Back to Work

Three years ago this was my post on Facebook (minus the emojis, they are just to protect my friend's details). I was feeling frustrated that not all illnesses are visible, which makes it very difficult during the days when you look "fine" but feel anything but. Rachael is my best friend from school and, when it comes to living with a long term illness, she is my complete inspiration. She has been battling Crohn's disease many years longer than I have my weird type of pneumonia and is a true fighter. I won't share too much about her illness as I'm not sure how much she would like to be public but she has endured years of pain, exhaustion, medical treatments and procedures. And all of this while finishing her degree, starting a career, getting married to her teenage sweetheart, renovating their house and raising their two fabulous boys. And she never moans. She talks her condition through and explains things to me but I have never ever heard her express self-pity. She is so unbelievably positive about whatever the next step may be and the medical staff who look after her.

When I turned 30 she bought us tickets to see Take That as, even though we had spent our teen years swooning over Robbie and Mark, we had never seen them together. That summer was an awful time for her and even though she really tried to rally herself, she couldn't come with me. Even then, although she was obviously disappointed, she didn't complain and just told me to take someone else who would love it. My brother Greg was the only person I could think of as a worthy substitute. The night was bittersweet because I felt sad Rachael was missing out but Greg and I had a superb time, especially as Robbie had made a return to the band.

Thankfully, after an operation about six years ago, Rachael has been much better. Strangely, as her health started to improve, mine declined and she has been concerned about me ever since. She is the friend who asks me the most about how I'm doing because she totally gets it. She knows there are days when all I want to do is lie on the sofa or times when I fight to get through my day at work just holding out until I can go home to collapse in bed. She completely understands how I feel and has shown me that sometimes giving in to these feelings is the best thing to do. I'm so grateful that for both of us, since our treatment has been stabilised, these days are now fewer and far between. Rachael's attitude and coping skills have taught me in abundance how you can be completely content with life despite dealing with incomplete health. I'm not sure she's aware of the lessons she's given and just how much they have meant to me. In all honesty, I'm not sure I would have handled my illness like I have without her.

After the three months I had off work in 2013, I returned to life as a Practice Nurse before embarking on the year of Parish Nursing, which I have already written about. I then yo-yoed back to Practice Nursing at the surgery I'd started at nine years previously, at the same time as moving house. The house we bought needed a lot of work and, room by room, Dan and I spent the next year completely renovating it. The grotty kitchen-diner was the last big project for which we didn't quite have the money. The thought of spending a second Christmas in this bodged and grubby room was getting to me so I decided to find some extra hours to fund the work. Another of my best friends, Ellie, was working as a receptionist in a surgery up the road and she told me they needed a nurse for a couple of mornings. This was perfect and after sending in my C.V. and a brief chat with the doctor, I got the job. I didn't know it but I was about to join the best team I'd ever worked with. They were as supportive as other teams I've been lucky enough to be a part of but there was something extra here. Genuine friendships were formed that reached outside of the surgery. We had lunches together, dinners out and summer barbecues. The staff at this surgery really cared for each other in our jobs and beyond. I'd never experienced this kind of working environment before and I loved it.

I met more patients, some lovely and some not-so-lovely . One was Edie, a sweet, sad woman in her late seventies who had endured decades of domestic abuse. She opened up to me several times about how aggressive and volatile her husband had been during their marriage. She wanted to escape but just couldn't afford to support her children financially and had chosen to bear it for their sake. At one stage of her married life, her husband had become a Samaritan, befriended a young woman while in this role and started an affair. He even got her pregnant. I have no idea how Edie tolerated this, her mental strength was astounding. She found solace on her allotment, which she always spoke about with great love and enthusiasm, and to my surprise also in working as a DJ! It is so difficult to hear about experiences such as Edie's because, if the patient declines offers of help, there isn't much you can do as a nurse to change the situation. I can only hope that in some way her husband faces justice for his years of despicable actions.

I also met Doug, who fell into the not-so-lovely category. Every time he had an appointment with me or Sue, the nurse practitioner, he would find an excuse to drop his trousers. He was a slightly unkempt man in his seventies so this experience was hardly charming. He visited me several times because his 'knob was really hurting'. When I explained that, since I can't prescribe, this was really a matter for the doctor, he asked if I wanted to see it. I declined his kind offer and told him to book an appointment with the doctor. Instead he chose to book another appointment with me about his 'knob' and this time asked if I would like to see a photo of it! I turned him down a second time and he went downstairs and went to the loo with the door wide open. I guess he really wanted someone - in fact anyone - to see it.

While working at this surgery, I had the completely new experience of caring for a patient undergoing gender reassignment. This was a long and difficult journey for him and was the most vulnerable I have ever seen a patient. During the months that I was involved, we developed a close nurse-patient relationship, as did Sue, who was also providing care. I do understand why some people struggle to grasp the decision to transition as it is an intricate issue. However, if you know people who have been through it, you will learn that, whatever their gender, they are the same person. Their soul is the same and all they are doing is trying to feel comfortable in their own skin. I don't profess to be an expert on this subject at all, it is far too complex a matter. But what I do know is that it was a complete honour to be one of the few trusted health professionals this brave patient chose to support him.

Ellie went on to become the assistant manager at the surgery, which made working as part of this team even better. She brought such an element of fun to the job which is vital in healthcare. I extended my hours so that this surgery became my main place of work. I wanted to work here for ever but, sadly, this wan't meant to be.


  1. Hi Emma this post was interesting because living with chronic pain or illness is not an easy life and it was great to hear how your friend navigated it and how you learned from her. I love your descriptions of your patients and how you handle all situations. Not sure I could be as calm as you seem. Looking forward to your next post

    1. Thank you so much! I am very lucky to have her a friend x


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