Halloween Hospital Hijinks

Halloween Hospital Hijinks

When I was a very junior doctor, I worked a night shift on Halloween.

I was called to go and confirm a patient on one of our wards was dead by my senior colleague. Confirming death means checking there are no breath sounds, no heart sounds or pulse and generally is done some time after they’ve died (about half an hour or so) to make sure they are properly dead. The patient was in a side room. I went in to the room, lit only by the bedside light and saw the body was lying on the bed under a sheet. I had been a doctor for 3 months and had only done this a few times, I was still a bit apprehensive about it.

I approached the body, about to pull off the sheet and begin confirming no signs of life when the body sat bolt upright, both arms outstretched and moaned terribly, scaring the shit right out of me.

All the nurses were outside laughing their heads off, my senior colleague was now up from under the sheet in fits of giggles. I burst into a mixture of tears and laughter, unsure whether this was funny or horrible.

Things like this don’t happen anymore as we are too busy, don’t have any empty side rooms and don’t work in such tight little teams overnight that know each other well enough to do such a thing. Thank goodness.


Being happy

Being happy

Every week in the FT weekend magazine there is a feature (the inventory) where somebody famous, fabulous and financially secure is asked the same questions. A few weeks past it was Michael Palin who comes across much as he does on TV, funny, intelligent and quite level headed.

The questions are about your upbringing and views: what matters more luck or talent? Private school or state school? What would your twenty year old self think if they could see you now? And how satisfied are you, out of 10, with your life so far?

This weekend it is jazz musician Gregory Porter who rates his life as an 8 and a half.

KBW was at a retiral dinner recently of a much admired and respected colleague, one of the greatest of my great leaders. The last speaker was the retiree himself and he spoke eloquently and from the heart about his surgical life and career. One of the things he said was that if he could go back to the start,he would do it all over again, he would want to be exactly where he was standing at that moment having lived the life he has lived.

How many people feel that about their job? Certainly most of these incredibly successful and wealthy people that feature in the FT magazine don’t seem as contented by their work as my colleague. Most of these famous people rate their life as an 8 out of 10.

Another great leader of mine likes to give me marks out of 10 for cakes I bake. Over the course of the last year I worked for him I made several different cake recipes with variations on icing and cake ingredients which I would bring in when we had a Whipples operation to do. The highest mark he gave any cake was an 8 out of 10. (This of course irritated me immensely as I felt my cake was more of a 9 out of 10)

The operation would progress with me being slightly huffy about the 7 or 8 out of 10 cake, after a few hours I would have forgotten about it as all the nurses and anaesthetists involved would eat some cake and then say it was very nice. Finally I asked him, after several attempts at improving and refining the carrot cake what cake had he ever eaten that was a 10 out of 10. He thought about this and then said “I’ve never rated anything 10 out of 10 in my life.”

I can list hundreds of 10 out of 10 experiences I have had in my life, from the simplest of things (a perfect peach purchased from a road side Greek granny selling sun warmed, juicy, amazing fruit) to the most elaborate (seeing La Traviata at Covent Garden Opera House with the man who I would marry). I take great joy and pleasure in the sunrise over Bighospitalburgh as I head to work, or in a funny joke, in the fact I’ve got on some lovely shoes, in seeing friends and looking at the pretty autumn leaves. My glass is almost always half full and even when I’m down I can find something to be pleased about and I can always find something to take pleasure in.

It doesn’t matter how much money and success you have, as the dissatisfied FT interviewees attest, or how good a surgeon you are, happiness comes from inside you and finding joy in the small things.

I didn’t bother telling his wife when I next saw her that he has never rated anything 10 out of 10.

I like it here

I like it here

One of my great leaders tells a story of some workaholic boss he knew who liked to ask his trainees what they enjoyed doing in their free time.

Unsuspecting senior registrars would tell him that they like golf, tennis, cooking or reading. “Aye, well, I like it here” he would tersely reply, killing the conversation dead and establishing his surgical superiority over the new registrar.

I like it here too, genuinely I do, I love Bighospital and I love my job. It is awfully nice though to go on holiday and to lie by a pool doing nothing, eating amazing food and drinking nice wine watching yachts come into harbour.

Scared of the sun

Scared of the sun

There seems to be a terrible fear that has gripped Great Britain, that the sun is inherently bad. We don’t see much of the sun, we tend to go a little bit insane when we get some in the summer and when we are abroad we traditionally have burned ourselves and behaved badly.

Such is the strength of the anti-sun campaign, that many of my friends have their children kitted out in sun blocking t-shirts and shorts, hats with flaps at the back and total sun block factor 50 creams. Is it not a teeny bit much?

When my kids were babies they were kept out of the sun and I had those SPF 50 suits and I now cover them in factor 30 cream and hats and sunglasses and we avoid long periods in the sun. We are not allergic to the sun though and all enjoy being somewhere hot and getting some colour about us, a light caramel rather than red.

There is a certain type of middle class mother who takes her children somewhere extremely hot on holiday and yet keeps her offspring out of the sun. To the point of obsession.

Vitamin D is manufactured only when we are exposed to sun and it is difficult to get the vitamin D that you need through diet alone. I am not advocating that you get sunburned, in fact I have a dreadful fear of sunburn as it is this can and does increase your risk of cancer but it is important to see the sun and feel it on our skin to manufacture enough vitamin D to keep us going through winter.

I’m on holiday this week, somewhere hot, but seeing as it is October I am fairly relaxed and we dared to be outside at 2pm. Whilst at the beach yesterday, I watched as a mother covered her three very white children in thick sun block, sun block t-shirts and shorts, hats, sunglasses and then made them all sit under a UV blocking tent until it was 3pm, after which time they were allowed to come out.

My children were appropriately hatted and covered in sun cream and were happily playing with a dead octopus inadvertently murdered by Mr KBW (a long story). She loudly explained to her children that “children shouldn’t be out in the sun between 12 and 3” when they complained that they wanted out of the tent.

I am sometimes a bit of a health martyr and loudly explain to my children why they can’t go to MacDonalds/eat crisps regularly/skip swim class/have sweets every day when we see others doing exactly that. Instead of thinking what a wonderful mother Mrs Scared of the Sun was and how I was obviously a disgrace, I thought she was being a complete twat.

Which must be what people think I am when I am refusing to purchase more Haribos or chocolate for my children. No more health martyr statements for me.