After choosing which marathons to run and my route around the world, I then faced an even harder decision: with so many deserving charities out there, which should I raise money for?
It seemed like such a difficult decision (particularly for someone so indecisive)… but then I had a lightbulb moment.
As I mentioned previously I work in a hospital. In August 2014 I qualified as a doctor. After five years at medical school I was no longer “just a medical student”. I suddenly had a job and a great wallop of responsibility chucked to go along with it!
In the UK, after completing medical school all doctors must complete two years of foundation training, after which you can focus on training towards a specialty of choice. Foundation training involves rotating through four-month placements in various medical, surgical and community specialities to gain experience in different fields. For my foundation year one I worked at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital and for my foundation year two I was based at the Royal United Hospital in Bath.
My second rotation at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital between December 2014- April 2015 was a respiratory job, which proved to be particularly busy over the cold winter months. Whilst working on the chest ward I cared for many patients with a variety of respiratory problems including asthma, COPD and lung fibrosis.
The universal symptom displayed by almost every patient on the chest ward was breathlessness. I had never really thought about breathing before working on that ward. Healthy humans breath automatically, twenty-four hours a day without thinking about what we are doing or why we are doing it. With each breath in we inspire oxygen, which enters the lungs, diffuses into the blood and is transported to all our tiny cells, allowing them to function. When we breathe out, we expel gaseous waste products from our lungs, preventing them accumulating to toxic levels within the body.
As I said, you tend not to appreciate the importance of breathing, until it becomes a struggle. Simple daily tasks can prove a monumental challenge to the breathless person- walking to the toilet, getting dressed and even eating meals can become a real battle. There are fewer things more difficult to witness than seeing someone gasping to stay alive.
Many patients remain in my thoughts long after the end of my shift and there are a select few who (for a variety of reasons) I will never forget.
I remember vividly a confused elderly patient being admitted with pneumonia in December 2014. The infection had caused him to become delirious and confused. It was difficult to treat him with the strong intravenous antibiotics and fluids because he resisted treatment and kept trying to get out of bed. As a doctor on the ward, I spoke with his family to explain the diagnosis and treatment we were giving him. His daughter reiterated several times that it was completely unlike her father to be so agitated and confused. Unfortunately his body wasn’t strong enough to overcome the infection and despite treatment he sadly passed away.
A few weeks later a card was left on my desk at work. I was surprised to find it was from the family of the gentleman who had passed away, thanking me for looking after him at the end of his life. His daughter wrote that she was sad I had never had the opportunity to meet her “real” Dad, so had enclosed a copy of his CV so I could learn a bit more about him.
I was astounded to discover that the confused elderly man I had been treating was in fact a retired reverend who had dedicated his life to helping others. He worked closely with several charities, including Tearfund of which he was a founding member. In 1975 he was honoured by the Queen for his work helping his community and the developing world, receiving an MBE!
With his family’s permission, this year I will be raising money for two charities: Tearfund and the British Lung Foundation, in memory of the Late Reverend Patrick Goodland. A man who unknowingly taught me one of the most important lessons of my career; although illness may cloud it, everyone has a story to tell. As clinicians we should try to see past the patient and look for the person in everyone we care for.