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.

Posted in Careers, Medical, Nursing

Chronicles of a theatre nurse: Chapter One – A day in the life

Ok, so anyone who knows me knows that I have an aversion to seeing myself on film. Photo? Sure. I’ll jump in front of a camera and strike a pose. But live action video? Aghhh. I can’t.

About 2 years ago, one of our anaesthetists asked if I could be in this short film they were doing so that people would know what its like working in our operating theatres – the highs, the lows, the challenges we face and ultimately, why we love it so much. I have to say I’ve never seen this video in its entirety. My boss recently re-posted it as part of a recruitment drive. I cringed at the thought of watching it but its actually quite good. My part in it was “engaging” and you could apparently tell I really enjoy what I do.

If I had to do this video now, would my answers be any different? Probably. Being in education poses a whole new challenge but it also comes with the sweetest rewards. One of my students just got her pin last week making her a qualified practitioner after three long years of hard work. I have another three graduating in October. Two of the staff I helped train for orthopaedics are now doing really well. There’s so much that we’ve achieved as a team and I’m so proud of the work that we do. I have that now on top of the clinical aspects which I do still love. 

Working in theatres is exciting. You never really know what your day is going to be like. You depend a lot on other people because surgery is a team effort. And I like that, I like the camarederie and rapport that comes when team members work regularly with each other. I love that I can have a laugh even when its a stressful day; I love that I’m not facing the challenges alone because I always have a team with me, both clinical- and education-wise.
Enjoy this video, blabbaholics! 

Posted in Careers, Nursing

Blood is thicker than water: things I learned from mentoring my sister

18 months ago, my sister moved to London to work at the same hospital as I do and I could not have been more chuffed. In the months before she arrived, all I could talk about was my sister and how excited I was for her to join us. And when she did arrive, I went around introducing Arlene to anyone and everyone. For weeks every time I see someone the first words out of my mouth would be “have you met my sister?” Now that would be fine if Arlene loved being the center of attention (like her big sister lol) but she’s not: she’s a bit shy and reserved when it comes to people she doesn’t know well and she doesn’t let people in easily (unlike me, who’s Ms Congeniality). Although we share the same interests, we are as different as two people could be.

I’ve been teaching my sister as far back as when she was still studying at uni. I started my teaching career as a clinical instructor in the Philippines and my sister was one of my students. It was awkward as hell, but also a lot of fun. Of course I had to be careful to be professional and impartial, and for the most part I achieved that. It was also good that my sister was not a problem student; in fact I think that while academically I got better grades, skills-wise and clinical-wise my sister is the better nurse. 

But that was school, where I had authority and she HAD to listen to me. Things are not quite the same when you’re colleagues. 

A couple of months ago, we were so short of practitioners for my speciality that it became imperative for me to train and develop a couple of people who had potential, my sister included. Arlene didn’t think she could do orthopaedics and left to her own devices I don’t think she would have made that choice voluntarily. However, I was always of the opinion that my sister doesn’t give herself enough credit; she is capable of anything if she puts her mind to it, all she needs is confidence. And practice. And perhaps someone to nudge her (some people would say I push but WHATEVER). And so started her career in orthopaedics, which, as everyone knows is my second all-consuming passion (career-wise anyway).

Its been an experience mentoring Arlene in orthopaedics. It felt a lot like supporting a child through a piano recital or something. There’s a reason why they call the operating room a “theatre” because it has all the elements of a performance. The surgeons and the scrub nurses put on gowns, gloves and mask (costumes!), there’s music in the background, and for me even after all these years I find it so exciting. I’m lucky enough to be in a speciality that I genuinely love. And I want my sister to love it as much as I do so I guess sometimes I get a little bit overeager. Here are some of the things that I’ve realised over the past couple of weeks working with Arlene.

There will be arguments.

This is unavoidable. Arlene is the quieter of the two of us but don’t let that deceive you. She’s strong willed and she’s got a mind of her own. So when two really strong personalities come together, clashes are inevitable. Yesterday just in the amount of time it takes to prepare for the surgery, at least three arguments and one semi-shouting match may or may not have occured in the prep room. 

I will become a stage mother.

