The Health Conversation, Chapter 3: What is Health?

What is Health?

“Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have” [Winston Churchill]

Health is individual. It’s also a chameleon, constantly changing its appearance as we move through our lives. And for these reasons, my health is most certainly different to your health; that’s not only in terms of our interpretation of what health personally means to us but also of its current state and its future state. So with so much variability you may begin to realise that it’s pretty bloody hard to define. Of course, by define, I don’t mean the textbook definition – I mean to define to you.

With all that in mid, what I want to attempt is to help build a really simple four pillar building in your mind. The four pillars represent physical health, psychological health, social health, and spiritual health. Try and picture this building. Each pillar is an equally important structural component to support that roof which is called ‘total health’. Without a weak pillar, the roof collapses.

Pillar One: Physical Health

I thought we should start with the most obvious, yes? Now I tend to think of physical health as referring to the health of our physical make-up. That’s from your skin, to your internal organs, to the millions of cells that exist within our body. These all work in an awe-inspiring dynamic, ever-changing, ever-adjusting synergy that allows us to manage the environment we exist in. Not only that but it helps to manage what, we ourselves, do to our body from the food we decide to consume to the illness we acquire or injuries we sustain. It is often the component of health we all most readily associate being ‘healthy’ with. It is also the one that we positively associate with being able to function in society with. What I’ll show you next is that you can achieve an even more brilliant feeling of total health when you refocus on the three other pillars of your building.

Pillar Two: Psychological Health

Now because I felt that psychological health, or mental health if you prefer, is often the elephant in the room when in comes to health, I wanted to introduce you to a formal definition by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO state mental health as a subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, intergenerational dependence, and self-actualisation of one’s intellectual and emotional potential, among others. Bit wordy isn’t it. Basically it is a sensation of feeling good about life and positively engaging without yourself and those around you. And you know our psychological health is such an unbelievably important pillar to our total health roof. I say this in the context of a society where subclinical and clinical depression is on the rise, and life dissatisfaction, stress and apathy permeates at all levels. We all deserve a state of psychological wellbeing where we are not only free of mental disorder and disability but also free of unacceptable levels of stress in our life. It is crucial to allowing ourselves to have good, balanced total health.

Pillar Three: Social Health

We are social creatures. Now yes while, it is true that some are (much) more social than others, craving the limelight and social butterfly status, we all to a greater or lesser degree want to socialise. It is, as I am sure you will agree, an incredibly important and powerful component to our total health; to live in isolation without social contact has been shown to be detrimental to your overall health. After all, no man is an island. We are happier when we socialise, when we engage with people, when we laugh, and off-load stories and stresses. In the process treat and alleviate many burdening psychological health problems we may have and stop them from pathologically growing from seed into some horrible venus flytrap, eating away at our health. Friends are the best medicine. This pillar is being powerfully affected by modern life. While many of us may argue we have fantastic social access (although concerning this is increasingly ‘online’), we are also seeing an elderly generation facing years of increasing isolation and loneliness. This is an unresolved and emerging tragedy that we must tackle.

Pillar Four: Spiritual Health

This for me is the one pillar of my building that I am still in desperate need to use and learn about more. I tell you that because I think it’s pretty ignorant and unfair of me to jump on my literary soap box (I don’t think that the literary scholars will be hailing The Health Conversation as the read of the decade somehow!) and state how important spiritual health is when I am still learning to appreciate it more myself! Spiritual health will mean different things to different people. To be honest with you, I’m not even that sure how to define it. Then again, it’s like Louis Armstrong said, “Man, if you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know”, and so perhaps it’s not possible to properly define spiritual health. You just know it when you have it. So with that in mind, you may knowingly have it in your life already, or after reading this realise that you unknowingly had it in your life. Perhaps however, this is entirely new. So what could spiritual health mean? Religion? Possibly. Mindfulness? Could be. Or meditation and spiritualism? Maybe. In fact I guess that it could be any connection you have with an outside force or being that is in some way linked to religion or a spiritual way of life. People often associate its importance with when at the end of their lives but I am increasingly seeing its value through every stage of our lives as a key element to attain total health.

