Posted in bloggers, Health and Well-Being, Medical

The Weight of the World

In most dystopian/apocalyptic movies there’s always that one person willing to stay behind to detonate a bomb that will obliterate an asteroid into a million pieces, thus delaying the end of the world and ensuring we get to live to die another day.

And then there’s the other guy, the guy who will fight tooth and nail to make sure he has a spot on the last lifeboat so he doesn’t sink with the Titanic, the guy who runs the other way when it looks like shit is going to hit the fan, the one who gets going when the going gets rough.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this as we enter the third week of lockdown. The reality of what we’re experiencing has started to sink in and I would be lying if I said it hasn’t affected me psychologically. I’d feel like a fraud if I tell everyone to stay positive, because that is the complete opposite of what I’m feeling these days.

I’m a nurse and I work for the NHS. Full disclosure, I don’t have the skill set necessary to work on the frontlines in the ITU, but at the moment there are still other health battles being fought out there that are not related to Covid19, such as cancer patients who need surgery to survive, and they too deserve equal care and attention.

That is what our team are focusing on at the moment: ensuring that everyone who needs an operation can still get one done, while on the background the situation with coronavirus gets worse and worse, hard to ignore, and putting added pressure on an already stressful environment.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have never been one to stay on the sidelines. Its not overstating it to say that I have natural leadership abilities. It stems from the desire to be useful, from the need to make a difference.

But I also have extreme control issues. I often find it difficult to see the big picture because I get fixated on the smallest details. I need facts, and I need clear instructions. I like rules, and I like guidelines, because I think the world would be a much better place if we were all singing from the same hymn sheet.

So its not surprising, with all the uncertainty and fluidity going on, that my nerves have been feeling a little frayed. No one can really say what the best course of action is, so things change from one breath to the next and its driving me bonkers. I felt myself to be on the verge of some sort of breakdown last week, and I didn’t know how to deal with it.

In my line of work I am used to being the person in charge, the person people run to when they want someone to make a decision. And normally I would be fine with that, but there is nothing normal about this. I don’t feel equipped to make those decisions. Both as a healthcare professional and as a leader I have never felt more out of my depth than I’ve felt these past couple of weeks.

Every time I had to make a decision, I second guessed myself. It felt like no matter what you do you were doing something wrong. In the space of half an hour you’d have someone complimenting you for a job well done and another telling you that what you’re doing is a complete waste of time and resources.

It got to the point where I thought to myself, I can’t do this anymore. I would rather be the one doing the work than the one calling the shots. It made me realise that we don’t fully appreciate how much of a toll all of this takes on leaders, be it hospital management or government officials.

Its so easy to whinge and point out the flaws in the plan. Its harder when you’re the person people expect to come up with the plan in the first place.

I finally made the choice last week to take a few days off in order to have a little R and R. I spent four days in my living room couch, with a mound of pillows and a wool blanket, creating what my sister called my little “nest”, and having an Agents of Shield marathon. There was an element of denial to what I was doing, focusing on other people and their fictional problems, but I make no apologies for the methods I employ to cope with stress.

And I make no apologies for the box of stuffed crust pepperoni pizza I consumed to make myself feel better.

I guess my point in all of this is to say that sometimes, its okay to be the guy in the movie who’s just doing what he can to survive. Its okay to pass the buck to someone else when you feel like you’re not coping anymore, to say ‘I’m way in over my head here, I don’t know what to do, and I need help.”

Not that I’m urging anyone to be selfish, and I’m not telling anyone to stop doing all they can to make a difference. But what I AM saying is that you don’t need to be a hero, you don’t need to be the person with all the answers ALL THE TIME. No one expects that of you, and you shouldn’t expect it of yourself.

The healthiest thing I did last week was to remind myself that its not all down to me. I need to focus on the things that I have control over and let go of the things that I don’t.

Don’t put the weight of the world on your shoulders. Its bad for your mental health. Leave the heroics to the fictional superheroes of the world. The rest of us just live here, doing what we can, and that’s perfectly fine too.

