Archive for July, 2011

After three days of lectures, I’ve now started my medicine of the elderly placement on the ward I’ll be based on for the next four weeks. I think it’s going to be a bit mixed – I know that I’m going to like spending time with patients, and medically, it’s going to be very useful as they’ve all got about fifteen different diseases and are on a shedload of medications, so I’m learning a lot, but it’s also made me think about the doctor I will be, fairly soon. The team I’m attached to are lovely, they really are – but they are also very pragmatic in their approach to some of the more cognitively impaired patients. I know that when you’re rushed off your feet, there’s not much time to tell someone for the thousandth time that no, they’re not going home, or no, they’re not in Florida, they’re in the hospital – but it’s not that busy a unit, there’s a lot of coffee breaks and long lunchtimes, and when they just whip past someone, I find myself questionning it.

I’ve done more than enough volunteering on MOE wards, in this specific hospital, that I know how difficult and frustrating it can be to have circular conversations with folk that don’t go anywhere – but I don’t want to be someone who just walks by because they think explaining yet again is a waste of time. I want to be someone who makes time. I want to be someone who never forgets that every patient here is a mother, a wife, a sister, a father, a grandparent. My grandparents received atrocious care in the hospital they both died in; if the staff couldn’t be bothered to spot overwhelming sepsis, I very much doubt they took the time to sit and talk to my grandparents when they were in there. None of the staff when we visited knew their names, let alone who we were. Sometimes I think that it’s only by prioritising the little things that you will remember to do them – a little bit ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’, as my gran used to say. I don’t want to be someone who shuts the door of the doctors room for a bit of peace and quiet, I don’t want to be someone who passes a patient by because they are confused enough that they won’t remember the conversation. I want to be a doctor who knows the names of their grandchildren and how they met their husband or wife, who takes the time to say, every time, over and over, that they aren’t going home just yet, and why. I want to be the doctor who obviously knows them, when I talk to the family, and isn’t scrambling for their name, or diagnosis. I want to be a doctor who is known for compassion. I don’t want to forget.

So – what have I done so far? I’ve done an MMSE (test of memory) on pretty much every patient with pretty variable results, had three of the old men ask for my hand in marriage (respectfully declined), and as I didn’t have anything timetabled this afternoon, spent it watching Jeremy Kyle with a lady of 96 (her choice, not mine, classic comment ‘in my day, marriage was for life and intercourse was for marriage, what do they think they’re doing?’). My heart breaks for some of them – the ones who are so very desperate to go back to their own homes, but will never get that as they’re too ill and too confused, the lady who asks repeatedly for her husband, who died 20 years ago, the man who cries as he can’t write a sentence anymore, after a massive stroke – they are our future, our family. It makes me so angry that there are so many cuts to services for the elderly – it takes about four weeks for a referral to social services to come through, and after that, a similar amount of time to get care packages in place so that they can leave hospital. We should be honouring them, we should be proud to lighten their load and care for the generation that brought us peace and freedom, and then kept it. I, as a young woman training to be a professional, owe a lot to these older generations.

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The last few days have been…..suspiciously nice. Our new flatmate has moved in, and it’s going well – me and my remaining flatmate L had been a bit worried about how we’d react to losing A, as she’s got a job down South, and gaining R, who we haven’t actually seen in over a year as she studied abroad. So far, not much to worry about – I think it’s going to work.

I also met the dragon yesterday (for newer readers, she’s the head of student support at my medical school and we clashed quite a bit when I was first made to go and see her, hence the nickname), with mixed results. She was incredibly congratulatory and praised my determination to complete 4th year, saying that I’m the only student in that sort of situation to manage to double up and successfully get everything done in several years (again, for the newbies, I was ill enough with depression that I had to essentially do two thirds of the year at once, including a big research project and the busiest rotation of medical school – the word ‘stress’ doesn’t quite cover it). This sort of made me angry – if it was so unlikely, why didn’t they make things a bit easier, with a longer deadline, or a bit more support? I was pretty much told I had to do it, and left to get on with it – and at the time, people I confided in thought I was overreacting when I said I felt they were setting me up to fail – but it really seems that they were, apparently no one expected me to complete everything on time, and well. I’m proud that I did it, despite all the implications last year has had for my future work, and confidence – but that stretch of time was so close to impossible, that I think having people do it when the school have such little faith that anyone will mange it, is a little inhuman. I’m not sure I deserve praise anyway – I wasn’t exactly being healthy to get it done, and I didn’t always act in ways I’m proud of, and if I’d have been a little iller, it wouldn’t have happened. I was lucky. Blessed, you might say.

