Letting go

Most people will tell you that I can be pretty stubborn at times.  That comes with a lot of positives. If this were a job interview, I’d definitely have it as my response to the classic “what’s your weakness?” question/opportunity to humblebrag.  (“Oh, I never know when to give up; I just keep going ; I guess I’m quite determined really”)

Except it isn’t really like that. Yes, the sheer stubbornness does get me through a lot of things but it also makes life a lot harder.

There are the amusing ones – like the time I got really annoyed with my dad for coming to meet me half-way from the airport because of course I could get my luggage home by myself on the train without getting a taxi (2 suitcases weighing more than me, one rucksack, a poster tube, and a flute. And a bag full of honey and manjar). 

And there are the more annoying ones. Like dragging myself up Stanage Edge this morning via the most circuitous route possible because I’d decided three months ago that I was going to have some time walking in the Peaks and Stanage is always where I start. 

Despite the fact that it’s foggy and misty and grim.

Despite the fact that I really wanted/needed to stay in bed and sleep.

Despite the fact that it turned into a tortuous route because every time I had a choice, I took the path away from the Edge and towards a walk I was much more in the mood for. 

And sometimes it’s holding onto things that I really should have let go of. Redrafting my thesis and realising all the bits that I’ve kept in because I can’t let go of them, not because they add anything to the story. (And yes, all the personal stuff too)

So today is a “red pen” day, crossing out all the bits that are there because I’m stubborn rather than because they’re useful.

Now. Just need to do that with everything else


Bread & Roses

“We want bread and roses too”

I’ve had “Bread & Roses” stuck in my head for days and days.  I’ve been humming it under my breath, hearing it in my dreams, and singing it at the cat. (The cat has is quite discerning).

Bread & Roses is a poem and protest song from the early 20th century.  It’s been sung by Joan Baez, John Denver, and many more.  It’s basic premise is that it’s not enough to have just the bare bones to survive.  Human beings deserve and are entitled to light and love and hope and joy as well.  We want bread and roses too.

It’s hard to think about the roses when the NHS is struggling for the basics.  When operations are being cancelled, and A&E departments are over-flowing, and wards are under-staffed across the country.  It feels like we’re fighting just for the bread.  Asking for time and people to carry out that work with care and compassion seems like a dream.

But it has to be a dream we keep believing in.  Because it’s not just about providing the basics; it’s not just about bread on the table.  It’s about making sure that we care and listen and have time.

We want bread and roses too

No more 

I’m sniping and whining; complaining and moaning. Almost tutting under my breath – “Can’t we do this? Can’t we do that? Can’t we just push a little bit harder, work a little bit longer, stay a little bit later?”


We are running out of the extra to give. The systems that worked because we just did a little bit more and a little bit more have stretched and stretched to the point where there is no return to baseline. There is no calm before the storm.  There is no chance to take a quick breather and recharge before setting off again.

There is no more to give.

Shared-decision making and my hairdresser

I used to hate having my hair cut.  For years, I would put it off indefinitely, ending up with waist-length hair that was blonde and frazzled at the tips, then cutting it all to a chin-length bob, and waiting for the whole cycle to repeat itself.

Occasionally, I would convince myself that I would try something new.  That I would “do” something with my hair.  But I didn’t speak the language.  I didn’t understand the terms they used or the processes they talked about.  I didn’t know the simple things, like how long an appointment would take.  I couldn’t make decisions about “products” when I didn’t have a clue what that term encompassed, what it meant.  I had shampoo and occasionally conditioner: and some very bad memories of industrial strength hairspray that I’d been covered in for dance shows.

I tried to make it work.  I tried to go to the shiny salon and get the smart haircut, with products and masks and stuff.  I tried to be enthusiastic about the incredibly neat, sleek bob that lasted about 30 minutes before it needed attacking with “product”.  I tried to turn up with magazine clippings (this is pre-smart phone!) and cheated by reading Marie Claire the night before an appointment.

But it wasn’t right.

Eventually, I realised that the problem was not me.  It was that the people I was dealing with.  They were great, fantastic experts in taming strands of keratin into beautiful shapes and textures.  But they weren’t experts in me.  And they didn’t understand that it was my hair, that had to fit into my life.

So, again. I stopped going.

Then about 18 months ago, I tried again.  And I discovered something amazing.  It is possible to find a hairdresser who understands that I don’t have to fit into their systems.  Who is fine with the fact that I will disappear for months on end, and turn up requesting that we cut off 1/2 my hair.  Who explains what he’s doing and why; who gives me choices about how things could work; and who explains the different options and why he’s suggesting one over the other.  He talks me through every step as he washes my hair because he recognises that I am pretty short-sighted and I just do not know what’s going on without my glasses.

