Dear every cancer patient I ever took care of, I’m sorry. I didn’t get it.

Oncology nurse, Lindsay Norris writes about how her own experience of having cancer made her realise she hadn’t fully understood as a healthcare worker what her patients were going through during treatment, despite thinking she had.

“Even though healthcare workers don’t really know what it’s like to be you (well, us) it’s ok. Nobody does. I just hope that I was still able to give you a little guidance and strength to help you get through your cancer treatment. Even if I didn’t get it.” 

Read the full article here >>> 


Truthsaying: The need for honesty from patients & doctors: session # 5

With themes of truth & hope underpinning the session, it being International Men’s Day, we read texts mostly by women about pregnancy, labour, babies and girls!

We started, though, with a run through Yeats’ ‘Paudeen’. They’re getting there. We had a recap on last week, and a summary of Maeve Binchy’s ‘Anna’s Abortion’.

From that we read and analysed an extract from Emilie Pine‘s ‘From the Baby Years’ section of Notes to Self. The extract dealt with the loss of her one and only pregnancy. We discussed how particularly invested Pine was in the pregnancy (“I see that I’m shaking”) and how that comes through in her hope & wishful thinking in the face of contrary information/evidence > “Maybe I am wrong. / Maybe the date is wrong.”

We discussed how despite our ideals of professionalism and standardisation, we nonetheless often sense and operate by other, more human realities >

“I have a moment of hoping this coincidence [of going to the same university as the doctor] will make her well-disposed towards me”.

We mentioned how bizarre it is how we often act contrary to our truths, pretending because of not wanting to reveal our uncertainties or to risk appearing not in control > “I pretend like I’ve done this before”.

I emphasised how honestly Pine was recounting all of this now as the narrator. We discussed the contrast between how Pine is aware of the constraints on the staff when it comes to pronouncing the still growing foetus dead, and her actual anger >

“I am furious. At the situation and, specifically, at them. I am a woman, in grief, and these women will not look me in the eye as a fellow woman and tell me that I’m not going to be a mother.”

We discussed the possibility that shame felt by the midwives was behind their failure here. We discussed the blunt honesty of Pine’s admission of how she felt observing the pregnant women outside the National Maternity Hospital > “I would be a better mother. I deserve it more.”

I emphasised how honest a writer she is in her retrospective analysis of her actions and thoughts >

“I am so deep into this that I don’t even see the problem with comparing not being pregnant to a serious illness.” And I therefore suggested she was a welcome/useful voice to hear in the context of how complex the doctor-patient relationship can get, with two flawed “entities” contributing to it. (It is too often presented over-simplistically as rude doctor failing innocent patient.)


We moved on to Maggie O Farrell‘s I Am, I Am, I Am, specifically an extract from the chapter called ‘Abdomen 2003’ that recounts the birth-plan for and delivery of her child. (I used the adapted version published by Time magazine.) We discussed how incredibly rude (almost literally: not credible) the consultant, Mr C, was. I paused on and parsed the sentence: “I wish now I’d left there and then, but at the time I was so astonished I complied.” I asked whether or not O Farrell was being as retrospectively honest as Pine here. Was it just astonishment?

[I diverted for a moment to read this important passage from Pine’s last chapter:

The stinging irony, of course, was that my entire talk was about ways that women are intimidated into silence. And here I was, with a platform to speak [having just given a lecture on the silencing of women about rape], finding myself with the same difficulty. The Faculty Chair’s comment [“I find it hard to reconcile how you look and your manner with your subject matter. I mean you look … I don’t want to use the word ‘cute’ but …”] implied that I shouldn’t be talking about rape. It is more than just tedious, this women-should-be-seen-but-not-heard attitude. It is a way of telling women to back to where they belong, back to being silent. I am gobsmacked that I still encounter this attitude in the university. And I am, most of all, weary of having to come up with something in response. I should have called him on his misogyny. But in the moment that he said it, I did not even allow myself to think about the implications of his comment. I wanted to look professional. I wanted to seem strong. I wanted to move on. As so I side-stepped. Which is, of course, a kind of silence.

I suggested Pine’s analysis was possibly true for the O Farrell situation too.]

The reappearance later in the episode of Mr C as O Farrell’s “saviour” was useful in setting up the idea that sometimes the rude doctor is all we’ve got, and maybe we just have to learn as patients how to deal with it, how to communicate with them to protect ourselves.

We contrasted, as O Farrell clearly intends, Mr C with the stranger in beige scrubs who comes to her emotional rescue while “a room full of people … are frantically working to save [her] life.” > “He stepped towards me, away from his wall, and took my raised hand. He enfolded it in both of his. I gazed up at him mutely. His touch was infinitely gentle but firm and sure. He stayed with me while they stitched and stapled me together again; he took the weight of my head and shoulders as they lifted me from the operating table onto a gurney.” [Italics added.]


We then read & analysed a story written by a man, Yay! (albeit a Michael Longley type of man > “I’m finely attuned … to the feminine side of the men I like. I really don’t like men who are pumped full of testosterone. I like my men to have a large dose of the feminine virtues.”) ‘The Girl with a Pimply Face’ by William Carlos Williams is one of my favourite texts to discuss with medical students because at first the male doctor’s sexualised descriptions of the teenager he meets on a house visit (“She had breasts you
knew would be like small stones to the hand”) make him seem just “creepy” (as was said today). We analysed the story in considerable detail and discussed too many things to summarise here, but with similar themes as above, of honesty, truth telling, self-awareness … and the sources of hope amidst all the negativity and human failure.

