It’s not that I’ve been ignoring you. Much. It’s just that for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been either at work or asleep. Or else, like most of the rest of Britain, I’ve been glued to my television and the BBC Sport pages, and alarming the cats by bursting into messy tears every time an athlete did something very fast or threw something very far or contorted their legs into positions that defy all possible laws of science.
But mostly, working and sleeping.
After two months off, starting work felt a little like I had gone from zero to Bugatti Veyron in less than sixty seconds.
Last week, I had my first week of long days and worked nearly 64 hours in five days. On a long day, I get into work at 7.30am and go to a morning handover with the Hospital at Night team where I find out if anyone has been sick since I left the hospital at something-to-nine-ish the previous night, and then, I think I’m theoretically supposed to be on for the four wards I cover when I’m on call until their day teams start work at 9am, but I’ve not yet been asked to do anything of an on-call nature in the mornings. I am then the FY1 for my base ward until 4.30pm. At 4.30pm, I go to afternoon handover and I switch from looking after one ward with 32 patients to looking after four wards with 128 patients. I spend the evening doing any outstanding jobs that were handed over to me by the day team and being bleeped to see sick people, do any other jobs that come up, and, on one particular evening, sub for IT helpdesk. I spend a lot of my on-call time climbing stairs. A nice thing that happened as the week went on, as the nursing and auxiliary staff got to know me, was that the phone calls went from, “Excuse me, Doctor, I need…”, and I still haven’t stopped wondering whether people mean someone else when they say that, to “Beth, can you…” This pattern of bleeping-and-climbing-stairs goes on until some time between 8pm and 8.30pm, when I go to evening handover, tell the night team about things that need doing and patients I’m worried about, and then try to escape from the building.
I was completely unprepared for the sheer physical exhaustion of working those sorts of hours. I was fine when I was doing it. I didn’t have time to become aware of how tired I was, I think. But every evening, once I got to handover and stopped moving, I was hit by a wave of exhaustion that was not entirely unlike being hit by a ton of bricks, and if the Somme had been recreated in my back garden on Friday night probably I would have slept through it.
The very wee medical student who was attached to my ward for a kind of clinical taster week made the mistake last Friday afternoon of asking me to explain my shift patterns. I did. I rambled on for what I think was quite a long time, I wasn’t especially coherent, and I eventually screeched to a halt with, “Oh, don’t be alarmed. I really like my job. I’m just really really tired today.” It’s possible that I may have been a little late with the warning to not be alarmed. The poor girl looked horrified.
But the thing is that I really do like my job.
I am very privileged. I get to do a job that I’ve been wanting to do for the last decade and a half, but I get to do it in a nice hospital where nasty consultants are a far rarer sight than nice consultants, where I like and get on with the people I work with, where I feel as if I can ask for help, and where the coffee is plentiful and the nurses feed me chocolate when I go to write up their warfarin prescriptions. I’m also glad, now, that so much of my fourth year was in the middle of nowhere, in places where I got to follow around the FY1s, because it’s meant that I haven’t been taken entirely by surprise by the amount of time I spend on the phone begging medical secretaries to please not put me on hold again. Granted, it’s only two and a half weeks in, but I haven’t yet had to go and cry in a cupboard (and the time I thought about it, my SHO gave me a hug before I got the chance to think too hard).
It’s hard and tiring and often still scary and often horribly sad, and there are a lot of days when I feel as if I’ve got hundreds of tiny balls up in the air and if I take my eyes off them or if someone throws another one I’ll drop the whole lot, but… I love being a doctor. I still don’t really believe that I am one, but I love doing it. I love having a job that I actually want and feel as if I might someday be good. I never have to clock-watch, only to ask myself how it got to be half past three already and to sometimes wish that there could be more hours in the day. And now that I’ve got through the first set without curling up into a ball and dying, I even sort of like my long days, at least in that I feel a little bit more competent at the end of them.
I may feel differently about weekends. My first one of those starts today.