So what influences all of these different components of health? Well, to be honest, you know the answer already. Go on, think. I bet if you had a piece of paper and pen, you could right down a list of things in your life that influence the four components of your health. Broadly speaking we can divide them into internal and external factors. The internal factors pertain to what happens to your body naturally without your active engagement. The external factors pertain to what we do to our body and how it then reacts. These, as you might guess, are the more problematic issues like smoking, calorie rich diets, no exercise, sedentary living (yes that is a different problem from no exercise) and excess alcohol consumption. But we won’t dwell on these here as we’ll talk about these later. All I want you take away is the concept that there are four pillars to your health: physical, psychological, social and spiritual. To achieve the best possible roof that holds your total health, you need to pay attention to all four pillars. Equally.


Chapter 4 of the Health Conversation will be posted next week!

Dr Nick Knight @DrNickKnight

THE HEALTH CONVERSATION: Chapter 2 – Modern Living and Health De-Railers

Modern Living

“Unlimited choice is paralysing” [Susan Orlean]

There’s no doubt that modern living is pretty damn good. We are overloaded with a glorious abundance of choice and opportunity that excites and motivates many of us. What I want to highlight here in this chapter is that perhaps, just perhaps, the living has gotten a smidgen too good. We now have too much choice and too much opportunity. As a result, a number of problems (often related to our lifestyle) have crept-up upon us in the cold light of day with outrageous brazenness and are now systematically de-railing our health. After much self-debate, scribbling and whisky, I have narrowed down my top 5 health de-railers.

Health De-Railer One: We Hurry but Go Nowhere

Life has gotten significantly more fast-paced. We want financial security and cash faster, satisfying calorie-rich food faster, success in work faster and attention faster. It seems to have crept up insidiously over the past 50 years and transformed the way we perceive life and its now infinite possibilities. The ongoing technological revolutions have of course happily fuelled this desire for the ‘instant’. As a result, life, for many, is now an online process. We shop online, date online, work online, communicate online and socialise online. While some of you may think this is great news, please, please do think again. This online life and desire for the instant now means that for many of us, our lives are spent sitting on our fat-laden bums providing a suitable cushion tapping away at our keyboard or smart phone. As the quote above suggests, unlimited choice has paralysed us. Sadly it is a voluntary paralysis. Are we now held hostage to technology? More on that later.

Health De-Railer Two: We Stuff First and Question Later

Ourselves that is. But look, don’t worry because you are not alone slowly sinking in your own world of gluttony. For as a stern society we have slowly and collectively slipped into this way of life. We now all find ourselves treading water in a sea of sugars, fats and salts trying not to give in to them. It is truly a battle of will. Even those of us who try to eat healthily slip-up since many of these so-called healthy-option ridiculously expensive ready meals often contain more salts, sugars and fats than the cheaper unhealthy options! We are all facing this steep and uphill battle since he supermarkets don’t seem to be helping us; Instead of healthy meals and foods, we are seduced, teased and tantalised with deals for all of the foods that we probably shouldn’t be gorging on; the crisps, the microwave meals, the pizzas. Ask yourself, when was the last time you saw a bloody green-leafed salad on promotion by the check-out desk? Perhaps it is time to bring back some collective responsibility.

Health De-Railer Three: We Seek Gratification without the Graft

Let’s be honest, we all like an easy life. If we can get our personally sought after life-rewards without doing much work, then many of us will happily collect them in this manner. This, rather than get it through hard-work. Now don’t get me wrong, there are perhaps a time and a place for this (after all, it is efficient). The problem however is that the mentality of seeking the path of least resistance has leaked into our daily mind-sets. Our previously impermeable brain defences that protected our desire to work hard, to study at school, to climb the career, and to work for that healthy body have well and truly been breached. As a result the inverse has now happened and many of us object to matters of effort like being physical active, cooking healthy low-fat meals or building careers. As for that final one, building careers, it terrifies me the amount of teenagers in school who seem to be seeking out instant fame over an actual career

Health De-Railer Four: We Brush Stress Management under the Carpet

Stress is a killer on our health. Directly, it saps our body of energy, makes us a bag of nerves and has the potential to make us feel utterly physically and mentally drained. Indirectly, it sends us down that less promising path that is plagued with losing focus on the fundamental elements of life that keep us healthy (like sleep, balanced diet, being active and avoiding excessive vices like smoking, drinking and drugs). Instead we look past these now blurry fundamentals and instead focus on the elements in our life that provide instant gratification and thereby unburden us of our, even if just for a little while. So forms do these instant gratifications come in? Well although it has many disguises I am sure at least some of the following will trigger a small, subtle nod of acknowledgement: excessive smoking, drinking alcohol, binging on fast food and late nights. The sad reality is, as much as that period of stress relief is nice, it is still temporary and once over, you will still need to deal with it.

