same thing: some to a lesser and some to a greater extent.
It’s funny meeting up again after everyone has spent time on the road. We all look the same but ever so slightly different. It’s got to be in the eyes: everyone’s are telling a very different story to the one they told before we got out there. Call it the beginnings of clinical wisdom, call it the spark of frontline experience, call it early-onset compassion fatigue, call it what you want. One thing is certain though, the need to look out for each other through this remains front and centre and I’m proud to be part of such a supportive cohort.
I’m not sure yet if I have a ‘top lesson learned while on placement’ to offer. One thing I did find is that I really like patients; big sick, little sick, it doesn’t matter. What does matter – at least in my limited experience (and with my limited set of clinical skills) – is the ability to put a patient (the conscious ones anyway) at their ease, to show empathy, to reassure and still be honest, to offer them confidence at a time when they’re most unsure. Talking someone down from an anxiety attack gives me as much pleasure as a C-spine immobilisation; my heartbeat would be roughly the same after the successful execution of either.
Here’s to the next five weeks.