Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Back to business

After having an amazing holiday in the Balearics with friends, I got back to business again last week. I have to say that my current ITU job is really hard work. I’m working lots of long days and, as you can imagine, I have lots of very sick people to look after. You know those pictures you sometimes see of patients in intensive care where they’re plugged into big machines, loads of pumps and have loads of tubes coming out of all parts of their bodies? Well basically, every single one of my patients looks like that. At first the knowledge that I had to look after these people and somehow try to get them better was really bloody scary for me. Now, nearly two months into my job, it’s still really bloody scary. It seems that ITU is the embodiment of Murphy’s Law in that whatever can go wrong will go wrong.

The thing is, I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I appreciate that I’m getting good experience in looking after the sort of patients that you just don’t get to look after outside a large teaching hospital. Currently, we have patients with head injuries, transplants, complicated haematological malignancies and even (whisper it) swine flu. Trying to keep patients alive when three, four or five of their organ systems have failed certainly taxes the brain. I’ve been spending much of my free time with my nose in textbooks trying to get my head around stuff like diabetes insipidus, alveolar recruitment strategies, chemotherapy regimes for acute promyelocytic leukaemia, oesophageal döppler studies and more about bacteria and fungi than I ever thought was relevant.

Practically speaking, I’m getting really good at the procedures that we do. On average, I put in one or two central or arterial lines each day and now I’m pretty confident of getting them into most people, no matter how fat or coagulopathic they may be. I’ve learned the hard way that intubating critically ill people and putting them on a ventilator is a whole different ball game to doing it to relatively well people before their surgery. I knew that already, but it’s one thing being told about what can happen and quite another seeing it happen in front of you and having to deal with the consequences. (n.b. that particular patient was OK and I’ll blog about it another time).

I’m still not sure whether or not I want critical care to be part of my future career. I’ve blogged before about doctors and stress and I have to say that I still find just physically being on the critical care unit surrounded by all those sick people a stressful experience. Even when they’re all relatively “stable,” bitter experience has taught me that they can (and frequently do) get very sick, very fast. This knowledge means that I’m constantly on edge whenever I’m working. Perhaps this feeling will go away as I get more experienced, but perhaps it won’t and I’ll end up worrying myself into an early grave. Who knows? Also, from what I see, there is an awful lot of politics involved in running an intensive care unit and I’m not sure I could be arsed with all of that.

All in all, I’m working really hard and I’m enjoying it at the moment, although I’m not sure I could keep doing this forever.


Anonymous said...

Why is 'the' highlighted in every sentence?

Dr Michael Anderson said...

I have no idea, a Blogger glitch most likely

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael, Rebecca Donovan here at the BBC...

I was hoping for your comment on a junior-doctor related news item - can you drop me a line at rebecca.donovan@bbc.co.uk as soon as possible?

Many thanks,


Lily said...

I wonder if that's the story about f1s killing everyone on their first day?