Health De-Railer Five: We’re Blind to the Boozing

So I am sure I’ll get a few angry reactions to this next comment but I will crack on all the same – the world would be a better place without alcohol. Now as you know I enjoy a whisky but that said I still stand by my statement. While yes you can argue the few benefits of alcohol (which we talk about later) the damages of alcohol excess overwhelmingly outweigh them. We as a society have become complacent to the excess of alcohol and it has now insidiously and successfully permeated into our daily evenings and weekends without us even realising it. Nowadays, if we are honest with ourselves, not many of us actually keep track of how much we drink in the week, or the typically more heavy weekends. I know I don’t. What I can assure you of though is that it will in all likelihood exceed the national recommendations on consumption. That short-term gain of social lubrication is brutally countered with accidents, violence, hangovers, relationship breakdowns, empty wallets, addiction and damage to the body and the mind. It’s sad but it’s true. I’ve seen it first hand.

So for all of modern living’s spoils and glory it has, it seems, led-us by the hand cunningly into an unhealthy trap. All of these de-railing issues (sedentary lifestyles, poor diets, stress, vices and laziness) are responsible for the bulk of lifestyle-diseases like obesity, type two diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease that now dominate our GPs and NHS services. These more pressingly cripple our health. In this trap we are not caught up in some fictional spider’s web, nor are we to be rescued by some handsome prince or Zena Warrior princess (whichever you prefer). In fact we have trapped ourselves and our only saviour therefore will be ourselves. Now, being ever the optimist, I will tell you that there is hope and if you are patient (remember – hope and patience!) then you can and will be your own saviour.

After all isn’t that partly why you picked up this book?


Next Week’s Chapter 3 is on TOTAL HEALTH @DrNickKnight http://www.drnickknight.com

THE HEALTH CONVERSATION: Prologue and how to use my book

The Health Conversation: My online book for everyone

By Dr Nick Knight

@drnickknight

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This is a book for everyone.

I have written it with a mere personal hope to remind, refresh and recharge the actions that we may take in life and which influence our health.

Be rest assured that closing your eyes and listening to whale music does not feature.

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About the Author

Nick is a 34 year old doctor training to become a General Practitioner with a special interest in fitness, exercise and lifestyle health. He currently lives in London with his new wife, Jess. They both dream of escaping to the countryside one day and getting a dog called whisky. Nick, incidentally, also likes whisky.

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Disclaimer

Please consult your General Practitioner before enacting upon any of the advice or descriptions in The Health Conversation. This book is written for everyone but health prescription needs to happen on an individual basis.

 

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Content

Prologue: My Passion

How to Use This Book

Modern Living

What is Health?

Key Tools

Twenty One Conversations for Twenty First Century Health:

Conversation 1:                Age as a Barrier

Conversation 2:                Alcohol

Conversation 3:                Bodyweight

Conversation 4:               Celebrity

Conversation 5:                Death as Part of Life

Conversation 6:                Diet

Conversation 7:                Exercise

Conversation 8:                Existing Health Conditions

Conversation 9:                Family Empowerment

Conversation 10:              Internet

Conversation 11:               Mental stimulation

Conversation 12:              Mood

Conversation 13:              Sedentariness

Conversation 14:              Sexual Relationships

Conversation 15:              Sleep

Conversation 16:              Smoking

Conversation 17:              Social Respect

Conversation 18:              Stimulant Drinks

Conversation 19:              Stress

Conversation 20:              Teamwork

Conversation 21:             Technology Drain

A Quick Reality check

What to Do Now?

Summary of The Health Conversation

Appendix 1:                       How Doctors Diagnose

Appendix 2:                       Snapshot Health Card

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Prologue: My Passion

I often wondered what a prologue was. Yes, I am most certainly not going to pretend to be clever enough to know already. Thanks to the Internet (which we will discuss in all its shades of grey later), I now know it to be an act or event that leads to another. Here is my prologue – from garden hole to GP trainee.

