Checklists and Breastpads – That Doctor Business…

The deciding factor on becoming a doctor was about 15 minutes after an epidural during the birth of my first daughter. I was in awe of the anaesthetist, I could not believe that I went from the worst pain of my life to no pain at all. This man with his tray of marvels and skilled hands was a magician in my eyes. That was it. I MUST do that job. Though then it was the job of a physician not necessarily that of an anaesthetist.

Fast forward 14 years and I’ve been privileged to do two anaesthetic and intensive care FY1 jobs. Love it; love being in the anaesthetic room, love talking to patients before an anaesthetic, spending time with patients and loved ones in ICU. It’s a perfect blend of patient care, pharmacology, physiology, practical skills and technology.

The world of medicine and motherhood collided most embarrassingly one day when helping an anaesthetist in theatre. The surgery was over and the final checklist of sutures, swabs and so on was being applied. I do love a good checklist – so important in patient safety and improving the delivery of care. The theatre was in full swing. I glanced to the floor near the surgeon and noticed a small white circular pad on the floor. I was about to call out – you’ve missed that swab on the floor when I noticed to my horror that it was MY BREASTPAD. It had made it’s way quite happily out of my bra, over the top of my surgical scrubs and onto the floor. I cannot imagine how I would of explained my answer when someone picked it up and said “What’s this? This hasn’t been accounted for.” The anaesthetist must have observed this and felt unable to say anything as we chatted about propofol and ASA grades. Mortified I swept in and stuffed it into my pocket. Needless to say, if you happen to notice me take a quick peek down my front or gently pat my breasts discreetly (not in front of patients, of course) you know that I am checking for errant breast pads.

I'm sure this doesn't appear on a surgical checklist

I’m sure this doesn’t appear on a surgical checklist

Oddly, the journey has come full circle and I am now hoping for a career in anaesthetics. Unfortunately for me, it’s competitive, very competitive in this area. Add into that the need to stay local I have to drag myself to the top of a very large heap of applicants. We shall see. I’ve yet to apply. I shall apply this year, if all goes well. I say if all goes well as my daughter’s diagnosis with cystic fibrosis adds some serious perspective to life. She and my other children will always come first. Her consultant told me not to hold anyone’s dreams hers or my own. “You just carry on,” he said. “Life must be as normal as possible”.

Not that a life in medicine is normal. It’s unpredictable, challenging, hard work and ultimately rewarding. There are ups and downs, good times and bad times. Balancing motherhood and medicine has been an on-going battle – not sure I like that word but can’t think of another at this time. My status as older mum of four quite often baffles my senior colleagues. I can’t pretend it’s not awkward as an FY1 on-call with the consultant with whom my daughter is best friends with. Not often awkward for me, but sometimes for others. One consultant openly told me he was freaked that my kids were older than his. Another remarked when I said I wasn’t keen on paediatrics, “don’t you have a maternal bone in your body? Don’t like kids then”. “Yes”, I replied “I’ve got two (at that time) of my own”. Awkward silence ensued. Even the other day I was asked what I wanted to be ‘when I grow up’ by another colleague. I’m 43 in less than two weeks but I agree with you, I’m yet to grow up!

Now, back to what I need to do for my intended career. My checklist includes, audits, presentations, projects, publications, commitment to specialty and much more. Even on maternity leave I’m at courses, completing audit cycles and sorting the next detail to demonstrate my suitability for this career. Now, I’m not stupid, I know I’ve got a challenge ahead of me. I have my back-up plans. So let’s see. I’ve already been told by a retired anaesthetist that I haven’t a hope in hell, I should give up before I’ve even started, my CV will be in no way competitive compared to my younger colleagues. Do you know you’ll be 50 odd before you are a consultant? All in the space of 5 minutes of meeting me and knowing nothing about me. But we mature medics have heard this all before. We wouldn’t be standing in front of you if we’d not thought about this. But as I keep saying I am enjoying my journey rather than focussing on the destination.

Now back to those lists – shopping, ARCP, to-do. I do love a good list.

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