As part of my blog I have had a little long running series called inspirational women. Today I am breaking the gender restrictions. But Giles is worth the exception. You will see why if you read to the end.
I met Giles when I started out at medical school. We had tutorials together every week on society health and medicine. I still remember the first piece of work I ever did, reading a paper on the psychosocial impact of a positive diagnosis of chlamydia trachomatis in women!
I was a clueless 18 year old and just about navigating supermarket shopping on my own the washing machine and Giles was worldly. Giles rode a bike. Giles had traveled. Giles know there was more to life than studying and university. As such he was an easy figure for me to look up to. He was also ridiculously nice and had great insights in tutorial.
I intercalated and dropped back to the year below and Giles graduated before me. Recently I saw a status on Facebook that he was tagged in which mentioned a small stroke he had. I had no idea and scrolling though this Facebook feed, the marathons and general awesomeness still continue.
The man came back from a stroke, continues to work as a doctor and has only gone and written a book about his experiences.
You can see why I had to open up the inspirational section to men now can’t you.
Have a read of a little interview I had with Giles. Share his story with people who you think may benefit. We could all do with being a bit more Giles. Oh and do the right thing. Buy his book ( paperback and e-book).
For people who don’t know you, tell us a bit about your self
Thanks for that introduction Salma! So I’m 34 and decided to study medicine when I was 27 after various experiences of working and travelling around the world. After leaving school I did an English Literature degree and then worked for an amazing company helping organise rural volunteering projects in places such as Peru, Ghana and Fiji. We’d also then take the volunteers trekking to places like Macchu Pichu or on overland road trips to Timbuktu.
Prior to medical school I was Project Director of Vorovoro Island in Fiji, an eco tourist resort where we were trying to build an eco-village from scratch whilst living alongside the locals Growing our own food, catching rain water for drinking and living on the beach in huts made of bamboo. It was amazing.
Then medical school happened and I got into long distance running and cycling. By the end I had done an Iron Man triathlon and had run 100km in one day. In my early summer holidays I led groups trekking and mountaineering to Peru before taking part in mental health projects in Sierra Leone and with Syrian refuges in Lebanon.
Now I‘m living in Hereford as an F2, having recently got married to the amazing Amy last year and start GP training program next year.
So.. up until this point in my life, things were going well.
What’s it like suddenly switching roles from doctor to patient?
It’s bizarre. As a doctor you walk around hospital with such certainty and sense of direction. You are very much part of the place and have a sense of control about your day. Although you get on well with your patients there seems quite a defined line between them and you. Yes, you know you could get ill and be in their place, but it never seems to happen.
Yet crossing over the divide is a very powerful experience. Suddenly the lines of the corridors become sharper, the echoes from the hard floor louder. Any perceived softness of the place evaporates and it begins to feel cold, functional and like a machine. Even staff having a laugh with each other as you are waiting for important tests begins to feel a little isolating.
I’ll never forget waiting for my MRI brain scan, sitting alone in the waiting area. At that point it could have been a brain tumour, MS or a stroke. The hospital seemed such a big, angular and scary place. I felt lonely in a way that I had never experienced before whilst the frantic pace of the department continued around me. I have sent so many patients for scans, even walked past them as they are waiting. I’m not sure I ever realised how terrified they might be.
Crucially what defines the change is the loss of control. As a doctor you feel like you have it all, as a patient you must surrender yourself into the hands of those (and there are many) who will then care for you.
One the main things I’ve learnt from all this is actually how much less I truly empathised with my patients than I thought. I don’t mean this in a negative way; more that I was blown to bits by my stroke in a way that I had never even appreciated could be possible. While I still care (perhaps more than ever) about the well-being of my patients, it’s made me realise how hard it is to truly understand what another person goes through when they suffer. With that in mind it has me made want to simply listen more rather than offer any immediate answers.
Illness and its consequences are relative to each patient, what they feel and suffer will be unique to them based on their journey to that point and what their life means to them. I hope I never forget this.
Where do you get your drive to keep pushing through from?
Good question! One that probably has many answers to be honest. I have a deep sense of how brief and fleeting life is. Increasingly (and now in my own life) there are just no guarantees. I suppose in many ways I don’t want to waste a moment.
Not only that but when I was younger I didn’t have much belief or confidence in myself. It is only since my mid-twenties that I have started to believe in myself more. This has led me to state of perpetual curiosity of what life has to offer. What more is there to learn, what more am I capable of, what are the limits of mind and body?
I love a challenge and the exploration and experience that come with that. Life just seems like one long wonderful chance to learn, both about oneself and the world in which we live. I suppose in many ways I fear becoming set in my ways and the inevitable stagnation that will accompany that. Being out of our comfort zones allows us to grow, even though it might not be fun at the time!
How did you fall into writing and how did it help you?
I did an English degree first in my early twenties which I loved as it basically involved reading books all day. I never had a passion for writing so much then though. That only started coming as I worked for Travel Company helping with their marketing and I would put together their brochures, websites and blogs. With practice I became more confident and enjoyed it.
A few years ago I started carrying a small book to write down thoughts and observations about life. I’d carry it in my bag either at Uni or travelling. It soon started filling up and I would while away long bus journeys exploring my thoughts. Then one day about 2 years ago while in India I wrote my first poem as an experiment. I really enjoyed it and wrote some more. Over time I became braver and started to send them to people, one thing led to another and I’ve self-published a couple of collections with travel photos to give to friends and family.
So when the stroke happened I found writing to be an extremely cathartic and healing way of exploring the many different facets and moments of it. In the aftermath I wrote quite a few poems as they helped me look deeper into what I was feeling and crucially try and communicate it to others. Being ill can be very lonely, and I found this helped a lot.
Eventually I had over 20 and thought it might be nice to make another collection. However rather than pictures I wondered if written reflections might go better with them. I set myself the task of writing about each poem and before I knew it I had a small 40,000 word book on my hands.
Writing Brushstrokes has been an incredibly healing and useful thing to do. Allowing me to grapple with the pain of the experience and come to terms with what has happened. Much of how I think about the stroke and came to be at peace with it was formed in the writing of it.
Sitting still (not by choice!) yet creating something from the experience was a large part of helping me recover. It was a very useful way of exploring the muddle in my head that had replaced what was there before!
Hopefully it conveys some of the story and may be of benefit to others who find themselves having their world turned upside down.
Massive thanks to Giles for sharing his story on my blog.