 

It all began when I was a kid. To me, playing was largely defined as throwing my battle-scarred action-figures on their latest mission into some cavernous muddy hole (that I had joyfully torn out of the wonderfully manicured garden-bed that my parents had slaved over), and then dunking them in some ice-cubed filled water pit. Little did I realise that this was the start of my fascination with the human body. You see, deep down, apart from the subliminal messages I was sending my parents (clearly I wanted a pond) I was asking my action figures to ‘survive’ in extreme and challenging environments. I was asking them to push their, albeit plastic, physical abilities and mental strengths to their very limits. I was, I guess, concomitantly testing 1990s Chinese manufacturing durability.

 

Now that passion, to explore the human body and mind, it seems has never left me. In fact, 25 years on, that child’s play which saw me constantly muddy and sacrificing toys to huge garden holes, has grown into my career. And I bloody love it. You see after three long degrees including a degree in Sports and Exercise Science, a PhD in Performance Human Physiology and finally a degree in Medicine, I now work as a doctor in specialty training to become a GP by 2018. I should add that this was never the plan. I chased a girl to Oxford to do my PhD (she then dumped me a month into being there). I then only went into medicine initially after a stint in the City, where I fast realised I a little too rough around the edges to cut it or enjoy it. I wanted to roll my sleeves up and have an adventure.

 

Ok, so it is true that all my patients might not have just escaped from some muddy garden hole (though I’m sure it happened in a movie once) or bucket of ice-water but what’s happening to them is not a million miles away – their bodies are being stressed, attacked and challenged – this time however by disease, illness, trauma and the degenerating chronicity of their health. And you know what, this isn’t anything that new; Thousands of years ago Neanderthals had similar problems, and then some, in the form of hunting huge carnivorous animals with a bit of sharpened wood. No thanks.

 

Nowadays and exponentially more so since the supercharged and flamboyant arrival of the 21st Century, a new problem is thrown up: choice. Choices are all around us. It is these choices that are leading many of us blindly and unwittingly into health troubles. We have our modern day health enemies, hidden as wolves in sheep’s clothing, like as our dear and old loyal friend the television remote, fast-food on every paved street, and a pathogenic and inherited fear to break a sweat with some exercise. Trust me when I say that if our bodies had a voice these would not be the choices they would make. That is the thing though isn’t it. They, our bodies, do have a voice. They are making their statement of intent and distain at what we are doing to ourselves very well known: heart attacks, type two diabetes mellitus, obesity, depression (yes, depression) and chronic lung disease.

 

Of course luckily for us we also live in an era that celebrates unbelievable advances in scientific research that filters from the laboratory into our everyday lives, and developments in medicine that allow us to identify, treat and prevent disease better and earlier than ever before. And you know what, for me, it’s that fine balance, that personal artistic interpretation between the wise, the not so wise, and the dam-right stupid choices we make in life, combined with our pre-determined genetics and those life events that just happen, that make you and I just so fascinating to explore.

 

I feel incredibly fortunate to be a doctor. We have a privilege to go beyond the looking glass and step into and affect (hopefully for the better) our patients’ and their families’ lives. With that comes a responsibility, one which I take very seriously. This book, I hope will reflect that, and too reflect my passion for health. It is just one way in which I wanted to share what I have had the privilege to learn, see and experience as a doctor in his early years.

 

Right, so serious paragraph aside, how do I want to wrap up my first ever prologue? Whether it’s the science behind our health, or how medicine helps us battle and beat disease and disability, I admire the human body. It transports us into a hidden world full of life, death, adventure and struggle that rivals any Hollywood Blockbuster.

 

And for me, it all began with one plastic toy and a garden hole….

 

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How to Use This Book

 

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you are right” [Henry Ford]

 

This is a book talking to you about every day issues which influence your health. It’s a mix of my opinion, observation, rant and information. That’s it really. There is I promise, no hidden agenda, no magical secrets revealed to lead you to everlasting good health and no hidden message. It is not a Sudoku puzzle of health but should instead be Ronseal™ for health i.e. it does what it says on the tin.

 

As such I have written The Health Conversation without any long scientific, medical or encyclopaedic rambles. It is instead written largely from my memory (which is not great, I must confess) using the last 15 years of experience I’ve been fortunate to have across science, health and medicine. This calls upon what I have learned in academia, anecdotally experienced myself, seen in society, and learned inside the NHS.

