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Two Sides of the Hospital Bed - Doctor & Patient

By Alexandra Adams

It would never just be for a day, or a few nights, or a week. My stints in the hospital would be months long, often over the 1-year mark, and so, the little white box with a thready blue curtain would become my second home for the foreseeable, once again. Except, it wasn’t the kind of second home where you sought comfort, reassurance, or safety. It was one where you’d desperately try to break away from, where you’d scream suffocating tears in silence, into your squeaky hospital pillow each night, in a place where you never quite know who is on your side and who isn’t. In a place that is so full of people – those sick, well, and all in between, from every walk of life and every specialty, holding every kind of life story and journey – you’d still be at your very loneliest, so isolated that it would disintegrate you by insanity and heartbreak. All those words of worry and pain that you trusted yourself to voice, only end up dissipating apart with the rest of all the bodily, hospital, chlorinated fumes. Then people often wonder why I never left.

My name is Alexandra, and I am the UK’s 1st deafblind person training to be a Doctor.

Now a final year medical student, I have just one year left until I qualify. I am also the ‘owner’ of a number of rare diseases, some of which continue to be investigated, and searched for a cause and a name – muscle biopsies sitting somewhere under a microscope in a faraway lab, mine and my family’s entire genome being sequenced, as part of the 100,000 Genomes Project, hospital records being closely studied and analysed, as far away as Italy, and beyond. It doesn’t need much more saying to know that this whole journey has been relentless.

But, being that patient was what inspired me to become one – a Doctor. When I’m not in the hospital bed as a patient, I’m merely just a few metres away, standing from the other end of that same bed. If I’m not in a flimsy, cold-creased gown with missing ties, I’m in the same baggy blue, but in scrubs, that make you look just as much as a binbag as those cardboard gowns do. I’d swap the central lines, catheters, and drips, for a shiny stethoscope hung around my neck. And, if they’re not my doctors, nurses, or physiotherapists, then they are my colleagues. This, can all be a great thing. Or a really terrible thing.

Hence, it’s hard not to lead this perspective of writing with either, or. My experiences and my stories come collectively, and simultaneously, as a two – the patient and the doctor. But, as chronic illness and disabilities do, in the fashion of every blip and setback, it hasn’t always been that steady direction forwards, or between each, when juggling these two roles. The COVID-19 pandemic saw me slog through my longest admission yet – 17 months bedbound in hospital, with the chances of me ever returning to Medicine (in that capacity) looking, quite bluntly, impossible. It was in this time when I didn’t think I could ever continue; the trauma from what I had seen, heard, and felt, from the traumatic interventions and gaslighting, and neglect, still has me unable to step foot on the ward that for so long was my ‘second home’ – in the very same hospital that I have now, 2.5 years later, returned to work in.

Perhaps the detail on these experiences and encounters are for another time, in another entry and write-up. I am far too aware of how triggering the smaller stuff can be, both from the shoes of a patient and as a healthcare professional. But what is interesting, is that my multiple admissions to the Intensive Care Unit, comas and ventilators amounting to more than twenty-four admissions, leave me with little or no trigger at all. Simply put, reviewing another patient on the ICU does not reflect that same trauma I have in the cases of other wards or operating theatres. Thus, it has perhaps finally clicked – it is not what is done in Medicine that shapes our patient experiences and stories…it is how it is done and how it makes us feel. I will never forget that. I can only hope that these experiences of mine, traumatic and life-changing as they have been, will help to shape me in becoming a better Doctor for my future patients. And, in all irony galore, as a deafblind Doctor-to-be, I will continue to say this:

“I may not have as much eyesight as most, but I have far more insight than many”.

Alexandra Adams - @alexandraelaineadams


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