Aside from that though, I think I’ve finally tamed her. And though I hate to admit it, I can see that we are in some ways similar characters, even though I don’t always think she approaches things the right way, at all. It felt like a full circle, since the first time I had to go and see her, when I was so wired with agitated depression that I was literally vibrating, drowning in tears and pretty convinced that I wasn’t going to see this side of the new year. It’s been along year.

I start on the wards tomorrow on care of the elderly, and am quite excited about it – it’s so good to feel keen and enthusiastic, it’s so wonderful to feel like myself. I’ve got my ‘wanttochangetheworld’  mojo back, my internal rhythm of ‘letsfeedthepoorandtendthesickandcomfortthedyingandnursethechildrenetcadinfinitum‘ (this is pretty much what goes through my head when I’m not depressed – I’ve missed it).  I’m feeling pretty thankful at the moment, which is always a little awkward because as a Christian, I should really be thankful all the time – but it doesn’t always happen –  I’m not quite up to the standard of the Apostle Paul yet, rejoicing in misery/prison/poverty etc, but it’s still a good place to be. Praise the Lord!


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This last week has had some pretty epic weather going on. On Thursday, I was high up one of the hills on a long walk, when the sky just opened up and seemed to fall, with all that water. Ever the thoughtless dresser, I was wearing shorts and t-shirt and had no jacket with me. I got completely soaked, even the insides of my pockets were full of water, I could wring the rain out of my ponytail, and had to wring out most of my clothes when I got home too (even pants – that’s how wet it was, no jokes). I kind of like that sort of rain – there’s no going back when you’re already drenched, there’s no point getting all precious about frizzy hair and whether or not your mascara’s run. It’s a great equaliser. I like the rain, if only because it takes the people off the streets and inside, and therefore makes the world seem peaceful. I like the rain, because it reminds me of new life and growth, of the circles and cycles the planet follows, of the seeds and plants and livestock that rejoice with its coming, and drink deep. Up on the hills, I could see lightening flashing across the length of the city, I could hear the thunder tossing its head, and feel the vibrations in the air. I was under the elements, alone and small, and thinking about how the landscapes own us, dictate and drive us.

And then, I got thinking about God. 

God’s love isn’t like a summer shower that passes over head and barely dampens the grass. It isn’t a rainfall that will kneel to a decent umbrella or waterproof jacket, it isn’t a rain you can walk in and fail to notice. It’s a drenching monsoon that covers us all, leaving nowhere untouched, leaving no prospect of dry patches or dry shoes. God’s love means business – it helps us to grow, it nurtures and quenches. It makes us one with the world around us. It reminds us that we depend on Him, that we are driven and dictated by Him, that He is the ground we build our houses on, the rivers we drain for wells, the  stones we use to keep our sheep walled in. God’s love is a thunderstorm, wild and beautiful, untameable. How often do we try to tame God, to put Him in our boxes and tie Him with string? How often do we put our words in His mouth, rather than the other way round? How often do we willfully misread His word, for our own benefit? We cannot harness God’s power. We cannot dry off His Love.

After thinking about this, I felt a sense of peace, a stillness that so rarely comes that even now, it is a stranger. I felt restored and renewed by the storm, I felt in synch and at one with God, finally paddling in the right direction up the right stream. It was as thought the clinging, cloying, stickiness of depression was washed away after binding me for so long. I was washed clean. On Sunday, I took Communion for the first time in over a year. It didn’t feel as empty a gesture as it once did, it didn’t feel as condemning as it did for quite a while, thanks to the grand theology of depression. It didn’t feel like I was lying, by participating in a ritual of life when for so long, I’ve been walking with death at my shoulders. The idea of it didn’t feel so searingly painful, as it did before, so viciously fearsome. It felt right. For the first time, I felt like a survivor. I felt like I’d got out and come through, stronger, intact. And I know, that I still have a lot of things to sort, and I know, that I’ve got to mind myself and be careful, that I’ve got to protect my heart, and quiet my soul, but above that, I look back and know that I got through, still breathing. I got through, with God.