The girl with acne acts like Pine & O Farrell wish, with hindsight or in the very moment, they had acted.

The Williams story is set in a poor, immigrant neighbourhood where people from socially disadvantaged situations do what they have to and can to survive. The doctor too. He (like Sassall in Berger’s A Fortunate Man) in the identifies more with them than he does his colleagues, and he sees in the teenager a sign of something that offers hope. (“She was just a child but nobody was putting anything over on her if she knew it, yet the real thing about her was the complete lack of the rotten smell of a liar.”)


To emphasise the socioeconomic angle of this (and of the Berger text from last week), I read the only poem of the week, Julia Donaldson’s brilliant version ofThe Magic Paintbrush (with equally brilliant and clever illustrations by Joel Stewart, which I showed them as I read):

"He slips the brush into her hand
And tells her to be sure
Never to paint for wealthy folk
But only for the poor."

I say straight up to them, emulating as best I can the girl with pimples: what if the paintbrush is your medical qualification and what if we told you only to treat poor people. That stirs things up a good bit. I tell them class is over.

From Maggie O Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I Am

This extract from Maggie O Farrell’s brilliant I Am, I Am, I Am – Seventeen Brushes With Death, was published in Time magazine, ‘adapted’ from the ‘Abdomen 2003’ chapter of the book:

“Get up,” were his first words to me. “Let me see you walk.”

I wish now I’d left there and then, but at the time I was so astonished I complied.

“There is nothing wrong with you,” he pronounced, after he’d seen me take two steps. “You will have a normal delivery.”

I started to ask for clarification but the consultant — we’ll call him Mr. C — talked over me. Caesareans were a cult, he said, a fashion. I had been reading too many gossip magazines. I assured him this was not the case but he shouted me down again: Did I realize that Caesareans constituted major surgery? Why had I allowed myself to be swayed by celebrities? Did I doubt his medical expertise? What was wrong with me, that I was so afraid of a bit of pain?

The rest of the extract can be read here >>>

“Hello, my name is…”

Katy McGuinness

“What I do have a problem with is that not one of the four healthcare professionals that I interacted with during the two-and-a-half hours that I was in the hospital introduced themselves to me, or explained why they, in particular, were called in to deal with my problem.

And only one of them was wearing a badge. So I was left to figure out for myself who they were and what their various roles were.

In the United Kingdom, a young doctor called Kate Granger has launched an initiative called “Hello My Name Is”, which encourages everyone working in hospitals and healthcare to introduce themselves to their patients using proper eye contact (the kind that all parents despair that their children will ever learn until, one day, miraculously it clicks) and a smile.” … (Independent) >

St Patrick’s University Hospital | Mental Health Services

Personal Stories of Recovery

“I do not have a single negative to pass on the time I have spend under the care of the staff of St. Patrick’s Hospital other than to say that it varied between very good and exceptional. The response and respect that I received to my written comments meant a great deal to me. I came to hospital feeling broken and despairing and leave now feeling renewed and well and looking to the future. Thank you “

“My five weeks in St. Pat’s has been an amazing journey. I can’t thank everyone enough. As I can’t meet everyone personally I would like to take this opportunity to say a huge “Thank You”. It is a new beginning for me and I will be certainly talking openly and trying to take the stigma out of mental health.”

“The atmosphere of the hospital is very bright, cheerful and friendly. The staff are excellent, uniformly helpful without exception and a credit to the hospital”

“I was most impressed with the care given to my daughter during her stay here. The ambience in the hospital is relaxed and caring. From the cleaners to the nurses, doctors and administrators everybody is on first name terms all working to a common goal of getting the patients better. Congratulations on a job well done”

“Excellent staff have finally helped me overcome my illness with the correct treatment and also using the recovery psycosis programme which opened my mind to what I suffer from. I have had this for 10 years but now I feel relaxed, free of all fear thanks to the A team. St Pats sets the standard for others to follow.”

“I would recommend St. Edmundsbury Hospital to all my friends and family to heal and recover from nervous exhaustion and breakdown. The staff looked after me very well and the counselling helped my husband and I tremendously. It was a turning point in my life and a good one. I will always have fond memories of my stay here because the overall feeling was of peace.”

“I would like to commend the staff in St. Pat’s. I cannot speak higly enough of their care and compassion for the patients on the Kilroot ward. They have played a very big part in my recovery and I am truly grateful to have met them all on my journey. Thank you one and all. “

“The Cleaners kept my room beautifully clean and the Temple Centre was spotless. The staff were so helpful and caring and gave me as much time as I needed. All in all I was very well cared for. Thank you very much”

“Today I’m sad as I leave ye all, but the sadness is one that I like, Because after 8 weeks on the bay, it’s time for me to take a hike, thanks to all the nurses and students, to the staff in the kitchen and OT’s too, to the lovely ladies who clean the ward, to the doctors where a bond we grew.”

“I had 10 unforgettable days with prime quality care and facilities. Most of all, I’ve met really nice people and hopefully not being wrong made some friends. Good work, keep it up”

“There is a very good atmosphere in St. Patrick’s. Communication is very good between patients and staff and should be maintained on an informal basis. Food is very good and is a very good morale booster for everyone. I would like to thank everyone in St. Patrick’s for input and kindness while I have been here”

“Fantastic Hospital, great facilities, programmes and staff. Keep improving! Loved the art expo spears of daylight, please do another. Well done in prompt follow up on complaint. Please keep twilight programme, very good.”