I have been through 3 years of medicine, and one year of a BSc now. The 2012 – 2013 academic year was my first clinical year, and I spent a LOT of time in the hospital getting experience, shadowing consultants, talking to patients, just really soaking up clinical medicine. So I thought I was quite well prepared and had a good understanding of what being in hospital was like.
Oh how wrong I was.
I can assure you, no amount of clinics, lectures, seminars or tutorials can ever prepare you for the patient experience.
After my rather sudden admission to hospital, I spent 10 days on the Victor Horsley ward at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN). During this time I experienced many procedures that I myself had done to patients during med school – taking blood, putting a cannula in, putting a catheter in – and also had many investigations that I had observed – CT/MRI scans and angiograms. I now realise that every patient that I had catheterised in the past and told “this might feel uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t hurt” I lied to. Catheters hurt! I am going to apologise profusely to any patient I will have to catheterise in the future from now on. It was also really interesting being on the receiving end of neurological exams in a context that wasn’t OSCE practise. They say doctors make the worst patients and from what I have been told of how I was, this was true for medical students too. As my bleed was in the right temporal lobe of my brain (responsible for memory, language processing and visual recognition for any non-medics reading), the first week I spent in hospital is a complete black hole that had to be filled by my family retrospectively. According to them, the 2nd and 3rd day on the ward I kept demanding from the nurses and doctors to know if they had done this test or that test, what my results were, and why they weren’t testing me for dysdiadochokinesia! In a way I’m quite proud of my little brain for, despite being injured and high on morphine, still being able to enter “med student mode”. I really am amazed and fascinated by the brain’s ability to function – all I can remember from the first few days was being in a permanent fog of pain and nausea, yet when I look at messages that I had sent during that time I was still able to form coherent sentences for the sake of Facebook! The worst symptom I had, which I do remember, was the dizziness and vertigo. Every time I turned my head, the whole room turned upside down, which then made me nauseous. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t wash, I couldn’t even be wheeled anywhere without experiencing it. At least for the pain and the nausea there was symptomatic relief, but nothing made the vertigo go away apart from days of sleep.
Something that really struck me as a patient, that I didn’t expect, was how infrequently you saw a doctor as a patient. Having been in clinics and on ward rounds, from the student’s perspective it seemed like all we did was see patients all day. But the inverse was true – I only saw my team once a day, on the morning ward round. The nurses were the true saviours of my stay. I have always had respect for nurses, but now I am in absolute awe of the sheer amount that they provide to the patients and to the ward. If there are any nurses reading this: I applaud you. You deserve so much more respect than you get.
I feel that during this week I also gained a small insight into what it would be like to live with Alzheimer’s disease. My 2nd day on the ward was a Sunday, and every day I was asked the same questions: Do you know who you are, do you know where you are, do you know what day it is. I was able to answer the first two correctly but every day I insisted it was Wednesday. It wasn’t until it was actually Wednesday and my subconscious was satisfied that my clock began running again. There was also the amusing cupcake incident. A box of beautiful cupcakes had been sent to my ward, courtesy of my cousin who was currently in Turkey. When my mother showed me, I was overjoyed and insisted on sending a message to said cousin to say thank you. The next day, I discovered this box of cupcakes and insisted on sending a message to my cousin, having forgotten I had already done so until I saw evidence of the message. The next day, this happened again. This continued for 4 days in a row until my memory finally caught up and I actually remembered the events of the previous day. I found this interesting; at the time, I was so absolutely certain of myself that I knew where I was and what time it was, when in reality I was actually very disorientated. I will definitely hold on to this memory (unless if I have another bleed!) and bear it in mind in the future when I will be dealing with the elderly or anybody that suffered a condition to make them disorientated.
I can safely say that these 10 days were the hardest 10 days of my life. I was in a lot of pain and confusion for most of it. I would not have recovered half as well if it wasn’t for the patience and support of my mom, my boyfriend and my boyfriend’s family, who have all been amazing. Without them I would not be able to look back on this experience so positively or gained half as much psychologically from it. This post is dedicated to them, and with their help I will continue to learn and grow from all of this.