I started final year today, the last year as a medical student, the last year before I reach what has been a dream since childhood. It feels as though, in spite of the things that still limit me (this huge gap in my counselling, for one), the end is finally coming and I am moving on, moving through. I start back on the wards on Thursday (lectures and clinical skills classes till then) and I’m excited about it, excited to be in there, seeing patients and learning this trade I have yearned for for so long. I had a meeting about a new project today, and I’m excited about getting it started, and being part of something bigger. It’s good to feel passion for academia again, and love for patients. It’s good to feel 3D again.

I love this song – it kind of fits, not quite perfectly, but even so, you can’t go wrong with Joe….

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(Or more specifically, old and beautiful churches – but cathedrals alliterated and I like alliteration)

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in my last week of holiday in one of the biggest and most historic churches in my city, just praying, and it’s made me think about a few things.

I love old churches, cathedrals, chapels and the like. Two years ago, I was leading a group trip to Venice I’d organised for the university windband (yes, I am a longstanding bandgeek) and it was in this period of time where I’d made the decision to try church again (which to be perfectly honest, was more because I felt I really needed to be getting some sort of moral guidance once a week as I had a pretty full on year ahead of me with a lot of responsability, rather than directly wanting to hear about Jesus) and had gone to what is still my church, a few times, and was feeling pretty confused about the whole thing – what was I getting myself into? Where were all these questions coming from? Were those people as friendly as they seemed? What was a ‘Thessalonians’, and why were there two of them? 

While we were there, we visited St Marks Basilica, of course, and I gave the others the slip and had a few precious hours to myself. On thing I remember is hearing that from start to finish, through countless revisions, one family of stonemasons had been working on the mosaicing for about six generations – and that it was such poorly paid work that the family had starved for generations, but been so determined to use their skills to make the Basilica the wonder that it is, they didn’t care. They chose worship over wealth. I remember standing in front of a depiction of Paul’s ministry (at least, that’s what I think it was), and thinking, if six generations felt so strongly about something, there must be something in it – there had to be some grain of truth in there, some quiet absolution that I just did not understand. I was thinking about what that would have meant – spending your life up ladders and in harnesses, painting the Bible in stone for future generations on walls and ceilings, and going home with a full heart but empty hands. That was when I decided to keep going and learning. Mark’s gospel was the first one I read. Not just a pretty face, that man.

I don’t believe at all that God is more present in stone churches than white washed chapels. I don’t believe that he gives His grace in proportion to the number of stained glass windows, or the brightness of the chandeliers, just as I don’t believe it’s dependant on bank balances, or sexual practises, or gender. I don’t believe that a prayer sent up from a tapestried cushion jumps the queue ahead of the those from a plastic seat in a post modern church.

However – I love the solemnity of these older buildings. I love the quiet, mournful peacefulness I feel when I’m sitting in a tiny alcove, under high ceilings and coloured glass, stone flagons under foot and stone pillars to shield me from view. It’s almost as though something intangible gets left behind by everyone who comes to a place to worship, and in these older places with a faith base of centuries, all of those whispered words and heartfelt promises hang in the air, giving it weight, making you stop and gaze and wonder, if there is something you are missing, or someone you do not know. It’s like the difference between singing a hymn you know your grandparents sang and took comfort from, and singing the latest contemporary hit, which is probably heavy on the hand actions, but maybe  lighter on the sincerity that belongs to older tunes. It’s the sense of history there, the feeling of tradition and permanence, of the survival and persistence of beliefs and actions. You are worshipping in a space people have worshipped for centuries, how mindblowing is that?

Perhaps it’s because my faith is primarily a solemn one – a quiet friction of my heart and soul against the grace of God, a tremulous, shaky, shadowy belief in a God who holds my hand and guides me tenderly through the rocks, that I am so drawn to these places. I love my church, with it’s ostentatious loving and loud hallelujahs that raise the roof, but sometimes, it’s the wearied silence that I crave, the regal atmospheres of these older places that remind me of the majesty of the Lord, and his endurance through the ages, of his faithfulness, as generations passed through the doors and made their marks on the floors and walls. As the title of this blog suggests, I don’t find peace easily – I am a restless soul, ever on the move, always on the go. When I’m in one of these places though, I do suddenly feel at peace, as though all of my worries are stuck out in the outside world, and inside, with the candles and the velvet hangings and the incense, I am safe. It’s the old tradition of churches giving sanctuary, both politically, but also, spiritually, psychologically. Once you’re inside God’s house, you’re safe. Once you’re on His turf, you’re ok, for the time being. It’s a good, if rare, feeling. I need these places.