That’s not to say that I get what I want.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  He’s a fantastic hairdresser because he doesn’t just take my money and produce something that I can’t live with.  (I wanted a streak of purple put into my hair – but we both know that I won’t come back to have it re-touched.)  We don’t cut my hair so that I can’t tie it back for work.  We don’t put in fiddly bits that take too long to sort out in the morning.  We definitely don’t do anything that involves me turning up every 6 – 8 weeks for a trim.  We do what works for me because he took the time to get to know me and to understand what matters to me outside of that salon.

And you know what?:It’s actually quite fun now.  I trust him enough that I turn up (without pictures on my phone) and ask him what he wants to do.  I’ve gone from just having shoulder length mousy brown hair with a centre parting to having bright red streaks (at the bottom so I can grow them out!) and a kind of fringey thing – I still don’t know the “right” words.

Shared decision making. By my hairdresser.



In the “normal” range

Over the past 4 years, I’ve been trying to write a PhD thesis that’s vaguely related to patient safety, but was really an excuse for me to go to talk to lots of children and families about life. (I got some great book recommendations, a fair few cat snuggles, and some really good apple cake along the way). I’ve also continued working as a paediatric registrar.  And along the way, as this blog has made clear, I’ve had some professional/emotional/personal questions.

But now I have a really simple medical one: how do we use “normal” values if they’re not “normal” for you?

Patient safety initiatives tend to look at deviations from normal – such as a higher than expected mortality rate – and then investigates the reasons for these deviations.  Medical interventions to improve patient safety have tended to do the same, such as asking patients to report deviations from their expected care (“have you washed your hands?”)

One of the big things that’s come out in paediatrics over the past few years is the development of early warning scores.  These use the routine observations that are recorded by healthcare staff (temperature, breathing rate, heart rate), compared to a chart of what the normal values for that age-range are.  Deviations outside the normal range score a point, and a high score acts as an early-warning/alert system that something might be wrong.  There are lots of different variations, but that’s the basic premise.

For many children, that works well.  But what if the charts of “normal” values aren’t the “normal” for that child?  What if your child doesn’t normally get a temperature when they’re unwell?  What if they usually drop their body temperature when they get an infection?  What if their normal body temperature is lower than average, and so when their temperature is in the “normal” range it’s actually not normal for them?

None of these children would raise any alarms on a warning score based solely on “normal” values.

But maybe I’m worrying about nothing, right?  After all, normal values are used because that’s where most people fall.  Most children will have a normal body temperature of 36.5 – 37.3 celsius when they’re well, and will develop a fever with infection.

So, why does it matter?

It matters because the children who don’t follow these “normal” patterns are arguably the most at risk.  They’re the children with complex medical conditions, maybe without a clear diagnosis or idea of how their disease journey will go.  And as healthcare improves, and we see more and more children who’s bodies behave differently, then making sure we don’t miss the warning signs becomes even more important.



Stating the (not so) obvious

This is a strange, new, and frightening world you have entered.  This was not in the plan.  Nothing in the baby books or parents evenings told you about this. There is no page for this in the red book.

There are machines which beep; attachments and contraptions; devices, syringes, computers.  Some of these we will explain.  We will tell you about the machines which go beep and the medicines we give.  You will learn more in the next few minutes and hours than you ever thought you could.  More than any parent ever wanted to know.

We will try to explain.  We will not.

We will forget to state the obvious.  We forget that what is obvious to us is a new world to you.  Not the medicines and the machines, but the rules that make this little world work.

We will say we have no restrictions on visiting, that you can spend as much time as you like watching your child.  But there will be times when we ask you to leave.  Sometimes you will know this is coming and we will have time to explain.  Sometimes, it will happen in a hurry and we will hustle you out.  The minutes will drag on.

When you finally drag yourself away, we will tell you that we will let you know if anything changes.  But you will come back and see that the numbers on the machines have changed;  there are more syringes than there were an hour ago.

We will tell you that your child needs this level of care.  That they need the machines and the syringes and the monitors.  Then we will move you to another ward.  We will remove the machines and the monitors.

All of this is terrifying.  It is our normal.  We forget that this is not normal, that our world has different rules that make no sense to anyone else.

I’m sorry.

Please help me remember



Telling other people’s stories

Today was the first “real” outing for my PhD research.  I know I talk about it all the time to friends, colleagues, family, but this was a proper presentation to a group of strangers in an academic setting.

And I was nervous.

Not nervous of presenting as much as nervous of getting it wrong, of mis-representing what was shared with me.

Participants in research give so much of themselves in these interviews.  They let me see into their lives in a way that overwhelms me. I remember the first time I took a history as a medical student and the sense of awe that I was allowed access into someone’s life in a way that I would never have normally.  Collecting research data is that feeling magnified.  And even the phrase “collecting data” seems so inadequate for what is being entrusted to me.  I have to find some way of respecting that trust. And what I want to do is capture each individual story; each glimpse into someone else’s life in its entirety.

