A Meeting Which Made a Difference

by Rob Price

A Meeting which Made a Difference

A perfect summer's day which I spent in the grounds of Alexandra Palace with my closest friends, ended with a decision that has shaped my entire future.

I have a fairly rare condition called Haemophilia and consequently spent much of my youth learning how to cope with being a bit different, but on this day, the last that my friends and I would spend together before going to university, I was feeling very content and part of something special. Perhaps that's why I ignored the warning signs when I hurt my leg playing football, not wanting to spoil our memories of the day.

Sure enough though, as I should have expected, I awoke at three the next morning to a dull, fiery pain and was unable to flex my knee. Swiftly giving up on the idea that I might fall back to sleep that night, I half hopped down two flights of stairs to the kitchen, took a bag of frozen peas from the freezer to control the swelling and propped my leg up on a chair to wait until morning.

Fortunately, although I didn't think so at the time, my father is a very light sleeper and happened to come downstairs when he awoke some time later. Finding me having 'a bleed', he eventually convinced me that I should go in to the accident and emergency department for treatment instead of waiting for the haemophilia centre in the hospital to open.

I didn't want to go, not only because I didn't want to disturb the doctors but also out of frustration that such a trivial activity had left me virtually incapacitated. However since we were both up anyway and (according to my father) the doctors would be too, we decided to phone ahead and drive down to A&E. A laborious half an hour or so later I had managed to get back upstairs and to get dressed, before I made the phone call to inform the on-call haematologist that I would need a blood clotting factor from their drug store. After being bounced around the switchboard for a while, I was put through to the correct doctor and explained the situation. I was unprepared for his response, which was less than sympathetic; in fact he expressed amazement that I'd woken him up because I'd "bumped my knee". Embarrassed that I'd somehow failed to communicate the extent of the injury properly, I remained adamant that I needed treatment because I had no clotting factor of my own at home. The doctor begrudgingly agreed that I ought to come in and by four o clock, I was hobbling into the hospital.

I was met by a tired, but extremely friendly junior doctor who examined my leg and remarked immediately that it needed treatment as soon as possible - he disappeared to find the on call haematologist and to get the key to the haematology department drug store. The haematologist however was disinclined to examine me - I didn't see him once in the five and a half hours I was there. The junior doctor came back twenty minutes later and haltingly explained that it was not logistically feasible to get the treatment until nine o'clock that morning. He said that the haematologist was 'tied up' but had requested a blood sample for the lab to analyse. It was clear from his tone (and the emptiness of the department) that the haematologist was not busy treating other patients! When I queried the reason for the blood test, he confided that he didn't see the necessity for it, or for the subsequent x-rays that the haematologist ordered; he felt that having lived with haemophilia for almost twenty years I was able to tell what the problem was. Having been in the same situation several times before, I also knew that there was no logistical problem with removing blood clotting factor from the drug store; in fact I had been seen and treated by a different haematologist at a similar time of night just a few months previously, within five minutes of arriving at the hospital. I felt that I was being messed around and would have been quite angry if not for the fact that the junior doctor seemed embarrassed by having to perform such pointless examinations at the request of this haematologist.

The five uncomfortable hours I spent in the hospital canteen with a cannula in my arm having received no treatment, were well worth the expressions on the faces of the specially trained haemophilia staff when they saw the size of my leg the next morning! The junior doctor dropped by to visit me in the centre almost as soon as it opened, although I'm sure his shift had finished by then. We talked for a while and I was touched that he was so concerned. Before leaving he even went so far as to apologise for the delay, which was very kind considering that he'd made so much of an effort to get the correct treatment for me despite the haematology consultant's lack of interest

Rob Price

 

Reflection

A single meeting or event can have the power to completely change the course of a person's life. Reflecting on the single experience I described above, I came to realise that it strongly influenced one of the most important decisions I have ever made; if not for the junior doctor who showed me so much compassion, I think that I may never have taken up my place to study medicine at university. I was having feelings of self-doubt and fear when I thought about medical school at the time, emotions that I believe everyone who applies to read medicine must deal with at some stage in the application process. My self doubt, when coupled with the near contempt I felt for the haematologist at the time, left me questioning my desire to become a doctor. I think that I was partly afraid of being able to identify with him, as I was well aware of the pressure that doctors can be placed under. I didn't feel angry at him despite his unprofessional conduct, because I know that when I'm tired and stressed I can often react without thinking just as he did. Despite this, one of the things that I take the most pride in that many of my friends have described me as being kind and considerate and I disliked the idea that practising medicine might take that away from me.

The junior doctor I first saw showed me that it is possible to deal with stress and late shifts without sacrificing my humanity or ability to care for others. Having realised the profound difference that a single act of kindness can make, I now often find myself making a conscious effort to be more accepting of other people and to be more accessible to them even when I don't feel in the mood to listen.

I have come to realise that experiences should never be wasted and now try to reflect more on things that happen in my life. I hope that I have become a better person as well as a better future clinician because I have learned from a mistake made by someone who could easily have been me in a few years time.

Whole Person Care