Posted in bloggers, Careers, dating

Everything I need to know about relationships, I learned from working with surgeons

Disclaimer: below is a work of non-fiction. Any seeming reference or resemblance to persons dead or living are not entirely coincidental, only slightly intentional and should not be held against the author.

Anyone who’s ever watched Grey’s Anatomy would have a working idea of what it must be like to work with surgeons. I wish I could say they were all Derek Sheperd’s, because the NHS would have less staffing problems if they were, but unfortunately they’re not.

Let’s all take a moment to remind ourselves how, in a perfect world, all surgeons should look like. Haha

In fact, I would venture to say that some of them are as far from McDreamy as a person could get.

Surgeons are not the easiest bunch to deal with. Off the top of my head I can name a number of colleagues who can’t stand to be in the same room with them, who find them rude, arrogant, overbearing, impatient, misogynistic and overall unbearable. They have a God complex, some say. While some others are of the opinion that they go to some preparatory course towards the end of their surgical training where they all get instilled with this (erroneous) belief that they’re right all the time.

What do I think of them, you ask?

Personally, I love them. The same way you learn to love your pesky little brother. You’re obligated to tolerate them anyway, and over time that tolerance has turned into something that resembles love (I think). I have spent most of my career working with them and I’ve never met a problem with them that I couldn’t overcome eventually. Which isn’t to say I haven’t had moments where I just want to do things to them that will get me locked away for life, but I tend to get over the urge to inflict bodily harm fairly quickly, all things considered.

One of the people I worked with last week went so far as to suggest that I have become such an expert on dealing with difficult surgeons that any relationship I’m bound to have would be a walk in the park in comparison.

I didn’t realise that my dealings with surgeons have also been a training ground for establishing future relationships, but I thought it would be fun to explore this little analogy. Just what have I learned from my professional life that I can bring into my personal life?

I came up with a list below that might resonate with those of you who make their living in surgical gowns and gloves. I think they actually do apply to all other relationships outside of the operating theatre but see what you think. Lol

  1. Timing is key.
  2. They like to talk about themselves. Use that to your advantage. A little flattery will get you everywhere.
  3. If you do a good job and show loyalty by maintaining a relationship with them, you might get wined and dined once a year (like, at Christmases and birthdays)
  4. Laugh at their jokes, even when its not funny, and even when its at your expense.
  5. Learn their preferences by heart and make an effort to give them what they want.
  6. Anticipate their needs so well that words need not be spoken. In fact, anticipate their needs so well that you give them what they need even if its not what they ask for.
  7. They may deny it, but they like it when you go the extra mile. Don’t do it every time, and not often enough that they take it for granted. But a little extra touch every now and again will always be deeply appreciated.
  8. Suggestions are welcome, but only if you use the right approach. Tip: if you lead with an accusation, an argument, or by listing all the ways in which you think they’re wrong, you will NOT be well-received.
  9. On that note, they are never wrong. To convince them otherwise is an exercise in futility. Even if they do realise they’re wrong, they won’t say it out loud. They’ll say they changed their minds, or have received more information that led them to think that another course of action might be more appropriate (insert eye roll here).
  10. Understand that when they get temperamental and moody and rude, it’s not always personal.
  11. Stress turns even the best of them into monsters.
  12. You don’t always have to believe them when they say ‘send for the next‘. They’re already thinking about the next step, and the next one after that, and the next one after that. Your job is to regulate the flow, and to get them to chill the fuck out, because its a marathon not a sprint.
  13. When they go low, you go high.
  14. A little sense of humour goes a long way.
  15. Choose your battles. Sometimes you win by giving in.
  16. But. If it’s really important, if you feel really strongly about it, challenge them. They need to be challenged sometimes, it keeps them on their toes.
  17. Forgive them, sometimes they know not what they say. They are only men after all.
  18. Always do a Time-Out and a Pause to prevent any irrevocable errors.
  19. There are times when they do get the final say, but you are a vital part of the whole process. They literally cannot operate without you, and they should be sufficiently grateful.
  20. You can only get so far with looks, charm and bullshitting. Its your skill and intelligence that will earn their respect and admiration in the long run.
  21. You have to respect them in turn. Respect their skills and what they can do. Respect them, even when you don’t like them very much.
  22. The best ones are the ones you keep coming back to not because you’re contractually obligated to do so, but because you’ve developed a true bond borne out of multiple years together and a mutual love for Brandon Flowers.

