November 2010 was when I stopped medical school in my fourth year and each year, November is when I return to my old university to lecture to 4th year medical students. For me, this is even more of a point of reflection on the last 12 months that the 1st January.
When I started lecturing it was very much focused on my experience and the challenges of that, but this year felt very different and a quantum leap in terms of my own journey when I felt confident lecturing and chose my title this year “From person to patient to person again”. The fact that I felt able to talk about this (basically the biopsychosocial model and self-management) in that venue is quite special. The lecture theatre was one I was lectured in as a student, and on site at the teaching hospital where I was admitted to A&E when my health first started to deteriorate. Driving up the main drag into A&E hardly breathing isn’t a strong memory for me, but the fear in my fathers voice as he kept asking me to blow bubbles so he could see that I was still breathing still sticks with me. Now I am able to go through that same road and experience a very different set of emotions as I approach the Medical School to lecture instead.
Although I am very much still a patient, I have rediscovered the person in amongst all my health conditions. I realised that I had done to myself exactly what I ask the students not to do - see me as a person and not just my conditions. If only I could listen to my own advice! Was I being unreasonable to ask my health care professionals to see me as a person and not just a patient, when I could hardly see that myself?
What is the difference for me between feeling like a patient and a person?
I finally feel I have other things to talk about rather than just my health - I can talk about films and current affairs and sailing! I’ve met people who have helped me rediscover those other interests.
My body, which was once the source of all my negative emotions as various bits of it didn’t work or caused me pain is now admired by someone, which is challenging me to see it in a new way too. I'm still a patient, but opportunities like working as self-management coach supporting other 'patients' and being a patient leader have brought unimagined positives from something I only considered to have negative consequences. I have new things that define me, in addition to my health conditions. I am a patient AND a person, although on different days, the latter can feel more invisible than others.