The Burden of A Public Conscience

So this week my blog is admittedly a few days late. My excuse? A heavy night out on Saturday. As a 30 year old in London I have fast realised that I am no longer 21. In fact I am no longer 25. My days of playing Peter Pan are over and as such it takes me 72 hrs to recover from any excess of alcohol. And now that my faculties have returned, I wanted to share with you my lesson as a doctor this week…

It’s fair to say that this one crept up on my unsuspectingly. I was typically leaving work late and in a semi-irritated state and a comment a patient had made about waiting for his cannula (I was at the bedside of a palliatve patient speaking with their family and trying to give them answers to some very hard but necessary questions they had). It was raining, dark and cold. It is November and London afterall. I longed for my bed. As my mind drifted towards where I had hidden my hot-water bottle (hidden, for fear of my housemates deeming me uncool for being a guy with one!), I was presented in the darkeness by a young woman dragging a man in a wheelchair out of the middle of the road.

Now we have all done the “cross the road when we see a bunch of dodgey youngsters” move before when walking down the road. Shamefully my initial reaction was the same. I thought to myself, she looks strong, and seems to have things in hand…and my train was in the next 5mins – and as such any intervention could delay my return home to food, a shower, and of course…this elusive hotwater bottle. But then I was flooded with this odd sensation. I felt a melting pot of guilt, duty as a doctor, and general desire to be helpful to this young lady (who was, I might add, quite attractive once I walked closer).

So I deviated from my original plan and approached her, and in my best superhero voice proclaimed:

“Can I help? I’m a doctor”

(note – I omitted the fact that I use this term ‘doctor’ loosely meaning that if he needs a cannula, blood taking or a fax send then I am indeed your man…)

The lady explained she was on the phone to the paramedics. I looked down at her prize that she had dragged from the road. It was a middle aged man, with one leg, looking dishevelled and well, comatose. I leaned in closer, popping out my ear phones so the comatose chap and the attractive young lady could both enjoy the melodic tunes of Jack Johnson, and had a look at this man.

Shit, he looked dead.

A quick feel of his pulse revealed he was indeed not dead and a smell of him revealed he had probably had a few too many to drink. I am not sure where his other leg went but lets assume he had not had it for a while. Having confirmed his name and date of birth I asked to have the phone and speak to the paramedics. I triumphantly explained my status as a doctor before indeed realising I have very little to add to this picture except that he was not dead, had one leg and was likely just drunk. The attractive girl at least look impressed. Maybe I should have tried to but a cannula in him too – she would have been blown away truly then!

For the next five minutes I tried to look busy with the homeless man – principally by holding his head up so he didnt vomit, aspirate (i.e. swallow his vomit into his lungs, develop subsequent aspiration pneumonia and potentially die) while he decided to come to and call me all the colourful names under the sun. I thought to myself – I get this all day at work – why the hell have I volunteered for it outside as well!

Finally, just as I hear the distant rumble of my train passing by, the paramedic turns up. I swear these guys are getting bigger – I’m 6’2 and he made me look tiny! Turns out are one-legged wheel chair pirate was a regular attendee with a sad background. I felt for this chap. Alcohol addiction can destroy a person’s life – and those around them that love them. I feel very strongly about this for a number of reasons that I don’t wish to divulge. Why bring this up – although I talk of this story lightly as a means to highlight that moral tug we feel as doctors, make no mistake – alcoholism can send anyone into a spiral of poor health, social desolation and death. Don’t judge them but instead show them kindess, compassion and neutrality not judgement. You will be a better person for it.

As for me, I said my fairwells to the attractive lady, the one legged drunk (who promptly told me to “go and f*ck myself” – I declined), and the giant paramedic, and strolled to the station feeling a little better about myself. Next time, I won’t even consider crossing the road – I am doctor and I have a moral obligation to help – even if I dont always feel like it.

Oh, and I never did find the hot water bottle.

See you next week,

Dr Nick

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