I am an NHS GP with a specialist interest in Headache, who works in South London. I have three major passions in my life: exercise (or “training” as we’re supposed to call it now), promoting health and well-being and my family. To be a good and effective GP takes time and life experience: I know that the events in my life have shaped what kind of doctor I have become.
I have always been lucky to be relatively healthy and have never needed to spend any significant time in hospital aside from trips to asses minor sports injuries and one (humiliating) A&E visit during medical school (where my Mum mistook a migraine for meningitis). Aside from migraines, my immediate family had also always been similarly healthy until the Summer of 2012. I was in my second year of being a fully-fledged doctor and I was in my first proper GP placement. I have to admit at the time I hated GP because I was not in a sociable practice: people tended to work in silos isolated from each other and I had next to no support, despite having very little experience of being a doctor. In retrospect the work I was expected to do was alarming given the lack of knowledge I had at that stage of my training. The saving grace was that I was that I was living at home so after hours of isolation (which sounds odd when you spend all day seeing patient after patient) and mentally taxing work, it was wonderful to be able to relax and spend time with my parents.
One night in July, my Mum woke in the night with a bad migraine. This wasn’t particularly unusual: she’d always suffered with bad migraines fairly frequently and wasn’t keen on taking any kind of preventative treatment because she thought they were a sign that she needed to rest so if she got rid of them how would she know something was wrong? She had the usual flashing lights, unbearable pain and panic attack she experienced with her migraines. Unusually though, this one carried on… and on… for 5 days. And she was being sick a lot. On the 5th day I was stumped: I knew I was out of my depth and I told her to call her GP. He visited her and she called me at 2pm saying he’d called an ambulance for her to go to hospital. He thought she’d picked up a stomach bug and was dehydrated. He’d said her blood pressure was low (she said it usually was) and that she had a heart murmur… had she had one before? She had when my sister was born and the scan had shown that everything was fine. He thought it was best she went in for some fluids and to get it checked out and he’d see her in a few days. As soon as she told me she was going to hospital I burst into tears. I was “on-call” that afternoon until 6.30 and one of only two doctors in the surgery. They wouldn’t be happy with me leaving but I knew I couldn’t work while my Mum was in A&E.
When I arrived, my Mum had been taken straight to resus: the bit we always see on casualty where all the “exciting” stuff happens. I knew this meant she was very unwell. My dad and I waited in the relatives room until the nurse came to update us. He told us there’d been some “changes on the ECG”. I cut in, “what changes?” He paused and I explained I was an F2 and he told me there was “ST elevation”: she’d had a heart attack. A bit later the consultant came to talk to us: she’d admitted to some mild aching in her chest when the “migraine” started but put it down to the panic she often felt during an attack. The ECG and blood test confirmed she’d has a massive heart attack 5 days previously. Her organs had started to shut down. Had we thought about resuscitation? This was a massive shock. My sister rushed up from London and we all went to speak to her once they’d finished their tests: hours after she’d arrived. She was very calm and we caught up on the information they’d given us. She told us to take my Dad home because it was far too late for him to be out so we agreed. But could I remember to cancel her massage and hair appointments on Tuesday? Those were the last words she said to me.
This sudden turn of events when I was in my mid-twenties, and, in my opinion, far too young to lose a parent, completely changed my life. For the first time I experienced symptoms of anxiety and panic at very inconvenient times and, looking back, I was definitely depressed for at least a year. This is all normal in the context of what happened. I was determined to take control of my own health and well-being. I didn’t want to feel low any more and I didn’t want to suffer the same heart problems my Mum had either. So I started exercising regularly (sometimes, arguably too regularly)… and I’ve been hooked ever since.
It’s also made me a better doctor. I believe good health is far more than physical health (i.e. the absence of physical illness) but also ties in with emotional and psychological wellbeing; something which can easily be over-looked in an NHS under pressure. Now more than ever, I think it’s vital that people (or “patients”) are empowered. By that I mean have the knowledge and tools to cope with many of the health problems we all face day to day. And that’s why I decided to write a blog…