Doctor Distress (2/2)

By Rachel Kellett

I ended up in a psychiatric hospital. The hospital was out of area, to keep confidentiality, which unfortunately left friends and family a fair distance away. The experience itself was in retrospect a great learning curve as a doctor but it’s one that still makes me deeply sad to think about. Whilst in hospital I was self-conscious that the staff knew I was a doctor. For example, one day I was asked by a care worker to reassure another patient their rash was nothing to worry about. My two week stay in hospital fulfilled its purpose and kept me safe. Upon discharge the community team were supposed to support me, but after a fleeting visit a few days later I was discharged.

Over the last few months I’ve continued to improve. Medications have been altered a few times and now seem to be stable. I’m so thankful that I can afford a private psychologist as the NHS services encountered were inadequate and need improvement.

Despite performing a form of self-harm myself as a child, I’d shared a common misconception among medical professionals; that self-harmers who attend hospital are looking for attention. I now recognise it is a way of transferring emotional distress to physical pain. There are many other ways to receive attention than self-harming, and the attention given by the medical profession is often negative, clouded by our preconceptions about self harming. Surely what they need is more positive support to work through emotional pain.

Regrettably, when people say ‘Doctors make the worst patients’ I know that includes me. My desire to get the patients clerked, to continue to work and be part of the team, not to let my colleagues down and therefore neglecting care for myself, so nearly ended tragically.

When your junior turns down a commitment or acts out of character, please ask yourself and then them, what is behind it. It’s hard enough for a ‘doctor’ to become a ‘patient’, but without support it’s impossible. Maybe we need to learn a lesson from the nurses, to occasionally recognise that we are humans, who care about patients, who fight to keep them alive, but sometimes lose that battle and need to recharge and repair ourselves to continue.

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