Posted in Covid-19, Current Events, Health and Well-Being, Nursing

It’s Been a Long Year…and It’s Only the Start of May

Sometimes it feels like this lockdown will never end.

Its been roughly six weeks since the UK imposed measures that essentially robbed life of any semblance of normalcy. Since then, we’ve all been trying our damnedest to keep our spirits up even as we become increasingly isolated from our fellow man.

Every day there seems to be new challenges cropping up on social media (like doing 20 press-ups on your instagram story and then challenging five other people to do the same) or an at-home concert organised by one pop star or the other, and what both those things have in common is that it speaks to our inherent need to stay connected even as social distancing becomes the new normal.

I might just be speaking for myself here, but I think this unprecedented crisis has heightened our sense of empathy and compassion for others. All of a sudden the number of people showing support for the NHS and recognising the work that carers do has increased tenfold. Young people now go out of their way to buy groceries for elderly neighbours. Colleagues who don’t normally get along have learned to put their differences aside so they can work together and do what’s best for the department they work for.

Personally, what this pandemic is teaching me, above all else, is that in times of pain and suffering no one is a stranger.

This week another nurse lost the battle to Covid-19, three weeks after his admission to one of the best hospitals in the country. He was my age.

Like me, he was an overseas nurse who left the Philippines to pursue a career in a foreign country, in the hopes that it will lead to a better life for himself and his family.

Like most of my friends, he dreamed of opportunities and adventures the likes of which we never would have experienced if we stayed in the Philippines.

Like tens of thousands of Filipinos before him, he bore the loneliness, the frequent homesickness, and the separation from family because he believed his future laid here, in his adopted country.

When I heard about the story of his death, I cried like a baby.

Despite having plenty of common friends, in every sense of the word this person was a virtual stranger to me. And yet his death affected me to a degree that goes beyond what you would normally feel for someone you didn’t know from Adam.

Maybe his story hit a little too close to home. I don’t want to dwell too much on how his story could so easily be our story, because that kind of thinking is just too morbid to contemplate. But all the same, on the day of his death I said a little prayer for every overseas Filipino nurse I know, and even for those that I don’t.

I’m not really sure how to end this post that has turned out to be more morose than I intended it to be when I first started writing.

I guess I just wanted to say that the longer this goes on, the deeper we may have to dig within ourselves to stay upbeat and positive.

But we can’t let this virus defeat us. I have every hope that this too shall pass, that there is a life waiting on the other side of this pandemic, and that we will all be better, more understanding, and hopefully kinder people for having lived through it.

We owe it to the people who have lost their lives to this virus, and especially to the people who have given their lives in caring for people with this virus, to ensure that we never ever take that life for granted.

Posted in family, friendship, Nursing

Overwhelming acts of kindness

I was going to write a post of all the things I can no longer do because of the coronavirus pandemic, until I realised how shallow, counterproductive and self-indulgent that would be.

I an far luckier than most: young enough that the risk to my personal health is low, a profession that will pay me even if I have to call in sick in the event that I show symptoms, having the means to get treatment, and a home with access to internet and Netflix.

Other people are barely getting by. People who earn daily wages or who have been forced to go on unpaid leave are now wondering how they are going to support their families through this. The elderly population, who are most at risk, face the likelihood that if they get this virus the mortality rate is about 9%. That might seem small on paper, but it converts to thousands of deaths, thousands of lives lost, and one of them could be your loved ones.

Sometimes I read the news and its enough to send me into a spiral of hopelessness and fear. I have trouble sleeping most nights because I keep thinking of my friends, mostly nurses, who are running out of PPE; and my family, scattered all round the world, some of them with limited access to proper health care.

But there are things that keep me going, daily reminders that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that if we all stay calm, sensible and united we will get through this. So rather than indulging in reminiscing about things I can no longer do, or things that I don’t have (or indulging in a nervous breakdown) I’ve decided to make a list of the overwhelming acts of kindness that have seen me through these past couple of weeks:

A chatgroup of fellow nurses and close friends, created initially to plan parties but have now become a place to whine, vent and generally keep each other sane.

A colleague, offering to print and laminate things for me when I seem overwhelmed with the things I need to do at work.

An unexpected ally, telling me I need to be supported because I’m so busy doing teaching, and offering to do my coordinating shifts for me so I can just focus on what I need to do.

My boss telling me to go home early so I can rest and take care of myself.

An unexpected text from a rep I work with closely telling me to stay safe on the frontlines.

An offer from another rep, asking me to let him know if things get too busy so he can deliver food for the staff to eat.

