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Poker Face

I have never been good at gambling but over the years I have become an expert at displaying a poker face. Throughout medical school you perfect this and the more senior you become, the more you have to use it.

‘Sir, unfortunately that shadow in your lung is cancer…’

‘I’m sorry but the treatment we have been giving you isn’t working and there is nothing more we can do…’

‘Your husband has had a heart attack and we are doing all we can to try and unblock the artery in his heart that led to this…’

‘When your grandmother wakes up, she will no longer be able to speak or use her arms and legs…’

‘It’s not good news…we couldn’t revive him after 20 minutes of CPR…’

Yes you feel sorrow and helpless but you certainly cannot become attached. It’s all in a day’s work.

Working as a senior doctor in the field of cardiology, I am responsible for dealing with and treating most cardiac emergencies. This is something I love doing but also comes with a lot of responsibility. I am often bleeped to the emergency when my other colleagues have done as much as they can and my expertise are required. When I arrive ‘on scene’ I cannot be stressed, cannot falter for a minute and have to be quick-thinking. All eyes are on me and colleagues await my instructions with immense hope.

‘She can fix this,’ I know they are thinking.

When all eyes are on me, yearning for me to control the situation, the poker face makes it’s entrance. I cannot show panic, worry, stress, despair or grief…emotion. I would then delegate and make various decisions. Do we stop CPR? Is it futile? Do we take them to emergency surgery? Who makes that phone call to the relatives to ask them to come into hospital at 2am and ultimately tells them that their brother, father, husband, grandfather has just passed away? Usually me. And when I am in front of all those loved ones, again, I cannot show panic, distress, guilt, stress. They see the poker face. Yes this is what I signed up for but we don’t all love EVERY aspect of our job do we?

Over the years, I became very good at this but then on January 30th 2016, an angel came into my life and while looking after her, I was able to indulge in a lot of self-reflection.

I reflected on every situation I came across at work, previously I never had the time to. It was as if I was on a very fast train moving from one day to the next while becoming harder inside. Yes I empathized with my patients, discussed outcomes with my colleagues and was complimented on my bedside manner and my way with patients but that crucial time that I needed for myself never came until Alyvia was born. Just as she was learning to smile and cry appropriately, experiencing emotion for the first time, I was also taken back to the raw me.

Every appointment with the health visitor, sleepless night, 24/7 nappy-counting, feed, immunisation appointment and new teeth brought a different emotion. I truly grew as a person and became more connected with my feelings. I had obviously never encountered this before and now that I look back, those times were precious for both of our development.

When I went back to work, I was different…not to the benefit of all my alpha male colleagues/bosses! I was softer and more human. I took the time to understand my patients’ situations outside of the hospital environment much more. Although I thoroughly enjoy my job, this time I looked forward to each ‘emergency’. Don’t get me wrong, my poker face is still present (who wants an injection from a doctor with tremulous hands???) but it is more of a confident, wise and ‘I can handle this, I have two children’ face.

I would like to thank my two little angels who have changed me into the better, more insightful doctor that I am today. I have grown so much internally because of them and no longer think of just the patient in front of me. I picture what their home-life could be. How they would continue their recovery if they had to care for children or others at home? Who could they call to arrange help with the school-run that week? Would they still be able to accompany their child to that music class? I will end this post by saying that parents make the better doctors.

I hope you enjoyed reading this.

Let me know your thoughts




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