Friday, 30 May 2014

Lord Voldemort


Firstly I would like to apologise for my last post. I realise that the title of this blog is 'Internal Optimist' and I also realise that the last post was not very optimistic at all! I had had a pretty rubbish week and it was cathartic to come online and moan about it. Thank you for your support though!

Since then times have been a bit easier - there have been some difficulties - for example the SHO post where I work has been empty because the SHO who is meant to fill it is on maternity leave, and now one of the registrars and one of the consultants from the team has left the hospital to pursue other interests. This has left our team somewhat depleted, and the workload a bit higher than normal. Despite this there are positives (as well as the fact that I am currently on nights for a week so have escaped the increased workload of the day team!) - Anyway this is in danger of becoming another mopey post like the last one, so I will just tell some stories of what I have been up to / some interesting observations.

The last few weeks have been quite emotional. There have been quite a lot of deaths on my ward, which has been quite upsetting. I think this is partially because the gastro ward I now cover has a lot of sick people on it, lots of end stage liver disease and the like, and I also think I have its been very unlucky that recently there have been lots of people who are very sick. One of the most emotional moments with all of this came the day after a patient with decompensated alcoholic liver disease died. He had been in for about a month and I had got to know him and his family very well over this time, as they visited every day. He was requiring regular ascitic drains to keep his abdomen from filling with fluid, and kept fluctuating between being relatively well and acutely sick. Finally, sadly, he died due to 'SBP' - a bacterial infection of the fluid inside his abdomen. The final time I saw him was when he had started spiking temperatures and his markers of infection in his blood were rising. I went to take blood cultures from him and start antibiotic treatment, and explained the situation to him and his wife in a friendly way. We had a few laughs, I went home and when I came back the next day he had died overnight. 
The next day I had to go down to the bereavement office to fill in the death certificate. As I left the office, his family were sitting out there in a group, tearful, waiting for his possessions and the paperwork. His wife, tears streaming down her face, gave me a huge hug and an outpouring of thanks. Thanking me for being so kind, so caring and fun. "he really enjoyed the last month because of you"... It shocked me and I couldn't really think of anything to say other than 'thank you', and 'sorry for your loss', but I spent the rest of the day in a contemplative mood. Death is not something I like at all, but it is something I had been getting more used to, given all the sad things which have been happening in the ward recently. Being exposed to the relatives right afterwards was not something I was used to, and I think it bought home to me a little more that the patient isn't just an isolated person in hospital who you see. They have their entire family, friends, neighbours, children. All of who are heavily affected by the events. It sounds obvious but its not really something that was in my mind before.

To lighten the mood a little, one of our other patients (a Romanian man) came to our ward telling us that he had serious problems with his liver. The story was that he had developed a yellow tint to his skin but without any other symptoms (painless jaundice makes you worry about pancreatic cancer), and his GP had sent his blood for some tests. 2 weeks later he had called his GP, but been told that it routinely took them up to 4 weeks to get the results and report them to him. Not satisfied with this, he took a plane back to romania, got his blood taken privately in a hospital there, got the results printed, then came back to the UK and came into hospital with the results to get treated. I think it is pretty shocking that our system is less efficient than travelling to a different country (one we tend to see as much less developed than our own) to get the results and bring them back with you! Sadly, on further investigation, he did have a pancreatic tumour. Medicine seems to rarely supply happy endings!

A few interesting observations from the hospital:

There seems to be a war of wants between the nurses and doctors, and the bed managers. Bed managers come around every morning telling people to discharge more people, the calls go up that they are not safe to go home, but we need the beds. What are we meant to do? We keep people in hospital until they are safe to go home (doctor/nurse want) but then we have nowhere to put the new patients that come in via A&E (bed manager want). It seems hospitals just don't have enough beds in them. It is a shame that this seems to create opposition between the bed managers and the doctors, rather than letting them work together for an outcome they could both be happy with.

I am not sure if anyone else has noticed, but medical professionals seem to hate the word 'cancer'. We always seem to take about "Breast C.A." or "Bowel C.A" rather than saying 'cancer' or 'malignancy'. It reminds me of Harry Potter where they characters don't want to mention Lord Voldemort, instead mentioning him as "you-know-who" or "he who shall not be named". I am not sure why people say "C.A." instead of cancer (its the same number of syllables) but I agree with Dumbledore - instead of being scared of the name, taking the power from that name is an important part of the fight!