 

There is too very good reason I have chosen to write it this way. And no it is not because I couldn’t be bothered to drudge up the umpteen oversized (and overpriced) medical and scientific textbooks that now live in my basement cohabiting in unison with the mould that is slowly over taking it but it was rather a genuine conscious choice to leave them there. You see by doing this, the detail and depth of information I hope to provide will stay true to my goal of delivering digestible, simple conversations about health and the issues surrounding them that we all need to be aware of. In keeping with this same theme, I have deliberately renamed the chapters as conversations and kept them short and snappy at to three pages or less. Let’s be honest, if I can’t summarise in three pages what you really need to know about one of these topics I’m not doing my job of delivering digestible information! Besides, who really wants to read a 4th, 5th or even 6th page about smoking or exercise?! I know I bloody-well wouldn’t. If I wanted that, I’d go back to medical school again. At the end of each conversation I’ve included 5 key takeaway points.

 

So that’s my part of the deal. What do I ask from you in return? Well, first of all I want you to treat this book like that friend who’s not quite on your Christmas card list but you see them occasionally for coffee (when it’s convenient to you and you’re at a loose end). By that, I mean pick this book up, put it down, dip in, and dip out. I want you to enjoy it when you read it but not be burdened by it. Of course, it may also be that not all of the health conversations are relevant for you – in which case, please don’t read them and do something more fun instead. Perhaps on the other hand, it may be that a particular health conversation is relevant to a family member or a friend. If this is the case, pass them the book with the chapter ear-marked for them.

 

Now I only have two requests to seal this completely unofficial and in no way legally-binding partnership between you and me. The first is that you must have hope. Jokes aside, we all possess the ability to fine-tune our health. Just consider that quotation by Henry Ford at the top of this chapter for moment; it’s about self-belief isn’t it? That is the reason why it’s my favourite quote. For self-belief is fantastically potent and contagious and has the ability to transform our lives and those around us. Whatever your goal, perhaps triggered by your doctor’s orders, your parents’ comments or just something you see in the mirror that you are not happy with, you can achieve it. Don’t listen to any silly bugger who says otherwise. So please, that is my first request, that you have hope. It costs nothing. The second and final request is please be patient. Things do not happen overnight. If you can overcome this, the greatest adversary to any goal known to human-kind, you will in time, achieve your goal.

 

So that’s it. If you can have hope and be patient then this book may help provide insight, direction, and support to you as you go about achieving those health goals that you yourself decide to set.

 

Before we launch into the twenty-one conversations that form the body of The Health Conversation, I want to talk to you about a three matters. The first matter to discuss is the many challenges that modern living has unceremoniously thrown in our face (while supposedly enriching our lives) and how these have affected our overall health. The second matter involves asking you to consider what health actually means. Yes in the first instance this is a seemingly simple question but actually I think it’s more complex than we may first think. Finally I hope to provide you with three principles (the knowing-doing gap, self-motivational interviewing, and the contemplation cycle) that I’d like you to have in the back of your mind as you thumb through the various health conversations.

 

Remember – don’t think too hard as you read this book. It’s designed to inspire not give a headache.

 

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Modern Living: THIS CHAPTER WILL BE RELEASED NEXT WEEK

Have a great week, all and please come and say hi on twitter and share this blog.

Nick

@DrNickKnight

Like Arnie, I’m BACK. Three years a Doc.

Right, four months is a long time not to write to you all – especially since the one before that was only a flash in the pan about my life as on my paediatric rotation (where, admittedly most of the time was being handed babies all fresh from their caesarean sections 10 seconds earlier, and helping them breathe).
So, with that said I am here to make amends, to take a deep, refresh breath and start again with my blog. After-all, for some of you, you have read about me from the days before I became qualified…So let’s look at the numbers:
THREE years – that’s how long I’ve been qualified now
THIRTY THREE years – that’s how old I am now
EIGHT specialties – that’s how many I have rotated through (surgery, ITU, medicine, paediatrics, A&E, GP….)
ONE year – into my specialty training to become a qualified GP
TOO MANY – that’s the number of deaths I’ve born witness too as a doctor and the number of mistakes I have made as I learn
NOT ENOUGH – births – seeing a life stumble into the world will never get boring
So as I sit here on my sofa, what else has happened in my life. Well, I suppose the biggest change is that I have started watching ITV’s Good Morning Britain and not BBC Breakfast News….
Only kidding. Sorry, the jokes aren’t any better I’m afraid.
The big changes are that I am now happily engaged to a wonderful fiancé, I am now a do-er upper of our new flat, and I am fast becoming familiar with the trials and tribulations of wedding planning, colour schemes and catering companies. The biggest trick of course is knowing when to nod supportingly or when to frown in agreement at her dislikes – though sometimes I still get it wrong.
So there we have it, after three years as a doctor I am now a 33 year old engaged, house-trained (partially) GP in training. A great feeling I have to say.
BUT….and there’s always a but – I want to share with you more of my medical adventures, trials and tribulations on the wards, and my ongoing personal game to see if I can make it as a media medic. So keep reading, spread the word if you can about my blog and follow me on Twitter (@Dr_NickKnight).
I’ll aim to blog every Sunday.
Until next week, stay healthy and happy and keep your chin up.
Nick

