Our resident #ElectiveMummy is a medical student who is returning to practice after maternity leave following the birth of her second son. This is the first of her series of honest portrayals of juggling an elective placement with looking after two young boys. Read on to hear all about her first week on placement...
So I survived my first week back in the medical world. Just like going back into 3rd year after having my first son, the anticipation was more terrifying than the reality. Of course there were some unexpected surprises. Not just that the nursery notified me a week ago they didn’t have ‘space’ for my 11mth old this week, which left me scrabbling around for friends and distant relatives I could beg for assistance. Not even the classically timed double fever situation with both boys having the worst cold in history, meaning they didn’t sleep and just cried for an entire week. That’s just the run of the mill stuff. Nope, it was the last day of maternity leave when I discovered we had an infestation of bed bugs in the boy’s bedroom. I mean BED BUGS!!!! WHAAAAAT? How on earth??? So yes, pest control are booked in. There goes the elective funding I spent hours writing applications for. In the meantime, our house is like a laundry with duvets, pillows, entire wardrobe contents hanging everywhere whilst I boil wash the hell out of every textile in sight. Upstairs is quarantined and we are living between the spare room and the lounge. We mothers try to plan for every eventuality, especially when we are working / studying full time, but I should know by now this is not fail safe!
First day back – walking into town my thoughts are racing. There seem to be two separate people in my mind. One is running through the list I l gave my mum of things my 11mth old may need, want, do. Will he notice I’m not there? Will he be cross with me for abandoning him? What if he wants boob? My mum can’t give him that! All my mum is worried about is whether or not she’ll catch bed bugs. I’m sure I saw some of those shoe covers you wear in swimming pools sticking out the side of her bag when she arrived this morning.
The other person is thinking “Oh God! I can vaguely remember how to do most of the examinations, I’m sure I can cobble together a history, I mean it’s just listening to people and saying the right things, I’m good at that anyway – I think?!” As for the knowledge…it’s there lurking in the background somewhere. I’ll just keep patient.co.uk and NICE guidelines open in the browser for the specifics… it’s fine. I have a plan. Stay calm, take my time, be friendly. I’m sure the fact I’m wearing smart clothes, have brushed my hair and I’m not wearing snot-stained tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt is giving me an air of confidence.
My first morning running parallel surgeries was a real mixed bag. Childhood eczema, blocked ear canal, contraception advice and also a potentially very serious gastro condition. I had practised history taking, several different examinations and both recalled and looked up quite a bit of knowledge in just a few hours. It was giving me a real buzz to be using my brain again and the idea of actually becoming a doctor was starting to feel real once more.
I then met my mum and the boys for lunch and experienced the next surprise of the week… my three-year-old clung to me like a baby monkey for the entire lunch (which made eating and trying to breastfeed my 11-month-old quite tricky.) There was no WAY he was going to let go when I needed to go back. My mum had to peel him off me and I could hear him screaming “MUMMY I WANT TO STAY WITH YOU!!!” as I walked away down what seemed like the LONGEST path, whilst still in his view. As I went to turn my head, a woman walking past the other way looked at me and said, “Don’t look back” with a warm and reassuring smile. I felt sick. Then I looked down and saw what looked like sick all over my top.
How naïve and neglectful of me to focus on the needs and potential separation anxiety of my 11-month-old, who in fact seemed blissfully unaware. Just because my three-year-old had already been through this aged one, doesn’t mean he can deal with it better now! He can’t bloody remember! Plus he’s had mummy full-time for a whole year, which is about 30% of his life. Ugh, guilt, guilt, guilt. Just as I was beginning to enjoy myself. How could I have missed what should have been glaringly obvious?!
So the remainder of the week has actually been great. No.1 child is struggling a bit, but I know he’ll adjust with some support. No.2 child is loving the attention from his various carers. GP seems to be the perfect speciality for easing me back in to medicine and prepping me for 5th year. It did take me all week to pluck up the courage to give some management advice before running it by the GP first. “I’ve had a look and your tonsils look red and inflamed but I think it’s viral, you don’t need any antibiotics, just keep taking analgesia”. Only for the GP to come in and look at the poor boy’s throat and say “ah yes I can see a bit of pus on the left tonsil, I’ll give you some penicillin.”
I think I’m going to really enjoy my placement. What I’m not going to enjoy is tackling the week’s worth of food splatters on every surface of the kitchen, scattered toys, unopened mail, washing up, laundry and rotting food in the fridge that awaits me as I sit here and type. Daddy is away with work for the weekend AGAIN. No doubt staying in some swanky, pest-free hotel. So now I must switch back in to housekeeping, mothering, children’s entertainer mode. At least the fact we are camping out in the lounge under a makeshift den by the coffee table is adventure enough in itself.
Will I get to read up on any of the conditions I’ve seen this week? Realistically? Probably not. Who I am I going to practice examinations on? Percussing my three-year-old’s chest whilst he’s in hysterics and wriggling off the bed, with my 11-month-old wrapped around my lower limb seems unlikely.
By the time the boys are in bed I’ll need some mind-numbing NETFLIX as a substitute for adult company, just to retain my sanity. I can usually manage half an episode of something before I wake with a jolt as my laptop falls on the floor. Better than half a page of a text book I think.
I’ll get back in to my smart trousers and shoes on Monday morning and maybe flick through the oxford handbook over coffee at breakfast.