I FELT a lump in my throat as I began to hear deep irregular gasps behind me. It was dark on my way in for my night shift and though the hospital entrance was in sight, a worrying concern rushed through my mind. I turned around quickly, and the outline of a man and woman was visible.
I took a few hurried steps towards them and asked if the lady was ok while I quickly surveyed the situation. “It’s just contractions, love.” The gentleman was re-assuring and as I looked closer the woman was clearly heavily pregnant. He helped her inside as I breathed a silent sigh of relief and smiled to myself as I replayed in my mind: “It’s just contractions, love.”
Two evenings later, as I was about to start another night shift, I saw a bright beaming grin at the hospital entrance. I recognised the face.
“She’s had a boy, I’ve been tidying the house all day and preparing things for when she comes home” the proud father told me.
The cartoon-like smile remained intact as I quickly realised this was the man I had helped outside the hospital. We shared a brief conversation, and his infectious smile lifted my spirits as I went to get changed into scrubs.
Later that night, I had been looking after a sick gentleman in a six-bed bay. The curtains had been closed around him, and when all the necessary actions were in place, I rolled back the curtains, to move to the next patient and insert a cannula so that he could receive medication and fluid straight into his blood supply.
Even while I tucked the curtains away, I saw the gentleman’s face lighting up with a smile as he said “I’ve met you before”. When I worked on A&E, Mr Wright had come into the department very unwell with sepsis, which is associated with a relatively high death rate. He needed fast antibiotics and fluids to resuscitate him, along with further tests.
His wife and daughter had been with him, and despite the many patients I saw that rotation, I always remember him, perhaps partly because of his wife’s kindness.
We don’t necessarily receive many thanks from patients or relatives, especially in A&E, as people are understandably anxious and agitated waiting to find out what is wrong with them and whether or not they’ll need to be admitted to hospital. However, since moving to work on the hospital wards, there are a lot more words of gratitude on patients’ departure, as most of them leave having received some sort of solution or treatment for their problem.
On the occasion where I’d met Mr Wright as one of my patients in A&E, we’d started treatment and his wife stood to go and buy a snack. Before she went, Mrs Wright kindly asked me if I would like anything from the vending machine! Though I declined, I often remember that kind thought.
As I now kneeled to cannulate Mr Wright, we quietly reminisced about our previous meeting, a few months ago in the Emergency Department. He was not as unwell this time, which was reassuring. It’s a peculiar mixture of emotions as you build more and more rapport with patients. Though I do my best to treat each patient as equals, regardless of demographic information, drug use or attitude, there are some patients and their visitors that you can tell are trying their best to bring some joy into the often stressful hospital environment.
When these patients leave the ward to go home, I find myself very happy that they are (usually) returning to their normal daily lives, but a small part of me sighs that I’ll no longer see their cheerful faces every day.
We see a lot of patients, and a lot of faces. I often wish I could remember every patient and every name, but with the sheer volume we see, I am not surprised that I don’t. There are however, some that just stay with you.
Staff morale across the NHS is dropping; a recent survey from the British Medical Association showed that nearly 50 per cent of doctors reported low or very low morale, which makes those expressions of gratitude all the more important at a time when the NHS is under unprecedented pressure.
Later that night, whilst two senior doctors and I were seeing a very breathless lady upstairs on another ward, a healthcare assistant had thoughtfully made me a cup of tea, which was very welcome as I was unable to take time to eat until 10 hours into my shift.
That night, those three events each made a big difference. Despite having poor intermittent daytime sleep between the set of night shifts, which seriously challenged my resilience, those three events helped me smile and encouraged me, despite disillusionment with many aspects of the NHS, to be the best doctor I can be.
Dr Melody Redman is a junior doctor at Scunthorpe General Hospital. Names have been changed to protect the identity of patients.