The Baby Drier

“The paediatrician is here now” the theatre nurse announces. I smile sheepishly knowing full well what lay ahead…

And there I am, standing next to the neonatal resus table, under the glare of the harsh surgical theatre lights, as yet another life is brought into the world by caesarean section. As the obstetric doctor proudly raises the baby, dripping in its own urine (and often faeces if it’s gotten a little stressed) I gear up for my part. Sorry, that should be ‘he’ or ‘she’….calling the baby ‘it’ isn’t really the warmest welcome to the world is it now. But then again, I suppose what happens next isn’t a particularly warm welcome either…

You see for I, GP trainee Nick, on my paediatric rotation – am the BABY DRIER.

Yes, for once this messy bundle of life comes out into the world, and after a quick hello with mum and dad, they are whisked off to me. Now while it is true that I am there in theatres to provide neonatal resus care to any babies that have a high risk of coming out unresponsive, blue or floppy (all bad things) thankfully that has only happened on a handful (of what is many now) deliveries that I have attended – day and night.

So here they are, dunked onto my resus table like an awoken hibernating creature. They normally look irritated, cold, wet and generally like they don’t feel like breathing (Don’t be followed by TV – babies look a mess when they come out). And here is where I, the baby drier, come into my own. You see best medical wisdom states that in order for a baby to breathe and generally adjust to life outside of mum, the best thing to do…is rub them with a towel. Lots.

photo (10)

And that is what I do. I rub the baby with three different sets of towels (for when one gets damp, I swap it out for another one – warmed under the heated lights of the resus table). 95% of the time, that works and the baby goes nice and pink, lets off a roaring cry and I can finally breathe.

The other 5% of the time are heart in your mouth moments that have an unbelievable way of focusing your mind to that baby and only that baby VERY quickly. For today however, let us all be thankful for the days where paediatric doctors (or GPs training on a paediatric rotation!) just have to be…the baby drier.

Mind you as I hand the baby to mum and dad, they look at me like I’ve performed a miracle. I don’t have the heard to say it’s just like drying the dishes when you’re in a rush…

I wish you all a great end to the week.

Nick

Familiarity: The Double Edged Sword to Our Growth

Familiarity is quite simply knowledge of something. That can of course be for better or for worse. I mean, I am familiar with how I feel with my 6am alarm but that doesn’t mean I like it. On the other hand, I am familiar with that wonderful feeling that I have when I take my first sip of morning tea to start the day. The thing is, in order to be familiar with something, you have to experience it repeatedly. What I want to talk about is that sensation of unfamiliarity and how we need to stick with it so that it does become familiar.

Now being a doctor definitely has its downsides. One of those big downsides for me is unfamiliarity. I, along with all the other doctors that go through their medical school placements and then their speciality training rotations will encounter this. For me, it is made all the worse because I am always, unequivocally lacking in my confidence as I start a new training post. So there I am, every 4 months – starting a new unfamiliar training post with no confidence. It is such a pain in the arse and very much a ground hog day experience until I fully quality as a general practitioner – and then, onto Sports and Exercise Medicine!

So let me give you an example; at the end of July, I would walk onto the gastroenterology every ward – a familiar ward, my medical stomping ground, knowing ever little corner of it, the staff, where I can hide my coffee without my being told off my the ward sister (aka the boss). I was comfortable. I was confident and that translated into how I felt about the medicine I practiced. Fast forward into August and I can’t even find my way to the paediatric ward. I don’t know the staff. I don’t know the expectations of me in paediatrics. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I spoke to a child. I don’t even try and hide my coffee because I’ve spilt half of it down my trousers. So, when I do finally arrive for my first day I am not only late but appear to be incontinent. In short, I was in unfamiliar territory.

