When I woke up on the top floor of the Royal Free in North London at about 10 pm, it was left to a junior night-duty nurse to explain to me that I had been in a coma for six weeks.
I was later to be told that Tony Blair was no longer Prime Minister; and that there had been a foot and mouth health crisis.
I had a very brief medical career, but it always struck me how life-challenging diagnoses seemed regularly to be given to the nicest of people.
While I ‘get’ the current drive towards compassion in the NHS, any person who has been a doctor or nurse on a medical ward will tell you about how you do have to park emotions elsewhere when you’re confronted with emotionally very challenging issues.
What I do not think is acceptable is politicians of all parties, imposing neoliberal austerity, airbrushing under-resourced secondary care wards with the ‘fault’ of clinicians who do not have the time or resources to care.
You see, following my cardiac arrest and epileptic seizure in the summer of 2007, heralding my period unconscious on the ITU of the Royal Free, I believe that anything can happen to anyone at any time.
I then spent two months as an inpatient of a neurorehabilitation ward of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, where indeed I had been a junior doctor.
One of my best friends was a man about my age who had accidentally fallen down a pothole, had been admitted as a neurosurgical emergency, and had an entirely new titanium skull fitted.
I have already been dead in a sense; but in my subsequent life, I live each day as it comes. This totally changes my perspective on life.
I don’t have time for ‘woe is me’ stories, not because I am a heartless bastard; but because it will surprise you with the amount of personal pains people have in private.
I think there are dangers with adopting a ‘victimhood’ stance. I don’t spend time thinking about how I could’ve avoided becoming physically disabled in adult life. But likewise the people I have seen who have out of the blue decided ‘enough is enough’ have taken their decisions out of the blue.
One close friend of mine killed herself, also a medical student but who had a housing crisis, drank two bottles of wine and drove her car off a cliff in Cornwall. I remember tidying up her room when her parents came to clear up all her belongings in student accommodation before the funeral.
Only weeks earlier, she had been telling me about her wish to be a neurophysiologist.
If we all concentrate on the past or future, we lose neglecting what is happening today. But today we can do things and will be surrounded by people who won’t be there one day.
I think we are all on a learning curve, and no matter how senior you are, nor how many qualifications you have, you must always be willing to listen, and sometimes admit you have failed. But likewise when things go well things how they went well, and what can be learnt from them.
I feel mistakes have been made in English dementia policy, like having incentives for diagnoses in dementia without addressing requirements of the workforce, but I have no involvement with the machinery of NHS England. My ‘ambition’ is to carry on what I am doing, with the people I want to do it, and expect nothing in return.