Today was my first day on the neurology ward, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Not so much because of the work load or the number of patients to see, but more because of the patients themselves. I was asked to see numerous patients in our ward round, and one of them involved a lady with multiple sclerosis, who unfortunately relapsed and required admission. The good news was that she responded well to the steroids and we suspected she maybe able to go home soon….I thought she would be happy.
I introduced myself as one of the doctors in neurology and enquired about how she was doing, any new concerns, examined her, checked her obs etc. She later presented me with a list of questions written on an A5 piece of paper….
‘How long should I keep taking the Amitryptilline?’
‘I’ve become incontinent again and I normally self catheterise, should I consider a suprapubic catheter?’
‘I’ve had MS for 22 years, do you know what type of MS I have?’
I read the list, then I looked at her, and then I looked at the list again…I didn’t have a clue to any of these answers. She could obviously see my idiotic-looking face, but she smiled. I couldn’t help but be honest with her. I apologised for not knowing a lot of her answers, but I reassured her that I will look into her questions and get back to her, filing her questions in the notes. Seeing that she’d written out so many questions, the GP trainee in me had to ask how she was feeling in herself…
‘I know I have MS, but MS doesn’t have me’
In the 4 years I’ve been a doctor, I’ve never heard a patient say anything so powerful. I don’t know maybe it’s just me, maybe you had to be there to really feel it. She then went on to say.. ‘I’m a fighter’, and she burst into tears.
On any ward, you’re consumed with thoughts of keeping the patients stable, getting all the jobs done, trying not to get bollocked by the consultants…you sometimes forget how the patients must feel with their illnesses. It’s a hundred times harder for them, and how they must feel so alone. This was an example of human interaction, something not always encountered in a hospital. What she said to me brought a tear to my eye and I mean that in the literal sense…I was trying so hard not to cry in front of her. I held her hand but I wanted to give her a hug. I offered her reassurance but I wanted to take her home to her family again.
What I’m trying to say is we’re lucky, we have our health, we have our friends and family around and nobody can stop us from doing what we want to do with our lives. This woman, this beacon of strength and courage, who has emotions just like anybody else, taught me one of the most important lessons of my life…be grateful for what you have and make the most of the life you have, because you still can.