The nightly salutes and tributes to health care workers in France, Spain, Belgium and other parts of Europe.

Daily texts and messages from family and friends telling me and my sister to keep safe.

Pret, Carluccio, Leon and other restaurants offering free drinks and/or 50% discount on all items for NHS staff.

A reply from someone who means so much to me, someone I’ve unintentionally let down and been out of touch with for almost a year, a reconnection that has made my world spin on the right axis again.

And finally, a close friend sending a care package to my parents, who live in a remote area in the Philippines where access to health care and medicine are limited. Thanks to her and her partner, my parents – who own a grocery store and who are staying open so people can still buy essentials like rice and canned goods – will have a supply of masks, Vitamin C, paracetamol and a thermometer. The sheer generosity of it makes me want to cry.

Sometimes you think you’ve never achieved anything great or meaningful in your life, that you’ve made the wrong choices, and have made far too many mistakes. But I don’t know. Somewhere, somehow, I must have done something right, to have people around me that I can count on when the going gets rough.

My only aim today, as I go through yet another day in the hospital, is to pass on the kindness I’ve received. Let’s make love and generosity a pandemic, and may it continue to be so long after the impact of Coronavirus has been forgotten.

Posted in Health and Well-Being, Medical, Nursing

Is it really business as usual?

I sit here having just had several meetings and training sessions to prepare our staff for an outbreak of coronavirus, a day after Italy imposed a lockdown on the entire country, and I find myself feeling more confused than fearful.

On one hand the news coming out from health care professionals in Bergamo and other regions of Italy that were most affected by coronavirus paint a picture of something almost akin to a war zone. It’s scary to think that in 14 days that could be us.

But of course no one really thinks this will happen to us until it happens. The Prime Minister apparently advised the public to just ‘take it on the chin’, other newspapers still say not to panic, its just another strain of the flu; thousands of people die of the flu each year and no one’s ever made a fuss.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum there’s the doomsday proclaimers who are predicting the apocalypse every chance they get, causing mass hysteria and an ongoing panic buying of – of all things – pasta, paracetamol and bloody toilet paper. If you ask these people we might as well give up on any semblance of normal life right now and accept that we will all be stuck in our homes, quarantined, within the fortnight.

I personally think that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I’m glad that I work for an organisation that seems to be taking the risk very seriously and is doing all that could be done to protect patients and staff.

I had a moment where I imagined what life is going to be like if what happened in Italy does happen to the UK. What will it be like when the call to arms is sounded and its all hands on deck because we have more patients than medics?

Its scary to think about the kind of responsibility I will potentially have by virtue of my profession, and that I don’t have the luxury of refusing to come to duty because I want to look out for myself. I will have to take a backseat to my patients, my needs will be secondary to theirs. To be honest with you I’m not sure I have that kind of selflessness in me, I’m not sure whether I won’t have a moment of selfishness where I question why I have to do these things.

But then I think about soldiers going to war for their country, and where we would be if they refused to fight because they’re scared and they want to look out for themselves. They don’t have the luxury to run, and I’m sure they have selfish moments too, but they somehow find the mental fortitude and courage to be on the frontlines of a war, fighting for freedom and fighting for people they love as well as virtual strangers who might not even remember their names when they die.

I know its a morbid thought, but I guess my main point is only that I hope I find that same fortitude and compassion to do my duty anyway, whether I’m willing or not. I don’t think its wrong to reflect on a very real, very human instinct to run away from it all and survive. But I’m hoping that the instinct to care and to help will prevail.

These are not the kind of thoughts I would normally have on a daily basis. There would normally be more people on the Underground, its unusual to find people who are not Asian tourists walking around Oxford Street with masks on. The overarching feeling seems to be that of paranoia. People are actually being stopped on the street. If you look even remotely Asian, random people will suddenly shout ‘Wuhan!’ and be rude to you, as if you’ve single-handedly brought this virus into the country.

Its day one after Italy made the unprecedented decision to lockdown the country, and even in skeptical UK its not business as usual. I suspect it will get worse before it gets better. I’m probably going to write about unfolding events from my personal perspective in the days to come. In the meantime, keep calm, take reasonable precautions, wash your hands and keep safe everyone!

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, Nursing, Self-Discovery, Stress Relief

All In A Day’s Work

The best way to deal with challenging situations is to reflect on them, learn from them, and – in my case – to write about them. So I’m sharing some of the things I’ve learned these past few weeks when work has been difficult, in the hopes that other people out there who – like me – are new to management will know they’re not alone in their experiences.