What do you think? Have I just described a relationship, or what?

I sure wish they’d told us in school that theatre nursing was really just an analogy for our love life, I would have paid better attention. Lol.

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Lifestyle

Learning to be more comfortable with criticism

Everyone’s a critic.

One of my greatest fears has always been that of being tried and convicted in the court of public opinion without being given an opportunity to defend myself. I have had unpleasant experiences of this nature before and it was so traumatic that its instilled a deep-seated fear in me of people talking about me behind my back, twisting my words and misinterpreting my actions to use them against me.

I don’t think you’ll ever find anyone who could honestly say they were comfortable with being criticised, especially when the basis for it is founded on false or incomplete information, in which case it becomes a judgment. There are people who are better able to cope with judgment than others, but anyone who claims that they don’t get just the teensy bit upset when they hear other people saying untrue and unfair things about themselves or their work is a liar.

I feel like this is a blog entry that I’ve done before. I feel like I’m singing a remixed version of the same chorus and I seem to be singing it over and over again. For someone so afraid of criticism and judgement you’d think I’d learn by now to keep more of a low profile. After all, the less you do something, or the less you’re seen to do something, the less material people have to talk about you.

Well, sorry, I’m just not a low profile kind of girl.

I’m the kind of girl who wears my heart on my sleeve. I am an open book. I am so transparent I make Casper look corporeal in comparison. I am passionate about the things that I love and I won’t hesitate to talk about them in front of anyone who will listen. This makes me a target for the cynics and the naysayers who have nothing better to do than to bring people down because they think they can do so much better. Spoiler alert: they probably can’t.

I am not going to rehash things that I’ve probably already written about in a previous blog about how hurtful it is to be the object of petty gossip. I will instead focus on affirming my beliefs and setting my intentions for how I am going to cope with criticism, unfair or otherwise, because the nature of what I do guarantees that I will experience this from time to time. So here’s what I know.

  1. Take anything you hear from other people with a pinch of salt. Being somewhat of a gossip myself, I know that the teller will always put his or her own spin on the tale. The version that reaches your ears is vastly different from the original message and some things get lost and added in the retelling.
  2. Amidst the negativity, find something helpful that you can work on. Consider it an extreme form of feedback. After all, everyone’s feelings and opinions are valid and worth listening to. Who knows, office gossip and catty comments might even be a catalyst for positive change. Although, at present, I am not in the mood to be quite as magnanimous as to thank the haters for their hurtful comments. Can I please be allowed to be petty for five more minutes? Thank you.
  3. Resist the temptation to do damage control. Its so so tempting to explain yourself, to justify your actions, to clear your name. I’ve had enough life experiences to know that this will not make the situation any better. All you’ll be doing is adding fuel to the fire. Besides, if they don’t already appreciate your hard work and effort, chances are they never will, so efforts to change their mind is an exercise in futility.
  4. Filter what you let in to your life, choose whose opinions you opt to listen to. Honestly, the thing to ask yourself is whether you should even give credence to the opinions you hear in the first place. Is it coming from people you respect? Is there any truth to the criticisms (if so, see number 2)? Do you really care? Will it matter six months down the line when we’re all running from our lives because there’s been an outbreak of war? Which leads me to point number five.
  5. Life is too short to be pissed off all the time. Honestly, the amount of energy needed to sustain a bad mood is infinitely higher than the energy it takes to just smile, and, in the words of one Taylor Swift, shake it off. And if you can’t shake it off just yet, do what I’m doing now, which is –
  6. Channel all that negative energy into something good. I happen to write better when I’m upset about something. Some of my best work is borne out of my darkest moods. Maybe because when I’m writing about them I open up and make myself vulnerable, and in doing so I’m at my most authentic. Upset? Post a blog, write a song, or better yet, sing your heart out and keep your neighbours up by screaming the bridge of Welcome to The Black Parade at the top of your lungs. I can almost guarantee you’ll feel better.

