Saving April

I’m just so frightened, everything has changed so quickly”. April* was 95 years old. Despite the fact that macular degeneration had left her only able to see shapes and shadows, she lived independently. Her mind was sharp. Unfortunately April had recently fallen at home, fracturing her right iliac crest and acetabulum. In an instant, the wheels stopped moving. This warrior had had come to hospital and we had shown her she was old.

“I’m just so frightened” she told us, “everything has changed so quickly”.

Physiotherapy come to see her when they can. April now has pain, her joints have gotten used to the rest and so we give her a pain patch to try and help her with the struggle. I find myself defending her in referrals. The roll of eyes when her age slips from my lips, sets my defensive barriers soaring up like walls. I want to build her a fortress and shout “don’t write my patient off, she amazes me”.

I turn my attention to her mind. April sits at the end of a six bed bay; she can no longer read. The patient next to her is not in a state for conversation and so I ask her about her life. We talk about current affairs and she tells me what she thinks about the Scottish referendum for independence. But I can’t stay long. I find myself phoning various dead-end leads trying to source some speaking books for April; anything to stop her mind from going on vacation.

In my head, there’s a rhyme and it menacingly plays “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put her together again” – and I wonder; I am just the fool trying to stop time?

I don’t bother to answer this question, because the answer seems unimportant. There is just a patient, who is frightened. There is April. So I try.

*name has been changed

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Do you believe in magic?

I didn’t go to private school; most of the Latin I know is from Harry Potter. When I hear the word radiculopathy, I snigger because it reminds me of the defensive spell one must utter in the presence of a Boggart*
Doctors are taught to provide care based on evidence. We are people of science. But sometimes we are more than that. Sometimes the care a patient needs isn’t about the facts. Sometimes the most important thing we can give to a patient relies on the quality of humanity.
Humanity means kindness, compassion, consideration, tolerance and so much more then I could ever hope to define or fully understand. Nobody will tell you the world of a junior doctor is glamorous. Often it’s about long shifts, missed sleep, new guidelines, overdue assessments, discharge letters and paperwork. There have been days, when knee deep in revision notes and highlighter pens, the thought “F#*K this I should have gone to Hogwarts” came to mind. These are the days I need to feel the humanity in what I do.
I am of course first and foremost a person of science. But I am also grateful that sometimes medicine is about the indefinable. Sometimes it is about the magic.

* If you don’t know what a Boggart is, you haven’t lived.