When the doctor becomes the patient
Former Federal AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, fell ill suddenly and unexpectedly last week in Canberra.
He flew in to Canberra early on Wednesday, November 7 for a meeting of an MBS Review Committee. He made it to the meeting, but not for long. By midday, he was in the ED at Canberra Hospital.
After tests and care and an overnight stay in Canberra Hospital, he was on a 6.00am Thursday flight home to Brisbane and straight back in to hospital in his home town.
He underwent surgery later that day, and remains in hospital recovering.
In a brief window of opportunity during his transition from robust doctor to vulnerable patient, Steve found time to write a ‘Thank You’ note to all his carers, which is also an emotive account of his patient journey.
Thank you all …
Dr Steve Hambleton
Thank you to all the people who made my stay in the Canberra Hospital a little more bearable.
Thank you to Dr Eleanor who, when I asked for help, was decisive and supported my need to seek help. Thank you to Dr Andrew for making that call to the hospital to smooth the way for me.
Thank you to the staff at the triage desk, to whom I was just another person. I was treated with care and compassion. I was not that well, and not at my best, but very grateful. I wasn’t the only one there. Around me were people from all walks of life, with a bandage here or there, and their own personal stories to tell. Some were impatient. But if it bothered them, they did not show it.
Thank you to the cleaners. Your work behind the scenes makes a huge difference. My body told me it was time to vomit, which is always a bit awkward when wearing a suit and tie. On one knee on the floor in a clean toilet rather than a soiled one made all the difference to me. I am sorry if I made your next run a little bit harder.
Thank you to the triage nurse who kept me informed while I was in the waiting area, and for showing me to my bed.
Thank you to the emergency nursing staff. You don’t know how much comfort the sight of you in your uniform brings to those of us feeling helpless.
Getting changed out of my suit (which makes me feel important) into that gown confirmed that I was truly the patient on this occasion, totally dependent on the kindness and skills of others.
Thanks to the Emergency Physician who took a history from me. You asked me to describe my pain and I could not. It was pain, bad pain. It was waxing and waning every few minutes, and I was struggling to find an adjective that would help you. You smiled and were patient as you gently probed and questioned.
I was not a very good historian. In that moment there was a lot of my history I could not remember. Certainly not dates and times, and what happened in what order, and I don’t really have any chronic diseases. It made me think about how much harder it must be for those that do.
Thank you for putting in that intravenous line, which sort of validated for me that I was not a fraud and did need to be there.
Thank you to the student nurse, who recorded my observations and administered the first of the medications. I was not well, and probably did not express my thanks all that well.
Thank you to your Senior, who was quietly guiding you as you administered the analgesia. The pain did not go away immediately, but the warm feeling on my skin was reassuring that something was being done.
I wondered how the meeting that I left was going, and what my colleagues were thinking about my sudden departure.
Thank you to the wardsmen who transported me to the radiology department on two occasions. For your light-hearted banter as we weaved our way along the corridors in my bed, which seemed to have lost its steering. We need to get that trolley fixed – it just wouldn’t go straight. Sorry about the rubbish bin. It was a welcome distraction to take my mind off the way I was feeling.
Thank you to the ultrasound operator who was gently efficient – his job was to be in that darkened room, applying his knowledge of anatomy to help answer the clinical questions.
Thank you to the CT scan nurse and the radiographer for your part of the diagnostic journey.
I spent a long time in your emergency department. I love the reference to the flight deck, which is your central point. I was there long enough to hear shift changes and the handovers.
I heard you gently managing the patient with the mental illness, whose understanding and connection with our reality was tenuous at best.
I heard you keeping the patients’ relatives informed about the next steps on their journey.
I heard you manage the man with dementia who was someone’s brother/husband/father. He was loud, and he was angry as he fought his demons. Despite that, he was treated with the same kindness as all your other patients. Do you remember telling me that by the time he left the Department that he was “the nicest old man”. I hoped that you would be around if ever I was that man in the future.
I wanted to go home but needed to stay. I needed help and you gave it to me willingly and I am so grateful. When I leaned on the call button accidentally or when I needed extra help, you were there quickly.
Did you know that if you hold your breath you can watch your oxygen “sats” go down and make the alarm go off? The machines beep to tell you when things are going well, and when they are not.
Thank you for letting me use the phone to keep my family informed. It seemed every time you came into my room, I was talking to someone else.
Thank you for letting me go home when you knew that I was still not quite right. I know you worried about whether it was the right decision. Thank you for tolerating that uncertainty.
Nothing in medicine is absolute – it’s all about trade-offs.
As I walked through the Department on the way out, I could not believe the patient load you were facing.
Thank you to the night registrar who, even at the end of his shift, had a smile for me.
Dr Steve Hambleton is a former President of the Federal AMA and AMA Queensland.