View from the ground, by Dr Zara Aziz
It was an innocuous sort of Friday a few Christmases ago. I had been on call and the day had been fastpaced and varied as normal. But nothing unusual had happened. I had seen a mixture of routine and urgent patients, supervised a medical student, and admitted a patient into hospital following a home visit. I suspected community acquired pneumonia but there had been no hospital beds, so I had been asked to send her to A&E where the medical doctors would see her. This was a daily occurrence and I had informed my patient and her family that the wait was likely to extend to hours, most likely on a trolley in the corridor. I was well and truly done, and looking forward to heading home to see my family.
As I headed out of the surgery into the crisp city air, I saw the full moon and smiled; it lit up the almost deserted car park like a reassuring beacon. I sat down in the driver’s seat and something gleaming in the far corner on the passenger-side floor caught my eye. It looked like Lego—perhaps the headpiece of a Star Wars character. My twins were forever losing bits of Lego and always thrilled to recover long-lost pieces. I would surprise them with the find tonight. I reached down somewhat awkwardly, hindered by my bulky satchel, and that was my undoing.
I have odd joints and in some inexplicable way, I had placed all my weight on my left thumb, enough to dislocate it neatly from its joint. The pain was unbelievable, but the mortification was worse. The injury was untimely—as if there ever can be a good time to self-dislocate your thumb—since the prospect of going to A&E on a Friday night was not a little daunting.
Sitting in the waiting area of the local A&E and nursing my dislocation I felt acutely uncomfortable. This was where I sent patients—from the medical or surgical expected, to the suspected hip fractures. This was not a place I had frequented outside of a 6-month stint at the start of my GP vocational training scheme. The place was swarming with a sea of faces of the sick, injured, inebriated, or simply homeless.
I stopped looking at the clock. I knew there were others who needed attention first. I felt that I was there under false pretences. My hand had stopped throbbing and was simply numb. I tried to do what I told friends and colleagues not to do: be my own doctor. My hand could wait till the next day. Probably. Maybe. At one point I tried to leave, only to be pulled back into my seat by my husband who had settled in for the night with a large coffee and a day-old Metro.
At some point in the twilight hours of Saturday I found myself in X-ray and then inhaling nitrous oxide while counting the cracks in the ceiling. A doctor with tired eyes and wrinkled scrubs dealt with my wayward joint. As he pulled and pulled my left thumb I blacked out. I came round to a plastered arm and a hub of activity in the next cubicle, from which a pool of blood was slowly spreading across the thin divide that separated us.
I went home. But being on the other side had been disconcerting. That night in A&E I had relinquished my role as a doctor (albeit reluctantly) and become the patient.
Over the years I have sent countless patients into hospital. I have felt sympathy for them as I have called the ambulance or informed them of the need for admission. At what point did it become second nature? But that day I walked around in someone else’s shoes and realised afresh that what is just another day at the office is a big deal for each and every one of our patients. I hope that I always remember that. For, doctors or not, we will all be patients.