Okay, maybe not QUITE a medic yet, but it’s less than ten weeks until I’ll be starting medical school and I have some thoughts to share. (Grab a cuppa.)
So I’ve been on a gap year. And no, it’s not been a ‘gap yah’. Exotic points = 0. Creating Piña Coladas on that one hot day (would recommend) was the closest to a tropical experience I got, and travelling to Nottingham on my own counts as an adventure. Right?? (In all seriousness, this was stressful and I think it was down to pure luck that I didn’t end up in Norwich. Maybe a sign I should leave globe-trotting until I’m older and wiser?) With all this said, this doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a year of huge change and transformation. I’ve spent the year working and volunteering (aka completely sleep deprived and exhausted) as well as going through the selection process for med school, and now it’s coming to the end of the year and I’m realising that this unplanned (and initially fiercely unwanted) gap year was the best education I could have asked for.
I’ve worked in two very different settings, a supermarket and a children’s hospice. Tears? Yes. Both have made me ugly cry and laugh until I cry, but have without a doubt taught me a little about life, death and everything in between – and for anyone wanting to study medicine, I would say mixing with real people and dealing with real life is the best way to prepare yourself.
I help in A&E every week – and my sleep pattern certainly doesn’t thank me for it. (Was I once so tired that I nearly set the ward kitchen on fire? Maybe. But those days are behind me now.) It’s not glamorous and it certainly makes you realise how fragile life is. You see the absolute worst and best sides of people and I actually really love it. In April I was feeling a bit lost. (I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but everyone’s been there.) I wasn’t sure how to process the things I was seeing, how I was meant to feel or how I was feeling, at the same time as trying to support the families around me. This combined with children I knew at the hospice sadly passing away was emotionally draining and it was like a fog – I couldn’t really figure out what was happening and I just bumbled on, gradually becoming a bit numb.
This all sounds very doom and gloom, but I was generally enjoying myself with the odd moment of emotional crisis, consuming many tubes of Pringles along the way. I was at the hospital talking to a patient, who I discovered was in the most dire situation, and yet she still managed to crack a smile and have a sparkle in her eye. I learnt about her life and her family and we had a laugh together. This is quite normal for me and I tend to have a chat with patients so they feel less alone. However at the end, this lovely woman said something I’ve vowed not to forget. She held my hand and said, “at 19, I wish someone had told me this,” she smiled and then said, “darling, just get out there and have fun.”
I was speechless. It certainly wasn’t the advice I was expecting, (stay in school, try your best, save your money etc.) and yet it was possibly the most obvious and simple. It brought me right out of the fog, and this woman, this brave woman who was facing death, had the ability to drag me back to earth.
It was one of the most memorable things I have experienced in my relatively short time in healthcare, and this is coming from someone who has both been vomited on and has accidentally thrown a jug of water over a patient. (This happened during my first time on a ward and by the time I helped the man re-dress, change the bed and mop the floor I was so flustered I considered admitting myself into hospital.)
I’m not as naive to think that everything is fun all the time, that wasn’t her point. I’ve seen lives cut too short, families torn apart and brought together, lives saved. All of it had been hard to process until that day, and then it all seemed to scream something so blindingly obvious. Grab every single opportunity for happiness. Sometimes that’s going to be hard to remember, I know that I haven’t experienced the half of it yet when it comes to the sad part of medicine, but I sincerely hope that when I do face those difficulties, that I’ll be able to remember that I’m in the most privileged position – the position to get out there and have fun and to help others do the same.
So that’s my thoughts for today, and this may have been (okay, has most certainly been) an overly deep and thoughtful first post but, I have a sneaky feeling over the course of my future career I’m going to learn a fair bit more about people, life and the joys and tribulations of it all, and these extraordinary ordinary people deserve to be talked about.