2 years and 2 months later, 17 months spent bedbound in hospital, too much blood, sweat and tears to even comprehend (even in the literal sense – through the 7 bouts of sepsis, multiple surgeries, intensive care admissions, the sleepless and suicidal nights of crying, genuinely believing I’d never make it back to where I was), I can finally say the words I never thought I’d ever be able to say again: “I am going back to Medical School”.
The honest truth? I’ve written, erased, and rewritten this blog post over and over again, trying to string out the right words to express how this all feels, through the biggest lump in the throat, the tears, and the need to keep pinching myself with the reminder that this is now my reality – a relieving and overwhelmingly weightless, new reality. I’ve been given the second chance to continue chasing my biggest dream.
I can still remember my last day of Medical School, though it was never meant to be the last. It was early March 2022. I had been called into a big meeting room for a morning briefing with the other doctors and nurses working on the Children’s Assessment Unit (CAU). The unit was about to escalate its protocols and we were expected to get very busy. All medical students were sent home. As I walked back out to go home, merely an hour after arriving, the rain was falling in a slow-motion drizzle of sleet. Hospital staff dressed head to toe in hazard suits, masks and gloves, hovered outside the Emergency Department, where lines of fluorescent ‘Do Not Enter’ tape fluttered in the icy wind outside the door. I had never seen this before. Something felt eerie, and near-coming. That was the last time I saw the hospital, where I lived and learnt as a medical student, for a very long time. The next time I’d see it would be when I was admitted, as a patient, collapsed and unconscious outside that very same door, and where I’d spend the next 17 months lying in a hospital bed; my life then changing, forever.
2020 marked the start of my hellish journey, and a hellish journey it was for so many, but for me it meant a bunch of new, life-changing diagnoses, a kind of sentence that would mean everything changing, nothing ever being the same again. It was also a year where Christmas and New Year were seen through a tired and painful fog from the hospital bed, barely being able to keep my eyes open, testing positive for COVID-19 just before the year’s end, which then had me developing blood clots and pulmonary embolisms, seeing death on our wards like I had never seen before.
The start of 2021 saw me seeing through my birthday, too poorly to care, and unable to see my own family whom I’d been unable to see or hug for many months. I developed more blood clots, more bouts of sepsis, until TPN was no longer working, and I was thrown into the bricks of another dead end. It saw me making the 160 mile transfer trip via ambulance to the next hospital, where I would spend many more months. I underwent surgeries for feeding tubes, venting tubes, and a suprapubic catheter. I would continue intensive physiotherapy which would enable me to spend a month at home, with my new puppy and best friend, cared for by the community teams and district nurses, from my specially-adapted hospital-at-home bed, in the downstairs dining room which had now been converted into my new hospital-at-home. But, despite the respite and lease of ‘new life’, hence the hopes of returning to my old self and old goals, I folded in, feeling worn and disgusted by own body’s defeat, spending another three months back bedridden in hospital, only then to experience the most traumatising 6 peri-arrests, more pain that not even a syringe driver could control, and corrective surgeries.
And then there was 2022. I was determined this was going to be the year everything went back to normal, where everything got better and by some small miracle, my luck would be on the up. But it only plunged downhill, and all very steeply. I had been left again, slipped from any system of follow-up or overseeing care. What was once a passion and devotion, turned into a hatred and deep resentment for the NHS – our country’s most treasured achievement. I despised of how everything had turned out, how I had been treated (or not treated), I avoided everything healthcare-related, and developed a phobia and adamant avoidance of all hospitals and doctors. I was struggling, both physically and mentally, yet it was impossible to find help – I felt like the world had stopped caring for me, so I stopped caring for myself. The trauma of my experiences, and the gaslighting, of everything I had somehow still walked away from, had me hiding myself away, lonely yet not wanting to see other people. My health was still so messed up, perhaps something that I hadn’t yet accepted would always be, but I had no goal, no objective, no reason to wake up each morning. I didn’t want to be here anymore…
And then, somehow, sometime, something just clicked. Maybe it was the smallest of miracles from somewhere or about, but I knew only I could change things – if I wanted to move forwards, if I wanted answers and to be able to see my goals and dreams in sight again, I had to act, I had to push for it. And I had to believe. And hence here we are. Having climbed out of the rubble from the very real prospects of being out of medical school forever, I have finally, finally, been given the confirmation that I can come back. And it is all still so surreal.
But how long left, might you ask? I’ve asked myself that question far too many times. I was supposed to qualify as a Doctor in the summer of 2021. My dreams and hard work were supposed to pay off, in the summer of 2021. I was supposed to graduate alongside all my friends, and go onto start new chapters and new career prospects in new, exciting places, elsewhere. The world was supposed to carry on spinning just how I had planned it, in the summer of 2021. But not everything happens in the scope of time we wish for. Not everything is ‘supposed’ to happen as it seems on the tin. And sometimes, it doesn’t happen at all. But isn’t sometimes better than never?