Like I said, its like watching your kid do a piano recital. You get so anxious, and every time they miss something you feel it. You take criticisms against them personally. I have to watch myself constantly from putting too much pressure on my sister. I constantly have to readjust my expectations so that I don’t get too frustrated. Or you know, try to leave her training to someone else and not get too involved because there is NO WAY I can be detached or impartial if its a combination of Arlene and orthopaedics.

Teaching requires commitment. And you gotta love it. 

This is true of anyone I teach, regardless of whether I’m related to them or not. People don’t realise how much of myself I give when I decide to teach or train someone. Sometimes during my free time I find myself thinking of creative ways to get people to learn, or when I see something on the telly or read something from a book I immediately think about whether its something I can apply as an educator. You spend two hours every day on a one-to-one basis with these people trying to support them, giving them feedback and encouragement, helping them improve…it takes a lot out of you. But I can’t really see myself doing anything else. I’ve always loved to teach. That lightbulb moment when someone finally gets it is worth everything to me.

It will be worth it.

This week my sister scrubbed for a total hip replacement on her own for the first time, and she did marvelously. One month ago she was struggling to even understand the concept; as recently as two weeks ago she could barely muster up enthusiasm for the speciality. Last night she was enthusiastic and excited about it; it was the most animated I’ve seen her since we started this. It felt great to be sharing something that I love doing with someone I love.

At the end of the day, we will still be sisters.


There is something to be said for having a colleague who’s also family. You can always rely on unconditional love from a family member, they’re obligated to love you even when you annoy them to death. Blood is always thicker than water. 

To Arlene, I am so proud of everything you’ve achieved and everything you’re still trying to achieve. Love you shob, please continue to cook me dinner. Lol 

Posted in Fundraising, Medical, Nursing

Raising Money For Prostate Cancer Research: A Personal Story

A few months ago, I found out that one of the most important person (if not the most important) in my life had elevated prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels. Being a nurse, my mind immediately leapt to the worst possible conclusion. For those of you who are non-medical, this antigen is usually elevated in people with an enlarged prostate. And the reason for such an enlargement may be benign or it may be indicative of prostate cancer.

I still remember that sinking feeling in my stomach when I found out. I felt like the edges of the world had suddenly gone grey. I could not wrap my head around the idea that this person, who always seemed infallible to me, could be afflicted with the dreaded C word. Yep, 4 years of studying nursing and nearly 10 years of experience and I can’t even bring myself to say the word out loud in relation to someone I love.

The worst thing is being so far away and not being able to be personally involved in caring for him. I wanted to go to every medical check-up (to make sure he actually goes, as he is stubbornly resistant to the idea), to oversee each medication dose and to just know for sure, one way or another, so that we can deal with it. Rationally, I know that it could well be harmless; I mean elevated PSA levels are normal as a man advances in age. But I have always been something of a hypochondriac. Whenever I have a stomachache, I immediately think I’m having appendicitis. My mind just goes there. So I am now living with a certain level of anxiety until someone can tell me for sure that it is not cancer.

Look, I know that things happen. Things change. Nothing lasts forever, everyone has to go some time. But I am not ashamed to say that I’m not ready to live without this person yet okay? We don’t see each other all the time, but knowing he’s there for me to come home to, it keeps me going. Its the reason why I’m able to explore the world, go on adventures, reach for my dreams, because I know that anytime I want I have that to come home to.

This is why when my friend Dengei asked me to help him raise money for his Berlin marathon, I immediately thought of sharing my story. Its deeply personal, and I’m getting emotional writing it. But I also know that I’m able to reach more people if I write from the heart. So, here it is. My friend Dengei is running in Berlin to raise money for Prostate Cancer Research. And knowing that there are people out there who are making strides in looking for a cure, its what keeps me going. The thought that maybe, by raising enough money for research, I could be potentially helping someone I love dearly…its everything.

I wish I could run for it myself, but I’ll probably expire before I get to the finish line. But I’ll hopefully be there to cheer him on when he gets to the finish line. Thank you for doing this denj. I don’t tell you enough how proud I am of the things you do, but I know you know that I am.

If you guys want to help, follow this link. Every little bit helps. Together, we can beat this.