Something I love about my city is that when you’re standing on top of the hills that surround it, and look inwards, it’s the spires that form the skyline and break the clouds. It’s easy sometimes, in these times, to feel that we live in Godless streets and loveless districts, that God doesn’t have the presence here He once had, that our modern lives have tidied Jesus away with the rest of our clutter and forgotten him, packed away in boxes with extra plates and surplus bedding – but then, when I look out, whipped by the winds, the sun coming down over the seas, that I see those old churches reaching for Heaven, and suddenly, things don’t feel so bad. If the architects who built these left so strong a mark, then God surely left a deeper one. If the skyline is shaped by the spires, then the city too must be shaped by God.

This is why I like cathedrals.

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I’m back from home now and have a week until I start my final year of medical school. I know it’s going to take me a while to bounce back, as it always does, so have been thinking about how to get through the next few days. I’m feeling a bit numbed to everything, a bit crowded out, and have a feeling it’s going to be a tough session. There were some good things last week, as I caught up with my oldest friend, who, after thirteen years, is more of a sister, and also a male friend I was very close to (read: desperately but sadly unrequitedly in love with) in my last few years of school – they were both really encouraging, and it was good to talk about stuff with people who have known me since childhood. I love them both a lot.

I was back in counselling again this afternoon and am feeling pretty frustrated. L and I talked a bit about this week and family stuff in general and at one point, she asked who had supported me when my dad was drinking when I was younger, who I turned to and talked to, and all I could say, was, ‘no-one’. Until my ill-fated first encounter with a counsellor in my second year of medical school, I hadn’t really told a soul. I’d done it alone. I was too afraid to tell anyone, too ashamed. I’ve never really thought about it – aside from wanting to help make sure that other kids don’t go through that, some how. And it wasn’t the answer I gave that hurt, or the realisation I get now that I wasn’t that old to be handling as much family stuff as I was, or the sadness I sometimes get now, that my family aren’t the supportive group I’d like them to be, who accept me, warts and all, through thick and thin – it was the look of intense pity on L’s face that really broke me. I don’t want pity, I don’t want any of the ‘poor little you’ comments, or that look on someone’s face that suddenly makes you realise that things were pretty crap to be honest, a lot crapper than most people’s time growing up was, that look that cements what you’ve suspected for so long, that somewhere inbetween the birthdays and holidays, as you grew taller and older, you were broken and damaged by the world around you, in a way most people manage to escape.

Sometimes you have that moment where you just know, that you’ll remember that slice of time forever, and that’s how her look made me feel earlier, as though it’s burned in, branded into my memories. I keep waiting for things to get easier, to find some release from all this, for counselling to start to heal all those wounds that have become such a part of me, and it’s yet to happen. I know I feel raw, at the moment, and tired of it; I know I feel as though I’ll never get through this, that my wounds will always be open, that my heart will always be covered in a layer of dust, cast in shadows (aware this is slightly hyperbolic – sorry, may edit later). I’m feeling like a bit of a hopeless case at the moment – that I’ll be someone who always gets through on paper, most likely very well – but that behind closed doors, I’ll always be falling apart, I’ll always be on the verge of destruction. I’ll never find rest or peace. I’ll never gain the freedom I’m meant to have, through Jesus. I need to get better at figuring out which wounds are able to heal and which aren’t, and accept them. I’ve got three weeks off now, and am kind of angry about it – I want to get through and over this, and this just draws it out for another few weeks, but there’s nothing I can do, and it’s no-ones fault. Must learn patience etc.

I’ve got lost of positives to focus on this week – I’m meeting a doctor I really respect to talk about this extra project, and on Friday it’s the learning disability church group I help with – I’ve missed the last few meetings due to exams, and am really looking forward to seeing them all, they’re so easy to love, and it’s always a real boost to my faith, if only because who doesn’t feel close to God after dressing up in a sheet to act out one of the Parables, as Jesus, to help someone understand more about who he was? The week can only get better.

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