But that’s the research.  I’m looking for patterns and themes across these stories.  I need to be able to pull threads out from people’s lives, to see each idea, before weaving it back together. And I’m a person with my own experiences and memories.  There’ll be a piece of me in this research, and the research will be in me.  Creating a new story that is at the same time more, and less, than the individual elements.

Who am I to decide what to include? How can I say what matters or what is important?  What right do I have to pick and choose which stories fit my narrative? Who gave me the power to tell a story around other people’s lives?

They did.

I only have these stories because they chose to share them.   Because they allowed me in and let me listen.  Because they felt it mattered that their experiences were shared, picked over, interpreted, re-interpreted, re-told…

I’ll do my best not to mess it up.



Many hats 

One of the things about being a Paediacademiatrician is that I end up wearing many hats/roles/jobs. (It’s also true that I own many real hats, but I’m not always so good at wearing them. I just buy them because they’re pretty.) 

One of the best things about working this way is that I get to do things that I wouldn’t be able to do if I was a straightforward clinician. Yes it’s busy, but it’s also incredibly exciting and rewarding.


Having many hats = good.

Wearing many hats = also good (see above)

Trying to explain to people around you that you have many hats & you feel quite strongly about wearing them and that they’re actually quite important… Not so good.

Trying to wear your “I’m a grown-up who is used to being taken seriously” hat when you’re talking to the people who give you the “hello minion” hat to wear = epic disaster.

The reality, my reality, is that there are parts of my life where I get taken seriously and what I have to say counts for something. And there are parts where it doesn’t. And keeping the two separate is getting more and more difficult. 

Because the things that I see & know & learn are important. They matter: not to me personally, but to all the people they affect. And increasingly, I feel that I can’t just let things go. That it is my job to challenge and question. 

So, maybe it’s time to stop wearing the minion hat.

Yellow was never my colour anyway.


The O-word has been cropping up a lot in the discussions about the junior doctor contract recently.

Overtime: 1. time spent working at your job that is in addition to your normal working hours; 2. the money paid for work that is done in addition to your normal working hours

One of the problems is the way in which the term is used, and what it means to different people.  For the employers in this dispute (whoever they are, Trusts, HEE, NHS England… have we worked that out yet??), the overtime is all about money.  That makes sense: it’s easier to quantify within a huge system.

But for the staff working in those organisations, overtime gets a bit more complex than that.  And that gets frustrating when we’re told that there’s a financial incentive to work unsafe hours.  (Apart from the belief that we have some kind of choice over the hours that we work – we don’t.  We get issued with a rota)  And yes, if you do a locum shift because there is yet another rota gap that hasn’t been filled, then most people will claim for that.

That’s not what overtime looks like for junior doctors.

Overtime is spending hours after a night shift trawling through patient notes, collecting data to complete audits.

It’s going in to work on your day off to teach and mentor and support your juniors; to present the audit; to write a guideline.

It’s giving witness statements and writing safeguarding reports and completing child protection paperwork.

It’s taking annual leave and using that to catch up on clinic letters.

It’s trying to get your mandatory training done while your partner watches films in bed and wonders why you never, ever seem to stop working.

All in our own time.  

On our days off.  


Just to get the job done.


It’s (a bit) about the money


Here’s the thing.

Last year, I spent more on clinical training than I did on my mortgage.

Last year was a quiet year.  (I’ve been trying to concentrate on the PhD).  It was about 1/3 less than 2014 where I got a bit carried away and thought that I could do a PhD and spend the time learning medicine.

It definitely wasn’t as expensive as the 2009 – 2012  period when I was preparing for exams, buying revision books, and paying for online and face-to-face courses just so that I could progress to the next level of training. (Total cost = around £5000.  I was lucky)  Oh, and paying for the MSc (£10,000).  Plus all the usual costs of training and courses.

It’s a rough ball-park, but even if I use my “quiet” year as a guide, I’ve spent at least £44,000 on post-graduate education.

You could argue that it’s my choice to do this.  And it is.  Nobody made me do a MSc (it’s just kind of important before you attempt a PhD).  Nobody made me do post-graduate exams (except that Membership of a Royal College is a pre-requisite for progression to being a registrar).

Learning about the neuro-psychological impact of cancer treatment isn’t in my mandatory training (unlike learning that fires really, really like oxygen) – but I think it’s kind of important to understand so that I know what questions to ask families when they come back to late-effects clinic.  It’s apparently not essential that I learn about end of life care (although it bloody should be), but what kind of service would I provide to families if I didn’t?

I love my job. And I don’t think that I will walk away from it.  (Last week I got given a Starburst by a patient and I was told to eat it.  My job is fantastic)

But I am starting to think if I am going to continue to invest in my job rather than my life.  I’m wondering if it’s really more important to constantly try and improve my practice, or if maybe I can stay in something more upmarket than a Travelodge occasionally.  If perhaps it would be nice if I had the kind of house where two people could fit in the kitchen at once.

I spent more on my training than I did on my mortgage.