Let’s be honest here. I will probably spend the next twenty four hours dwelling on the situation and nursing my hurts, but I can promise you that I will have mostly gotten over it by tomorrow. And if you’re in a similar situation or if any of the tips above have resonated with you or if you have other strategies to share that might help others, please comment. I’d love to hear and learn from you.

Cheers.

Posted in bloggers, family, Feminism, Lifestyle, relationships, women

Mind Your Own Business

We live in a society that is ever more conscious about being politically correct. We use gender neutral pronouns, we try and respect other religions as much as our own, we recognise that men and women were created equally and that the latter deserves as much respect as the former. Its an enlightened world where people have rights, they said.

Why then can’t the rest of us who live in this so-called enlightened world not enjoy the right for people (under the guise of concern) to butt out of our business?

One of my friends tweeted a few rules of politeness once, and I have never agreed with a tweet more. It said that one should never ask questions of a sensitive nature unless the other person opens up about it first. These sensitive questions include, but are not limited to, the following:

a. how much they earn in their jobs
b. marital status
c. if married, whether or not they ever plan to have kids
and other questions that are just damn intrusive, nosy and rude.

I personally feel fine and content with my lot in life, but there are a lot of people that struggle with not being able to fit into the mould that hundreds of years worth of tradition has created for us: mother, homemaker, wife. I struggle with it sometimes myself. Its not a very pleasant feeling to sit around a dinner table and have your friends talk about their respective partners and all you’re able to contribute was your latest trip to Croatia.

I get so angry about it sometimes. When people get together its like there’s a list of questions that they have to tick off to assure themselves that they’ve had a proper catch-up. Real friends don’t do that. Real friends catch up to listen and offer support. The people you should keep in your lives will not make you feel any less of a person just because the trajectory of your life happens to be different from theirs. I am eternally grateful that I still have a handful of those friends who, regardless of the fact that at most parties I am the only one not carrying a baby carriage, make me feel proud of everything else I’ve accomplished anyway. You guys know who you are.

The point is that the world has no right to your heart, to paraphrase a line from the brilliant song ‘Burn‘ from the musical ‘Hamilton’. The world has no right to your struggles, it does not get to judge you. No one gets to define or limit who you are especially if they can’t get past their own narrow worldview to remember that you are a person first. Not a girlfriend, a wife, or a mother. You are you: and that has, is and should always be enough.

Posted in bloggers, Celebrities, london, Medical, Movies

A Day in The Life of a Wannabe Film Star

Lights. Camera. Action.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to work with the crew at BBC to do some test shots on a documentary that they’re planning to pitch to Netflix. The idea is to go into operating theatres around the world and follow surgeons around to give viewers some insight of what they see and go through on a daily basis. Needless to say, they needed the perspective of a subject matter expert, which I just happen to be.

The production team emailed us to say that call time was at 8am, far too early to be out of bed on a Saturday morning when you’ve been drinking the night before, but what do you do when the promise of fame awaits? My friend (another subject matter expert) and I arrived at the mock operating theatre to find it mostly empty because the crew were still figuring out how to get all their fancy expensive equipment into the building.

So, just like Robert Downey Jr probably does when he’s on the set for a Marvel Film, we said we were going to get coffee and breakfast and asked them to please give us a ring when they were ready for us. Only, unlike RDJ, we actually had to pay for our coffee and breakfast.

Around 9am we got back to the “set” and met the producers, our director, and the very intimidating director of photography. We also met the. man who designed and made the body we were going to pretend to be operating on for the day, a body that was an eerily accurate and anatomically correct replica I might add.