As type this I have just finished a week working my 9th week in paediatrics. I can now navigate a babygrow effortlessly having conquered this, the rubix cube of the garment world, I have resuscitated babies and I have dealt with unwell children as part of the paediatric team. I no long wear my coffee on my trousers but in a mug – with its own hiding space. In essence, I am now familiar – and happier for it.

So why am I am talking about familiarity? Well, it’s something that affects us all. It’s also something that grows and evolves with time – and as it does, so often does our confidence, knowledge and application. And that is why we need it! We need unfamiliarity to stretch and unceremoniously push us out of our comfort zone. That, afterall is where we grow. Stay in familiar territory for too long and we stagnate. Nobody wants to stagnate!

My worry however is the period before we feel this confidence and the risk that many of us let our heads drop, let our motivation wain and we quit. I have definitely been there with my career in medicine – constantly taken out of my comfort zone, constantly questioning my ability, and constantly considering leaving medicine. But you know what, every time, and I mean EVERY time, I get through that period of unfamiliarity – and in its wake is familiarity, more confidence and more application. Now of course, yes, like I said in the beginning, it’s not always ‘nice’ familiarity. But you know what, even then I learn how to deal with it – and soon It is no longer a surprise and is an opportunity to adapt and evolve. Afterall if you cant change the situation, change the way you well about it.

I hope that if you are reading this, you to decide to stick with it, to get past that period of unfamiliarity and know that you will get into that familiar zone with progression, knoweldge and application at your fingertips.

And don’t forget – after a while, dip your toe into more unfamiliarity. It’s how we all grow….

Nick

Recovery: Don’t let it be in your blind spot

This week I wanted to talk about recovery. Now recovery is a word that is used in all sorts of contexts isn’t it – from recovery after exercise to a tough day at work to a horrible psychological event or even a break up. I even recover from a tense episode of X-factor from time to time…

The fact remains however that recovery is incredibly to us. It is about preparing the body and mind for the next iteration, the next stage of being or action. And it is bloody important for without it we can significantly disadvantage ourself.

Of course it’s not just important because we all enjoy some time off from that event, job, task (or person!) – but because in order to perform well – whether that be physically or mentally – we need to have that period of time to heal, reflect, digest and learn from the event. 

And I bet you know what I mean it I say that we fail to do that – when we fail to allow recovery to take place – we may find we begin to struggle to perform as well as during the previous event. As an added factor, stress levels can too build as performance drops, so compounding the effects of what was already inadequate recovery.

For me, I’m going the end of two weeks off from a long stretch of busy paediatric accident and emergency shifts followed by a set of night shifts in paediatrics. I was both physically and mentally exhausted. Due to the workload I doubt that my recovery between shifts was probably enough to fully ‘recover’. And so I crawled to the start of my two weeks off. My period of recovery.

And for the first 3 days I slept. Then ate. Then sleep. I was in desperate need of recovery!

I was, in essence, trying to refuel the body and rest the body and the mind. Perhaps it’s because I’m a scientist by background before I became a doctor but to me this was an incredibly important process – not least to have some time away from baby vomit and screaming children – but to allow me to process all that I had done, seen and learned in that stretch of paediatric shifts. To put it in another context, just like when going to the gym and lifting weights, it is the during recovery days afterwards (not the days you lift weights) that the muscle recovers, repairs and grows.

So there we go; Recovery has been a huge focus for me during the past two weeks (and of course yes, I didn’t need that long and indeed I had a little holiday within that and got tasked with plenty of DIY jobs!). Now though I am ready to return to the frenzy of paediatrics, get my hands dirty, learn, experience and keeping moving forward with, for now, a refreshed body and mind. How do I know this? Well because I miss it, I’ve had enough lying around and now I want to start growing as a doctor again.

So I guess my message to you is this – yes, recovery in our busy modern lives can often get left in our blind spot of life – but please try and make sure you ask yourself from time to time – am I giving myself enough recovery? And if the answer is no, then find a way to weave some more into your days. Every little counts. 

Have a great week. 

Nick