I met Regina Holliday a while back at one of the many conferences that she attends:
At this conference she was there to present and was also creating a painting. Her reputation had preceded her and I was excited to meet her in person and hear her story first hand. I had seen some jackets at conferences and had discovered the story behind the Walking Gallery. An idea that came from a tragic story in a healthcare system that is broken
Back in 2011 a video was made featuring many from the gallery filmed at the Kaiser Permanente Total Health Center:
You can see her presentation on Slideshare here:
But there is nothing that could match the power of hearing this in person.
Regina offered to paint my story and it was months before I could pull together some photographs and sit down to articulate my personal journey in healthcare but that all came together a few weeks ago, almost in time for another walking gallery gathering. With so much going on Regina knew what she was going to paint but had not (as the picture shows)
managed to download it quite yet
My journey to medical school and joining an honorable and privileged profession started when I was still at school and I remember the seminal moment that made me realize this was the pathway I wanted to take:
I was visiting my older brother in London we exited from Victoria rail station just as somebody had been run over by a bus. I watched as my brother pushed his way to the front of the crowd and he stooped own while very one watched – he was a doctor and knew what to do. As I stood on the sidelines watching I realized that I want to be doing rather than watching
I was a very young medical student and while I enjoyed medical school there was no doubting the fact that I was dealing with something that was really quite unique and challenging emotionally. Life and death was part of normal clinical activities and shortly after my 22 birthday I graduated
I have been heard to joke that the TV Series Doogie Howser was modeled on me as that was some years later – he was also the original blogger.
Running Out of Time
Practicing medicine in the United Kingdom in the national health service which while delivering great care placed an enormous burden on the people delivering that care. The environment was challenging, especially for a young junior doctor and I found myself questioning what I’d let myself in for. My first clinical job I worked 132 hours per week, I had Tuesday and Thursday evening off. At the time, that was the norm and all of my colleagues had the same work schedule as I did and I noticed that my senior colleagues not only had that working schedule but also took on more clinical responsibility. My weekends were hellacious, waking up on Friday morning and not finishing until Monday evening. I shared the work with a colleague and friend by the name of Niamh Anson. We would share the on-call work and split the activities, with one of us covering wards and the other covering the emergency department admissions.
The constant and chronic sleep deprivation took its toll and I repeatedly questioned the job I was doing and indeed whether I was even safe. The nurses proved to be our saving grace and several occasions when we made mistakes through simple tiredness they caught these mistakes and quietly corrected or prevented our errors. I don’t remember a single time of being on call when I wasn’t up most of the night and typically at leas every hour. Rarely did this not require a visit to either the ward or the emergency department. Many the time, I would walk from my living quarters to the emergency department angry at the system that would place such a burden on anyone and wondering if there was something wrong with me.
On one particular day my two team members were not at the hospital. Niamh was on holiday, one which had been booked many weeks ago but as is normally the case medical staffing had failed as usual to find replacement. By two in the afternoon, the emergency department had 17 patients waiting to be seen by me, there was a patient in intensive care on a ventilator that was having problems, and the cardiac care unit had a patient that was having a lignocaine reaction. I reached breaking point and called medical staffing, and told them I was quitting. Their reaction, humorous in hindsight but at the time not, was to tell me that my contract did not allow for me to quit. Fortunately the ward sister from the cardiac care unit intervened and quietly called my two attending’s. The next thing I knew I received a call from one of them asking me to meet him in the emergency department. I thought my career was over and proceeded down to meet him expecting to be blasted and read the riot act. I was pleasantly surprised to find my two consultants there stuck into seeing patients and helping me out. One of them admitted all of the patients in the ED department while the other dealt with the patient on the intensive care unit in the coronary care unit.
Between us we were able to triage and treat all the patients by the end of the afternoon. Even now as I think back to that story I still find myself quite emotional about the experience and support from two outstanding individuals. They rounded it out by insisting that we went to the local pub for a drink (non-alcholic of course) and listened to me and provided counsel and support.
Sadly they were not typical of the senior staff in the health system and most took the view that they had suffered this level of overwork and therefore everybody else should experience the same. This was a recurring theme throughout my time as a clinician and I found most disturbing and many times very depressing.
I remember vividly one instance where the attending surgeon I was working for heard that I was taking a sabbatical and thinking about leaving medicine. He started by saying that I was terrible shame, and I thought he was about to offer some guidance/support and thoughts about where the system is wrong and how I might cope with it. Sadly he proved to be similar to many of his colleagues and peers and felt that the system was wrong in allowing me into medical school. The system should of been better at weeding me out since there was clearly something wrong with me not with the system. He like many of his peers believed the baptism by fire, sleep deprivation and the general demeaning of junior doctors was an essential part of training and character building. As he put it, he had experienced this in his junior doctor days and he’d survived and done fine. What he failed to appreciate was that at the time he was practicing as a junior doctor, emergency call was typically a Porter coming to his door knocking on his door to tell him that somebody was “going off” and leaving a cup of tea for him. He would dress himself, drink his tea and proceed to the ward, where the patient had either died or survived, but there was very little that he could do to influence the outcome. My experience consisted of being surgically attached to an emergency page that would bark out at me at all hours, telling me to go to a ward or location in the hospital for an emergency resuscitation the could take anywhere from five – 60 minutes.
My friend and colleague Niamh Anson
had many of the same experiences and like several of my colleagues elected to move away from the system leaving the NHS for Australia, perhaps hoping that this system would be more bearable. Sadly some years later she committed suicide as too many of my colleagues and friends do.
So my Walking Gallery Jacket:
As Regina described the picture:
In what can only be described as a “stroke of luck” the painting of my jacket was caught on Fox 5 News doing a piece on the Walking Gallery (right around 00:24 -> 00:50 and around 01:28):
My jacket coming at number 227 – I hope we get all of these together one day.
Like everyone else – I too have an oath to wear my jacket and use it as a tool to spread the word and effect change:
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