You cannot please everyone. For every praise you receive, there’s a person waiting in the wings who’s just dying to tell you the many many ways in which you’re screwing things up. I guess the key thing is to learn to compromise, to find the solution that is best for everyone, and to make a decision that you will be able to live with. You are not in the position to care about being liked, the best you can hope for is to be respected.

Friendships at work are a thing of the past. This is something I find incredibly sad, but its the harsh reality that most managers face. They say its lonely at the top, and though I’m not at that level I can only imagine how true that is. Not everyone will be able to accept the fact that you are now their line manager as well as their friend.

Most friendships whose bonds are weak and superficial will not be able to survive professional disagreements, or differences in opinion when it comes to work-related matters.The upshot is that the friendships you do keep, the people who will love and support you even when you give them a notice of improvement for consistently coming to work late, those are the friendships that are worth keeping. Everyone else is not worth losing sleep over.

There will always be people who will try to undermine your position. Whether its colleagues who have mentored you in the past, or people who think you’re too junior or too inexperienced for your role, or simply people who think they can do your job better than you. Standing up to these professional gaslighters is something you’ll have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, and it doesn’t get easier with time.

You will need to dig deep and to really have faith in yourself and your abilities. I’m constantly surrounded by people who back me up when I need it, and seeing the amount of trust they place in me is something that still humbles me every day. But none of that matters if I can’t find the strength to put my foot down, to say ‘no’ when its needed, and to have courage in my convictions. I won’t be able to convince other people that I know what I’m doing until I believe I know what I’m doing.

Human beings are amazingly resilient. We are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for. I never anticipated being able to talk to people who intimidate the shit out of me, or to be able to have these difficult conversations with people at a very senior level. I didn’t even believe I’d be able to control my emotions long enough to survive the shifts from hell, as I’ve started to call them in my mind.

But I did. And I have so much more respect for managers everywhere, and for myself. I think for me, its enough to know that I did the best I could, even if I very nearly had a mental breakdown at the end of it. That’s normal; managers who tell you they don’t experience these occasional bouts of hopelessness are lying. We all go through it.

Its okay to break down in pieces when you’ve had a bad day, but what defines you is how you take those pieces and glue them back together so that you come back to work the next day feeling motivated to do better, to be stronger, and to hopefully do some good in the world in the process. So it doesn’t matter if you drowned a whole bottle of prosecco, or stuffed your face with greasy Chinese food because stress eating is the solution to everything.

Do whatever it takes to make you feel human again, and remember, its just one stressful day at work out of many. Just like every bad thing we’ve ever experienced in our lives, it too shall pass.

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Medical, Nursing

Goodbye, Teacher

My whole life, I have always wanted to become a teacher.

When I was younger, I used to help my brother and sister with their schoolwork, in addition to doing my own. I was the go-to person at school for any classmate who would need extra support or tutoring on any subject.

In addition, just for kicks, my uncles would allot an hour each day for me to help my brother learn to read. For some reason we chose to pick up a hardbound edition of Disney’s Pocahontas, which, in hindsight, may not have been the most appropriate choice for encouraging an 8-year-old boy to read.

I went into Nursing because it was my best shot to get out of the country and try and make a better life for myself abroad. Had I been given a choice, and if the financial rewards were taken out of the equation, I probably would have become a History or English teacher or something.

Anyway, its true what they say that life always has a way of sorting itself out. And all you have to do is not get in the way of it while it does. I graduated Nursing and ended up becoming a Clinical Instructors in my alma mater for two years anyway.

I left that post after two years because I had an opportunity to work abroad as a theatre nurse. But after two years of doing that, I then applied for an education post in my trust and here I’ve been ever since.

This week, I lost a person who started out as a mentor and eventually became a colleague and friend. We both worked together as Clinical Instructors in Velez College, and her passing has made me reflect on what it means to be a good teacher, and what it means to be a good person.

I don’t think both are synonymous with each other, but I also think that they’re not mutually exclusive. Being a good person makes you a better teacher, and learning to be a good teacher will help you learn to become a better person.

There are so many qualities that you need to become a teacher that people don’t think about. There’s the easily definable and measurable qualities like time management and organisational skills, writing skills, the ability to speak eloquently and clearly. You also need a really good grasp of what it is you’re meant to be teaching, be subject matter experts so to speak.

But there are the qualities that are more difficult to quantify, the ones beneath the surface that people don’t always see.

Being a teacher takes a lot of patience. There are moments when I lose the will to live when I have to repeat something over and over again because someone just doesn’t get it. But when you manage to get through even one person who’s been struggling for so long, it feels like more of an achievement than when you teach a class of twenty intelligent people.