We got into our costumes. I say that as if this was a special moment but what it actually entailed was putting on scrub suits and caps, the same thing we do day in and day out for work. The other extras (production managers who got roped into playing some of the roles because they didn’t have the budget as yet for real actors) got a huge kick out of it though, and they were really chuffed at the thought of being part of the surgical team for the day. It came as no surprise to me when they admitted to being huge fans of Grey’s Anatomy.

Thank you Shonda Rhimes for single-handedly making our profession more attractive than it probably is.

We didn’t get a script so my friend and I sort of had to make things up as we went along. He had the starring role because I volunteered to be the nurse, so he ended up playing the surgeon. They took lots of shots of him walking in corridors, gazing at the horizon and scrubbing up. I spent a lot of time tweeting and facebooking the entire experience while I waited for my five minutes of screen time.

I imagined that was how Jeremy ‘Hawkeye’ Renner probably felt on the set of the Avengers movies, constantly waiting for them to finish capturing yet another shot of Captain America and his shield. Lol.

I have to say, from watching behind-the-scenes footage and documentaries, I already had the vague impression of the amount of hard work that goes into making any kind of tv episode or feature length film. I mean, the Game of Thrones crew subjected themselves to doing 55 night shifts just to give us the Battle of Winterfell.

Talk about dedication. I’ve done night shifts and at the end of three nights you almost start to lose your sense of self. I really could not imagine doing 55 of them. I don’t care if I get to work with Jon Snow or dragons, night shifts are brutal.

The cameramen, the grips, the lighting director and all the rest of the people who are basically in charge of making the actors look good really are the unsung heroes of the film industry. I’ve seen a small sliver of the precision and attention to detail that goes into making these things and I was very impressed. A bit annoyed that they were nitpicking over each and every shot so much that we overran by about an hour, but impressed nonetheless.

Every shot had to be perfect and stylised. It took about ten takes just to shoot a sequence of Russel washing his hands, and another ten of me dropping a scalpel into a kidney dish. They were using lingo that I didn’t really understand, talking about how the shot needs to be sharp and the camera needs to be slanted and they needed more than a thousand frames – they might as well have been talking Latin for all I knew.

There was also a bit of tension and drama. Artistic people have an artistic temperament. Also, put a bunch of perfectionists in the room and you will inevitably end up with an argument or two, but its the kind of professional bickering that leads to something productive.

I didn’t realise how drained I was until the director finally said “Cut!” on that lost shot and I realised we were done for the day. I wasn’t even really acting, just miming something I did and have done for so long now that I can probably do it in my sleep. Can you imagine having to shoot an emotional scene, (or a love scene! lol) over and over again because the lighting was wrong or the director didn’t get the angle he wanted? I don’t know how actors do it.

We packed up, said our goodbyes to the crew, and made our way to Leicester Square and ended our short-lived stint in the entertainment industry over Chinese food. We looked back on the day and laughed over the experience. It was a glimpse into a world that is beyond our reach, a taste of what life would have been like if we’d been blessed with the self-confidence and talent of a movie star.

We came to the conclusion that there was a reason why we weren’t Hollywood stars, and we had better stick to our day jobs.

So, that’s a wrap on Angela the actress, folks. Thank you BBC for the experience and good luck on the documentary!

Posted in bloggers, Health and Well-Being, Nursing

The Battle Against Genetics

A couple of months ago, after having a few sleepless nights where I was convinced I was having a myocardial infarction (heart attack) I finally decided to just get it over with and have a full cardiac check-up to find out what’s really going on. I went to my GP and to nobody’s surprise, my blood pressure was elevated.

He had me monitor my home blood pressure for a week, and sent me to all these tests that would basically rule out other underlying conditions that might be causing the high blood pressure. I was simultaneously relieved to be actively taking steps to get to the bottom of this condition and terrified at the thought of what they might find.

I was breaking out in cold sweats while they took an ECG and blood tests and kidney scans and all the other investigations that needed to be done to come up with a diagnosis. At the end of the day it all turned out to be normal and essentially what I had was a case of stage one primary hypertension. No big deal, let’s get you on medications that you’ll have to take for the rest of your life, thank you, next patient please.

