So last week was one of the most tumultuous of my already tumultuous life. I was diagnosed with leuakaemia at 17, and given a 10-20% chance of surviving, I’d relapsed the year later and been told palliative care might be my best option, I’ve lost an eye, and nearly been blinded in another 3 times since, developed a third, fortunately benign tumour (though it didn’t look that way) in my 4th right rib, and arguably worst of all, faced 2 years of agony. Suicidal. Completely void of hope due to chronic pain.
And then there was last week.
I’ve been to ICU at least 4 times. I remember 2 of them. I may have been there more during chemotherapies. But this one was the one I remembered most.
The last time I was in ICU, how I’d felt.
Hospital is a scary place, in general. When I realised I had unstable angina, and then, shockingly, found out that I was a walking talking heart attack risk… I was scared.
But the way I deal with all this stuff is to try and take a step back, and logically reframe the situation I’m in. I challenge the fears, doubts and worries I feel. Keep challenging them from different angles until I find secoond pathway, or way of thinking, that would lead to the highest chance of me being happy, healthy, and sane during a treatment.
I was good at this when I started chemo. It became my norm. But there was a time when I’d gotten bad at this. I’d had a few bad experiences in the past with doctors. I used to catastrophise when I came into ED, always thinking the worst – worried about infection, my one, remaining eye blowing out, what could be happening. Anything could, right?
But I’ve gotten better at dealing with that. Psychiatrists have helped me heaps in doing that.
But there was something about this hospital that made it that much easier.
From seeing my friend, in ED, calling out, and him assessing me as Cat 2 (I honestly just wanted to say hey!), despite the receptionist receiving a letter indicating how urgent my situation was.
To when I got my angiogram. I knew at that point something was up. But to see that severe an occlusion was a shock.
But the reaction of the cardiothoracic team, and Dr H in assuring me of what I knew, that I couldn’t leave at this point, until we’d done something, assured me, yet again. I know the hospital’s reputation and that of the ICU, but the calm, cool collected measure of how Dr M presented himself, made me even more assured.
Then my cousin started pointing out that this could possibly be more complicated than your regular CABG. But your prompt responses in replying to his concerns and getting a second opinion from St Vincent’s Transplanters left me, yet again assured that I was in good hands. Prior to surgery, I was largely thinking, “Let’s get it over with!” due to your team’s completely reassuring manner.
But it was the little things that REALLY made a difference. From the care and compassion shown by the nurses of 6D to give my mum a mattress – A MATTRESS – when in every other hospital, we’d been gently nudged towards the door, given sofa beds where they had them, or in some hospitals’ cases, them forcing Mum and Dad sleep on 2 chairs opposite eachother, even in the direst straights… we got a mattress.
The dignity that little actions like this, and the providence of carer meals – carer meals – who would have thought… made me assured too. Not just because my family was being cared for too, but BECAUSE they were being looked after just as much as me. It really signals to me that you’re doing something good… and upholding a set of amazing values that is embodied to the core, at this hospital.
THAT is just as powerful as confidence in your medical abilities to someone who’s suffering, and scared. Please, never underestimate the power of making people feel CARED for in your practice. It was only the knowledge that there was a doctor across the road who cared for me that stopped me from walking, instead, in front of a train a few years ago. A decision that’s led me to get professional help and get my mind back on my side, as it had been before chronic pain and depression.
It’s something I’m assured, by the way you took care of me, that is not gonna be an issue for wards 6D, E and B (and wherever else I may have been). You guys already have this on lock.
To the doctors, thanks for your calmness and reason and thoroughness.
To the orderlies, dietitians, physios and everyone else, from cleaners to admin staff, thanks for not only being extremely professional at what you do, but also human and funny too.
And to you guys, my favourite of all… the nurses…
Over the years, through crisis after crisis, and challenge after challenge… Through near death experiences, and near death-from-boredom ones during hospital. You’ve not only been a barrier between life and death for me, but also a barrier between sanity and insanity. People call me an inspiration for how I process things, how I try and be pragmatic, to do whatever I can and then sigh and say “I’ve done all I can, what’s the point of worrying when there’s still a chance it could work anyways?”
But I can only be this way because I’ve had these amazingly compassionate, caring people on my side during every crisis in my life.
When I’d heard that it was the ICU nurses who addressed tamponade as well, I was shocked at first, but not really surprised. I know nurses who’ve set up clinical trial facilities for whole health districts single handedly. A nurse friend of mine lectures doctors and nurses internationally on CVC placement. This is just more proof of what I already know. That you guys ROCK.
Your technical skills and knowledge are often just as much as doctors’ own, but your ability to care, to go the extra mile, to be compassionate, show humanity, and humility amidst everything is your TRUE power.
And you’ve demonstrated to me, yet again, that YOU are the backbone of this very healthy system.
As a future doctor, who’s dreamt of becoming one since watching Hawkeye Pierce perform open hand massage in an episode of M.A.S.H, I’m yet against convinced that you nurses are just as much, if not more, the REAL doctors of this unit. You nurses in particular inspire me to want to do better, and be better. To keep trying to help people as much as I can.
You guys at Royal North Shore, are somehow on ANOTHER level.
I can’t thank you guys enough for what you’ve done for me. If there’s any way I can help, let me know.
Do have a read of NikhilAutar.com/nurses on a bad day, or of my book, NikhilAutar.com/mybooks which you thankfully did not make into the memoirs of an ex cancer patient, medicine studying, medical researchering, poker playing, startup creating kid, but rather one with many more chapters yet to come.
Forever in your debt…
Nikhil Autar, and family.