Being a teacher requires a lot of compassion. We all learn in different ways, some struggle more than others. I have always felt an affinity for those who need more support than the rest of their peers, for those who feel like they’ll always be a failure no matter what they do. As a teacher, I want them to believe in themselves because, even when I’ve hated my students, I’ve always believed in their potential.

Students and learners just need a little push, for someone to tell them to keep going no matter how many times they have to go to the dean’s office to submit a promissory letter because they’ve once again managed to acquire only the bare minimum grade required to pass a subject. It doesn’t matter. What matters is they did pass.

They need someone who won’t give up on them even when they’ve given up on themselves. I don’t know whether I’ve achieved this or not in the course of my career, but its something that I will continue to aim to do as an educator.

Being  teacher requires courage. I don’t know about my colleagues, but I always feel like I’m putting so much of myself on display whenever I have to get up in front of a class or group of people to present something. I feel intensely vulnerable, and I feel like everyone’s cataloguing all my faults and waiting for me to slip up so they can pounce and take advantage of my moment of weakness.

It takes strength and bravery to put yourself out there, and we do it each and every time because we believe in the payoff. We believe that its worth it. 

This week, our hospital is trying to introduce a new system of care planning as part of our new electronic health records system. The NANDA, or nursing diagnoses, is something that we’ve always taught and drilled into our Velez College students from the time they first step into the wards and care for patients. We have them do it every time they’re on shift; they do an extensive one at the beginning of the month as part of their OPTs and again at the end of the month when they have to do a case study.

I am incredibly pleased that the students we’ve taught as a faculty, who are now working in London, will finally be able to apply their training to the care of actual patients (I don’t know if THEY’RE pleased, because most of them hated the NANDA, but I am! lol).

Moreover, I feel so chuffed that something we implemented as part of their curriculum will now actually give them an advantage leading up to the planned change, and they will be able to support their colleagues who may not be as familiar with the system, in the same way that we supported them when they were students.

It is the best sort of validation for a teacher when she sees the actual fruit of her labours, to realise that she’s helped to equip her students with the tools they need to be globally competitive in the nursing field, and to see students that she’s personally taught become great and responsible nurses.

Ma’am Mira, you are everything that is good in a Velezian, and you exemplify some of the best values that the college has always taught us. I can only hope to be as brave and courageous as you have been when life has knocked you on your feet, and I can only pray to have your optimism and faith in difficult times, and even all the way through to the end.

Rest in peace, we will miss you very much, and this blog is for you. 

 

Posted in Careers, london, Medical, Nursing

Chronicles of a theatre nurse: Chapter Two – Periacetabular Osteotomy and Hip Preservation

I was researching some images and videos over the weekend for a presentation that I had to do at work when I came across this video. Watching it and hearing testimonials from patients that have had their quality of life improved by this procedure really highlights everything about my work that I’m proud of. I also have a blink-and-you’ll-miss appearance on it! 

I’ve worked with Mr. Witt since I started at UCLH . I did his list twice a week every week during my first 18 months and I can really say that he’s one of the best surgeons I’ve ever met. He’s very precise and meticulous about his work. As his nurse, I find his list a challenge to manage because there are so many things to organise. Surgeons are also creatures of habit; they like consistency in the people they work with and they like their tools about them when they do their work. And you can’t really blame them because what they do is so complex, the best ones just make it look easy.

I remember when we did this video and others like it. There are usually surgeons from other hospitals watching, as Mr Witt is one of the few surgeons in London to do this kind of procedure. They called him an actor’s actor because even those surgeons aim to learn from him to improve their own technique. I have to say that I often forget that because of the stress of running his list. I forget how much of a privilege it is to see him in action. This video has reminded me why, even though I do a lot of admin now, I still make it a point to scrub for him when I can.

The procedure itself is incredibly amazing. Watch the video for a better understanding but essentially it aims to help people with developmental dysplasia, a condition in which the ball of your hip does not fully fit into the socket (acetabulum) causing it to displace; eventually these abnormal movements will cause arthritis, pain and later on, the need for a hip replacement using a prostheses.

A hip replacement, as I understand it, is not the best option for young people and that’s where PAO has helped a lot. I think the idea is to prevent the need for a THR later on in life by correcting the problem with the socket. It really is an amazing surgery. Pause it at the part where the scrub nurse is passing instruments and you’ll see me in action! 

This video has filled me with inspiration to tackle the work week again. I will remind myself of this feeling the next time I have to scramble for sets or wear a heavy lead gown for 8 hours. Or the next time someone asks me to call Interserve to turn down temperature in theatres. 😉

For more information about some of the surgeries we do, visit Mr. Witt’s website.