Thursday, 18 February 2016

Dear Doctors,

Dear Doctors,

When I say that, I refer to anyone who works in the NHS or with health in any way. As those living above rocks (as opposed to beneath) will have seen recently, there has been a lot of discussion and work going on by Junior Doctors and many others to try and help save the NHS. They've sung and they've marched. Scrubbed up, youthful, talented individuals in your field have taken to the streets to try and protect us, the public. To make sure that when we're ill, injured, scared, alone, we have someone there who we know is doing their best to help. Someone who isn't over-tired from inhumanely long hours with little time or space to breathe but who has come to work ready and buzzing. Something that, when it comes to our health and well-being, is very important. We need a smiling face and an able body, not a brain that's frazzled and eyes that are heavy.

I wanted to write to you because I need you. It sounds silly because so many people do but this is just one story. One story from one 20 year old who has relied on you for so long. Add me to your pile of patients who all love and respect the work you do, and maybe eventually someone will listen.

I've been in and out of hospital quite a bit over the last 20 years. When I was around 8 months old, I was diagnosed with Hydrocephalus and a shunt was inserted into my head to try and drain the water that was currently giving me a seemingly alien appearance. My head sat pretty large on my neck and I was at risk. Sadly the operation resulted in an infection that made me a very poorly baby. My parents sat day in, day out watching their little girl suffer. Another operation...more scars and eventually I was sent home. I spent many years after that traipsing up and down to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford to be tested for any development problems, made to draw pictures and write, walk in a straight line across the room...something I'm surprised didn't result in some concern...since I can't even do that now...not without wobbling anyway.

I spent my childhood rushing into hospital at any sign of something that could be related to my Shunt. A migraine, a pain in my tummy and I'd be visiting the GP or on my way to A&E. From around the age of 12 these became more frequent with my tummy pains getting more and more severe and the gaps between episodes becoming narrower. Eventually, after years of uncertainty and many Appendicitis scares, it was agreed that my issue was scar tissue. Now, despite the hospital visits, I would fail to explain what this meant even now but this is how it was described to me: when you stand on a hose pipe or tie something around it, it creates a blockage, pressure behind the obstacle in front. Occasionally, my intestine acts as such. A band of scar tissue (whatever that may be) wraps itself around my intestine and causes a block. Nothing can get through and the more I try to carry on eating as normal, I make the blockage worse. The pain intensifies. The result is tears, complaints, a visit to A&E, a large dose of painkillers and a couple of nights in the company of kind and caring professionals. Eventually I go home. Eat, Sleep, Repeat...about 6 months later.

Each time, they would threaten that if this continued or became more frequent, if it began to interfere with my education or my general life, they would operate. They'd go in and explore. See what they could find and what they could retrieve. A treasure hunt but where the gold is some internal band of something-or-another which I highly doubt they would want to keep. Each time a doctor would mention this last resort, the butterflies would arrive. I'd well up and the conversation would be forgotten. Having been operated on as a baby and being so ill, I was terrified of the same.

Fast forward to last summer - summer 2015 - when those conversations met reality. I had gone into hospital as necessary, with sharp pains reverberating through my tummy and into my back. I'd sat in A&E, I'd been put on a drip. I'd been pumped full of painkillers, paracetamol, morphine, the lot and 2 days had passed. Nothing had happened and nothing had worked. So what did they do? They decided to operate. I wrote a whole letter about this afterwards, to the Royal Berks Hospital who looked after me and the nurses and doctors it's comforting arms hold. If you want to read it and hear my thoughts you can here. For now I'll get to the point.

My point, dear Doctors, is that you have made all this bearable. You have turned what could have been a 20 year long nightmare into a not-so-scary-but-still-kinda-scary-and-definitely-painful dream. Despite the long hours and the torturous shifts. Despite your exhaustion, your numerous patient visits you must make and all the other things you have to suffer in your job, you helped me. When I was lying in my hospital bed panicking because someone in a white coat had just told me they needed to operate, I had the caring concerns and kind faces of both doctors and nurses taking the time to reassure me and to tell me I'd be ok. That I was in good hands and I would feel better soon.

Five months later and I'm definitely better than I was. I'm yet to have a relapse and haven't been to the hospital since. You and those you work with are wonderful people. You spend years of your life training to look after others. To spend hours every day, more hours than any other profession I can think of, reassuring and saving those who need you. In my opinion, you should have whatever you want. You want the world? You want the whole world? Pink macaroons and a billion balloons and performing baboons and...(I really hope you recognise that or else I'm just going to sound completely barmy)...but you get my point. You have helped me and so many others in more ways than any of us can explain and you can only keep doing that if you get enough rest. If you're not overworked and underpaid and if people can appreciate the effort you put in.

If I wasn't freaked out by veins and a little squeamish around needles, and if gore didn't lead to me hiding behind a cushion...then I would have loved to become a doctor or a nurse. At the moment, I don't think I could. The pressure you are under to save people at their most weak and to protect those they love and who love them, from pain. I don't think I could cope. Yet I want to be in that environment. That's why I spent Wednesday morning completing my final training as a volunteer at Great Ormond Street. So I can help families and children when they're scared and everything seems to be falling apart. Because that's what you do and I want to say thank you.

Thank you and Good luck. I hope you get the world.

Lots of love,

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