I tried to treat the diagnosis and subsequent treatment as a kind of joke, and God knows it must seem funny to other people for someone who’s relatively young to be on maintenance medications. But underneath the humour and the bluster, there was a real sense of shame. I feel like I’ve somehow failed, like I’ve lost a battle that I’ve been fighting my entire adult life.

You see, my family has a history of heart disease. Its one of the reasons why I’m so paranoid about it. Every single person in my family has taken or is currently on cardiac medication in one form or another. My father, aunts and uncles are all on different kinds of anti-hypertensives. This is the future that I’ve always known I had to look forward to.

I remember having a blood check at 21 and discovering my cholesterol levels were elevated. I mean, I love to eat and I know my sweet tooth will probably be the death of me, but I remember looking at my friends who consume food by the buckets and finding out when they had their cholesterol check that it was all normal…and I felt betrayed by own DNA.

Like how is it fair that a woman who weighs at least 20 pounds more than I do, and who doesn’t obsessively watch their weight or think about what they eat, would have normal triglyceride and LDL levels? LDL is the bad cholesterol by the way.

Anyway, long story short, it was a rude awakening to the fact that you can try to modify your lifestyle all you want but there’s always going to be a risk that your genes will get the better of you.

I suppose it doesn’t help that I eat when I’m stressed and I feel like I’ve been perpetually stressed (and therefore stress-eating) since I was 19.

Anyway, I found it hard to accept and talk about this change in the first few weeks after the diagnosis. Like I said, there was shame and there was also the fear of judgment from other people who might think, serves you right for not dieting and exercising enough. This wasn’t all unfounded by the way; the nurses and GPs I met at the clinic all made some kind of comment that implied this was somehow all my fault.

And in a way I suppose it is. I mean, you can’t blame genetics for everything. Your genes will predispose you to a certain condition but there are ways to actively prevent it from coming to fruition. I am now paying for years and years worth of neglect and lack of respect for my body.

I suppose that’s why I’m sharing my story. Its a cautionary tale against being blasé about your health as well as a message of encouragement to eat healthy and stay active.

Don’t let a future of anti-hypertensives become part of your narrative. It might be too late for me at this point but its not too late for you or for people you know. Stay healthy. Be strong. Live well.

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Self-Discovery

The Illusion of Power

I’ve heard it said that power rests best in the hands of people who never sought to gain it in the first place.

When you move up to a position where you have authority over people, its easy to forget that with that authority and power comes the responsibility to always look out for the well-being of those under your care.

Its very easy to succumb to the mentality that people are there to follow your every order, to bow to your whims, and to be subordinate in every way short of fetching you tea and biscuits.

When you feed this mentality, it gives you a false sense of pride – and we all know this cometh before the fall.

Part of that is because pride gets in the way of you being able to listen to people around you. Pride also makes it difficult for you to accept feedback, and to accept the fact that you don’t know everything and you’re not always right.

The knee-jerk reaction to being questioned is to become defensive. But actually, having your decisions questioned should not feel like an attack. I’ve actually come to look at it as like a safety net, because I know someone is there to check my actions and to make sure I don’t make the mistake of implementing things that could go horribly wrong.

I guess its hard finding that balance between asserting your authority to make sure people know to respect you, and not overly elevating yourself above the people whose respect you seek.

Respect comes from people knowing you’re there for them, that you’ll be fair and compromise when the situation calls for it but that you also have the balls to make the tough decisions when the going gets rough.

I think having the respect of your team is where your true source of power lies, and its something so precious and something that takes ages to cultivate that you never want to do anything to jeopardise that.

I suppose I just need to remind myself that being in power doesn’t give anyone license to be an autocratic bitch. The idea that authority gives you power which then means you can do whatever you want is an illusion that you should nip in the bud lest it comes back to haunt you.

A little humility goes a long way.

Stay grounded. Stay humble.