On the very day I was supposed to be graduating with my other medic friends, I was sprawled out on the cold hospital floor. After so many months of being unable to sit up, I wanted to get into my wheelchair, leave the ward, and see the world. But I had collapsed. I was septic, again. I was seizing and vomiting. I was confused and in pain. And I was crying. I was crying because I had that sudden realisation that this wasn’t where I was supposed to be – not when I was supposed to be outside throwing a black mortarboard hat into the blue sky, stethoscope round my neck (well, not at the same time, obviously), laughing and celebrating with my loved ones by my side. Just one more year, I sobbed to myself. This time, it’ll have to wait, but next time, I will make it happen, I sobbed again.
The greatest, and most relevant, words of wisdom applicable to this point in my journey now is that setback does not mean failure. Soon to be one more year on, I will miss out on yet another meant-to-be graduation. Yet another cohort of medical school friends will soon go off and become newly-qualified doctors in all parts of the country. And me? I will still be in the very same place, now with 2 years left to complete. It’s not what I wanted, and it’s what I feared most. But, after a great deal of thought, reflection, and desperately trying to justify everything, I realised that ‘setback’ has a different definition for every one of us, and those setbacks are unique to all of our own, personal journeys. So, when I fret and regret, and feel small and disheartened by the thought of ‘falling behind’, being ‘left behind’, I now just remind myself that life is not a race, and thus, there is no such thing as falling behind. How? Why? There is no such thing as falling behind because nobody is following you, and you are not following anybody else. The journey is yours, and yours only, where the track is not built for a life-race, because nobody is ever in the same lane.
It’s so hard to see and recognise your own progress when it is only natural to compare with others on the same, or similar, track to you. Instead of focusing on the small but significant milestones, you still wonder otherwise, wishing you were there instead of here, wanting those things now, and not ‘in time’, always sad and regretful for what you don’t have, rather than feeling happy and grateful for what you do have. And that is completely understandable, and a natural way of feeling, as humans who always strive to be better, feel better, and do better, adamant and determined not to divert when time isn’t necessarily on our side. But surely, if that’s the mindset, and there’s a goal, starting again is always better than never finishing, don’t you think? I certainly do.
There will be many components that I have just had to accept will need repeating. It has taken me a great deal of time to accept that yes, my journey now will take longer than I had first hoped, longer than others’, longer than it could’ve been. It has, after all, been so long since I was last ‘that medical student’, that it only seems the right, and best thing, to do, if I want to go back into this with all the confidence, motivation, yearn, and passion that once made me, me. And, besides the brutal truth, I know this will be hard, perhaps even the hardest leg of this entire journey altogether – I will have to learn to deal with the trauma of my own experiences, revisiting the very places I once lay when I had no control of my own future, the work and catch-up, the relearning of how to learn, how to sit at a desk and study, how to take histories and examinations of patients – very real people with very real health problems, now back in my hands as the one with responsibility. I am daunted, I am scared, I am completely and utterly apprehensive. But I am also overjoyed, excited, thankful, and overwhelmingly relieved that, by that small miracle I once sobbed out for, I am able to start over. Because we don’t always get the opportunity when our dreams are so big, and ambitious.
And of course, it comes with an angle of reality that comes at a higher price, and sacrifice. Now 2 years behind my original cohort, I am going back into this with no friends, knowing nobody, my brain and body a timid, unfamiliar sieve (Covid-brain perhaps?). In reality, I am completely unprepared and oblivious to the hard work that is coming up ahead. I am drowning in the stress of financial implications, now adding another 2 years on, playing fire with unsteady finances and hence my accommodation status uncertain and unsecure. And then that financial burden comes with another real question of ‘will I even make it to the end?’. That is, if this is the final home stretch to the end. I know that I am going back into this mammoth journey very alone, but knowing there is still a fire in my heart somewhat, somehow, I’m fine with it being just me, and I, and that one big dream ahead of me – to return to Medical School, and qualify as a Doctor, once and for all.
If anything, this entire diversion in my Medicine journey has taught me more than I would ever have learnt if I had just driven straight through on the career road. It has made me more appreciative of life, given that so gratefully I am still able to say ‘I am here’, and ‘I’m living this’. It has reaffirmed to me that things do come together in time, that everything does happen for a reason, and that things do work out for the best, if you keep pushing, persevering, and believing in yourself and your dream. And, if any of my experiences from these past 2 hellish years, any, helps one of my future patients, whether that be through the empathy and understanding I can provide, the ability to relate, the ability to be compassionate and to reassure, then it’ll make this hell-ride my greatest, most valuable lesson, and all completely worth it, and worth the wait.
So here’s to my new chapter. I can’t promise, given the recent record, that it’ll be a smooth ride, without its pitstops or bumps in the road, but I’m on the move again nonetheless, and I’m excited for the challenges that’ll come with this leg of the journey. Into this new chapter, I will still bring along the ‘old me’ – because the old me, though hurt and bruised, holds the fort for my old skills, old confidence, old goals, all to help build back up the new me – Alexandra Adams, the 4th year medical student, for the another time round.
I’m going back to Medical School.